In every profession there are terms, phrases, and abbreviations that are common knowledge only to insiders. For the rest of us, the lingo can be very confusing. This glossary is intended to offer simple explanations of what are sometimes complex issues in education. It is far from complete but may help you better understand important trends and topics. Bear in mind that the meaning of many of these terms may vary, even from school district to school district.
Unit teaching is a method of organizing instruction in different curricular areas around a common theme. If a teacher presented a unit on the genre of mysteries, for example, she would have the children read several mysteries and learn terms associated with the genre: alibi, witness, motive, etc. But she might also create a simulated "crime lab" for students to study science, require a newspaper report of a simulated crime to practice writing skills, and set up some mathematical situations in logic and problem solving to actually "catch the thief." Units of study usually include projects and can require research, an art adventure, or a display of some kind. In unit studies, teachers integrate the curriculum so that the distinction between the subjects is blurred. Students may not even be aware of the switch from science to reading, for instance.
Visual discrimination is the ability of the brain to quickly tell the difference among visually similar letters, like "p," "b," and "q" or between words such as "was" and "saw." Students with difficulty making these distinctions often struggle with learning to read, write, and spell. (See Decoding Skills, Visual Processing.)
Visual Processing is often paired with the term "visual discrimination." Visual discrimination refers to the ability of the eye to see letter differences; visual processing is the method by which the brain interprets what is seen. (See Decoding Skills, Auditory Discrimination, and Auditory Processing.)
Many educators believe that children should learn to read much as they learn to talk. In learning to talk, children are constantly surrounded by the chatter of adults, older children, television, and radio, among other sources. They listen to talk all day long and soon begin to realize that those sounds are referring to objects, actions, emotions, etc., in their environment. The Whole Language movement believes that if children are immersed in the printed word, that they will also learn to interpret the printed word just like they did the spoken word.
Writing as a process is a method of teaching children written expression by constantly exposing them to the printed word. It is analogous to the whole language strategy for reading. Children using this method of learning to write may use unlined paper, invented spelling, and lots of journal writing. Writing Process advocates accept children's written expression errors, reasoning that these errors will disappear as children learn more and more about writing, reading, and speaking.