In my last post (Immersion Applies to Academic Fluency Too) I stressed the importance of immersing students in the unique language of a subject in order for them to master that subject. On a related note, it’s also important to anticipate and alleviate confusion related to words having different meanings in academic contexts than they have in everyday language.
In math, for example, we tell students to “reduce” fractions to lowest terms even though the process involves no reduction in value at all (e.g., 6/8 = 3/4). Unfortunately, you can’t just replace “reduce” with a more accurate word (such as “convert”) in your classroom unless the rest of the world is going to do so too. But what you can—and should—do is discuss with students how the meaning of “reduce” in this case is different from its usual meaning. Another thing you should do is refrain from shortening expressions when doing so might trigger confusion, as when teachers advise students to simply “reduce it” as opposed to spelling out, “reduce it to lowest terms.”
And finally, a great way to highlight and eliminate potential confusion resulting from language inconsistencies: True-False questions where you require students to explain why a statement is or isn’t true. Example: “When you reduce a fraction to lowest terms, the new fraction has a lower value than the original fraction.”