The Parish School Blog

Educational Lingo Cheat Sheet

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Like many professional fields, education has its own language and jargon that only those in the profession typically understand and use. Oftentimes, this causes parents some level of confusion when speaking with teachers, reading reports or conducting research. Below are a handful of terms frequently used in schools. Some are relatively new, while others have been used in the field for decades.

Chronological Age: This term refers to the actual age of a child based on their birth date, which may differ from the child’s developmental, biological or academic age.

Developmentally Appropriate: A teaching model that introduces concepts/skills that are suitable for a child’s level of development, which may differ from their age. A developmentally appropriate practice meets a child where they are and sets goals that follow a child’s natural development.

Direct Teaching: A teaching model in which the teacher picks one concept, typically driven by state standards, and teaches the concept to the class in a straightforward, explicit way. This can occur through a variety of formats including lecturing, using worksheets, videos or hands-on-activities. Direct teaching is the opposite of inquiry- project-based learning, where children learn through discovery.

Differentiated Instruction: Involves a teacher tailoring instruction to meet each student’s individual needs, strengths and learning style. This could be through providing differing content, process, learning environment and/or products.

Examples include:

  • Students working on math worksheets that contain individualized problems to fit each of students’ goals.
  • Students being introduced to the same new concept, with some in small groups and others with one-on-one support.
  • Students completing a writing assignment, with some typing, some dictating and others using pencil and paper – all depending on their individual goals.

Inquiry-Based Learning: An educational model that presents a question, problem or scenario for students to answer. Children learn through hands-on, self-driven research of information where they develop their answer/final product rather than by a teacher directly teaching one concept. The aim of this model is to teach children to be life-long learners, by discovering through research and developing their own knowledge. Inquiry-based learning frequently focuses on one concept (example: object density) at a time. 

An example would be, “If you were stuck on an island, what materials would make the best raft?”

Inquiry-based learning projects are often short-term, however, they can be large-scale, long-term projects as well.


Play-Based Learning
: An educational model where children learn new skills and concepts through play. This can either be through free play, where the child chooses the activity and type of play, or through guided play in which there is a level of purposeful guidance from the teacher, either through the choice of play schemes or concept focused on during play.

Pre-Academic Skills: These areas of learning, or skills, are part of a young child’s cognitive development and act as building blocks for later academic concepts.

Examples include, but are not limited to: an interest in books, using a crayon to scribble and draw lines, grouping like objects, telling simple stories, turn-taking and knowing numbers and letters have meaning.

Project-Based Learning: A student-centered educational model that involves students gaining knowledge through completion of a long-term project that engages them in solving real world problems. The aim is to develop a deep understanding of content knowledge as well as foster creativity, problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills. Projects can range from creating a book about animals native to their area to students researching, planning and creating a menu for a school cafe.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): The process of learning and effectively applying the knowledge, skills and attitudes a person needs to develop the ability to understand and manage their emotions, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, problem-solve and make responsible decisions. In other words, Social-Emotional Learning is learning all the underlying skills needed to navigate a classroom and form relationships. Research indicates that SEL impacts a child’s academic success, employability and self-esteem.

Hopefully this list will help you through your next parent-teacher meeting with increased ease and fewer head-scratching moments.