Vague verbs: a curricular problem

Clio et cetera

This is slightly complex post on an issue on which I have not fully reached my own conclusions. I do however think that it outlines a deep problem in curriculum theory, and one which has significant consequences for our teaching. Let’s start with some definitions. I am calling a ‘vague verb’ one that could be meaningfully interpreted in a variety of different ways by different people. Takes words such as the following:

  • thinking
  • understanding
  • explaining
  • analysing

Each of these verbs is associated with a myriad of definitions in the OED, and they are used in the field of education to mean different things by different people in different contexts. We see the impact of this most clearly in the formation of educational objectives. I remember struggling to find the ‘right verb’ to put into a learning objective: did I want them to ‘explain’ or to ‘evaluate’? Did I want them…

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