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October 7, 2010

Habits of Mind: Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

In their book, "Habits of Mind Across the Curriculum: Practical and Creative Strategies for Teachers," authors Albert Costa and Bena Kallick describe the difference between communication that is unclear or vague, and communication that has clarity and precision.

There are numerous vague terms that many students (and adults) use on a daily basis. Some of them from page 52 of Costa and Kallick's book are:

Universals: always, never, all, everybody
Vague action verbs: know about, understand, appreciate
Comparators: better, never, cheaper, more
Unreferenced pronouns: they, them, we
Unspecified groups: teachers, parents, things
Assumed rules or traditions: ought, should, must

One of the tenets to communicating clearly is the ability to bring attention to these sort of vague terms. In the classroom, and at home, we can ask deeper, clarifying questions when those around us are not as clear as they could be.

For example, when a student says, "They never listen to me," you might ask, "Really? Never? They never listen to you?"

Or one of my favorites, "We're going to my friend's do stuff." What does stuff mean? What specifically are you going to do?

By emphasizing the need for more precise language with our students, we invite them to take an active role in critical thinking. We ask probing questions when they are vague. We help debunk generalizations. Ultimately, we help prevent misconceptions and problems associated with poor communication.

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