2017-08-05Accountable talkAn American linguist Uriel Weinreich once observed that a word can function on different levels: its semantics (like electricity) can feed ‘an electric door-bell’, but it can also ‘power an elevator.’ The buzzwords presented in my yesterday’s blog ordinarily ‘ring the door-bell.’ Many of them are used ‘en passant’: they are good instruments for connecting sentences and emphasizing certain ideas but they are not the focus of discussion. However, other buzzwords can epitomize concepts which are central for shop talk. This time I’ll leave the sphere of business and move over to education which is rich in didactic innovations that are professionally jargonized. By way of example, here are two buzz phrases that ‘power’ an educational thought in today’s American schools.

  1. Flipped Classroom. The word “flip” in this phrase is based on the meaning “to change or reverse one’s position or attitude.” In the Traditional Classroom students are explained the new material at school and do more practical tasks at home (“homework”). With the new approach, they will first watch a video lecture or an on-line material at home  and do their “homework’ at school being guided and assisted by teachers (shall we call it “class-work” now?). The education process ceases to be teacher-centered and becomes learner-centered.  Advocates of the Flipped Classroom insist that in the flipped-classroom environment students get less frustration with homework, they can ask questions and get immediate targeted answers, the more advanced a student is, the deeper he explores the subject, and students who were absent due to various reasons catch up with their peers faster and easier with the flipped classroom model.

For teachers, a flipped classroom is more demanding than a traditional one. Preparing a good video-lecture is now a much greater responsibility, teachers must not only trust students to come ready for class, but they have to think of some general knowledge tests to determine if students worked at home. But the benefits are that now teachers can assist each student INDIVIDUALLY during the practical work. A video lecture, once prepared, can be reused many a time. Last but not least, the use of e-resources, which is unavoidable with student-centered education, takes a creative teacher away from mundane supervision and makes his work more interesting. Besides, the teacher is now part of students’ blended learning (on-line learning combined with face-to-face counseling).

  1. Accountable Talk. This is a guided classroom discussion based on a given topic. Students are supplied with sentence starters which lead them into “accountability” to learning community (they respectfully ask their peers question, agree or disagree with them), accountability to accurate knowledge (factual argumentation), and accountability to rigorous thinking (the students synthesize information, probe the evidence, challenge each other and build conclusions).

The aim of accountable talk is to help students move from social conversations to academic conversations, to build up the corresponding vocabulary and develop their academic discussion skills. The concept of Accountable Talk was introduced in 1995 by Lauren Resnick, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. I haven’t found any equivalent for “Accountable Talk” in Ukrainian or Russian, but judging from what it is, it may be translated as “керована (структурована, спрямована, аргументована, академічна) розмова.” The definition of ‘accountable’ as ‘clarifiable, capable to be explained’ leads to the Ukrainian variants “розяснювальна, пояснювальна, зясовувальна’. If we take into account such components of meaning as ‘to obey, to submit, to be subject to, to comply with’ which the word ‘accountable’ has, than the suggested translation  may be: ‘підпорядкована розмова (підпорядкована певним питанням – ЗА, ПРОТИ, ЧОМУ, НА ОСНОВІ ЧОГО, висновку А ОТЖЕ…). More about Accountable Talk can be found at or at

Incidentally, the principles of Accountable Talk can be used by teachers of English as a Foreign Language. A similar approach was practiced in the 1970s by Tamara Siryk in Ukraine. Some faults were found with Siryk’s method and her conversational formulas, but at the initial stage they worked quite well: her students spoke English fluently after the first year of learning.

There are many other conceptual buzzwords in American education: higher-order thinking, student engagement, digital literacy (as opposed to computer literacy), Common Core, Bloom’s Taxonomy, etc. My advice is: google them and read about them. It’s interesting.


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