Deciphering Jargon At The Parent-Teacher Conference

Teacher lingo can feel like a different language. Here’s a crash course in some vocabulary you might hear at your next parent-teacher conference.


‘Tis the season of the parent-teacher conference. Every couple of years, a new version of teacher-speak comes into play. Most educators will explain the terms they use, but here is a rundown of key words you might hear bandied about.

Accommodations: This is typically used to describe changes made to instruction in order to insure inclusion of students with disabilities or special needs. Accommodations might include Braille materials for sight-impaired students or extra test-taking time for students with dyslexia. Typically, accommodations mean that the students are working on the same content material as their classmates, but content is delivered in a manner that meets their individual needs.

Attending: Very simply, it means paying attention. If your child is not attending, he or she is distracted and not engaging in the learning process.

Decode: Some teachers like to use this word to mean understand or comprehend. The dictionary defines it as “to extract meaning” or “to translate (data or a message) from a code into the original language or form.” In education parlance, decoding can also mean translating a printed word into a sound.

Executive Function: Frequently abbreviated as “EF,” executive functions are the skills that go into completing assignments; these include time management, keeping track of materials, and having the emotional regulation to stay calm during tests and big projects. In general, parents may see some holes in their child’s EF skills around fourth grade, when homework and school projects become more complex. If a teacher says that your child’s EF skills need work, you will need to get organized to help your child with study skills and tracking assignments. If your child’s EF issues are extremely prominent and disruptive, you may want to seek outside advice from an Executive Function Disorder specialist.

Giftedness: While “gifted” refers to a child who is all around exceptional, giftedness, often called “twice exceptionalism,” means that your child has very sharp skills in some areas but lacks basic understanding in others. It’s a keen teacher who picks up on giftedness and helps students learn to overcome difficulties while simultaneously challenging them in subjects in which they are already adept.

Modifications: A change in curriculum tailored to an individual student. Let’s say that the child has dyslexia; the teacher may build in modifications to insure that the student receives extra time for assignments and/or has a chance to provide spoken vs. written responses.

Scaffolding: Scaffolding is a practice teachers use to offer more support at the beginning of a unit and less of it as students master the skills (like removing scaffolding from a building as it’s being built). This is also a way for teachers to bridge a wide range of skills within the classroom — offering extra support to those students for whom it is needed. If you hear something like, “In our scaffolded math lessons, Billy still needs a lot of support,” the teacher is telling you that Billy is behind his peers in math.

Working Memory: This is another way of saying short-term memory. Working memory is a specific part of the previously mentioned executive function skill set, which describes a child’s ability to carry out a series of tasks. So, if your child has “working memory issues,” he or she may struggle to follow a multi-step set of instructions.

Remember . . . If you don’t understand what your child’s teacher is telling you, speak up. Ask for specific examples, and paraphrase what the teacher is saying to make sure that the message is clear.