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Should've Known Better

This year I've made a point of quitting the use of the word 'should'. Seven months into the experiment, I can (almost) safely say it is now gone. Gone from my blog, from my everyday vocabulary. Above all, gone from my inner thoughts.

Why? How did I start this?
Because whenever I read that teachers should...(you fill in the blank)..., I've always felt a need to resist inside instead of engaging in conversation.

Coming closer to examples, I think we mean different things when we use 'should'.

Generally speaking, in affirmative form, I think it sounds like a disguised form of protest.
e.g. "Every teacher should blog".
Which probably translates to "I would like, I need, it would be nice if... I do, it works for me, why not you? Come on!"

Speaking more personally, it's a bit of a diminishing word.
e.g. "I should blog every day."
Which may well translate as: "I think that my not blogging everyday is not enough" or "I wonder if I ever will". These phrases invite to approval or disapproval. A pass or fail in a test. (Who needs another test, anyway?).

I could go on. A quick search in my RSS reader gives me inspiration, but I won't quote. You go search for yourself and write your own subtitles to the 'should' movie. There is a lot in need of translation written out there.

'Should' works very well in question form, though:

"Why should I believe that?"

See? That's the kind of blogging I want to read on without feeling an internal argument building up inside me to resist it. It engages me to find my own reasons. I may even blog back at you. So we both get a chance to learn.

The mind has a natural tendency to resist change at times. if you mean to create or lead change when you write, watch your use of 'should'.

I hear the word very frequently in my network; I do not stop reading people who use it. I just read between the lines knowing I cannot assume what they really meant until I read much more.

Excuse me for contradicting myself in the same post, but I don't think anyone should anything, be it change the way they teach or publish their minds in blog posts, until they find their own genuine reasons. Anything else is as attractive as thoughtless cut&paste of ideas.

About writing, I think that there are more powerful words than 'should'. Only the sentences need to be more wordy, you need to go meta reflective to create meaning, you need to put yourself out there in the open.

How? Here's a possible structure:
"I would like this to change because..." Paragraph. Concise.
Followed by,
"I shape my thoughts like this because of where I come from". More paragraphs. These are key.

That's more humble and also less pretentious. Bonus: that's is the way I can get to connect to you. Speak from your known corner of the world to the unknown world wide web who might read and write responses, if they feel so inclined. Your ideology need not be photocopied elsewhere. Finland is already taken. Perhaps, we need to do differently.

If you ask me, I like sentences with a deep structure grammar based on freedom, not authority. Freedom from the critic or evangelizer lurking in your voice. Besides, 'should' is a poor authority invoker, in my opinion. It tends to overstep it.

So consider cutting down on affirmations with 'should', please. I'll see for myself what I might do with your thoughts, if anything at all.

Engage me. Show me your learning. I'd rather you tell me your stories.


Time Long Past
Time Long Past, by me on Flickr

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Thought about my own 'shoulds'. I don't think I 'should' when I write. Neither in English nor in Spanish. Maybe it's just because I don't like being 'shoulded', except for the cases in which I 'should' myself, which happens all the time. Yes, I've come to believe that I like 'shoulding' myself, sad. That I need 'shoulding' myself, sadder.
Now I wonder if I 'should' my students, (will be paying attention).
Interesting you found out 'should' works well in questions. Maybe it's just because any wording works well in questions. The problem comes with statements. 'I state' is quite a different kind of invitation.

Correction: liking is sadder than needing.

@gsellart

I wrote the post thinking of edublogs, not a classroom. Now that you bring it up, the point is being aware of how much invitation to challenge we can generate in a classroom. I think the language we use makes a difference.

What you 'should' as a student is do what is correct, what is best and therefore expected from you by teachers.

Tell me how many students who misbehave or miss their homework didn't know the difference between doing good or bad in their omissions?

Very few.

And yet.

So the question of whether you 'should' your students needs to be considered under the light of your results. I get very poor ones with rules they had no part in making. They say 'sorry' and proceed to keep on doing the same thing.

When I read or hear a 'should' phrase about something I already believe in, fine. But it hardly ever makes me change my mind. A conversation starter, maybe. Leading change? Nope. At least for me.

Just a thinking out loud question for you, Claudia. Do you think that a substantial number of edubloggers frequently using the "should" word are English only speakers and writers (I am guilty of being that) and consequently use the word in a habitual and reflexive (and even lazy) way in their writing while multi-language writers like yourself have a greater appreciation of being clearer in the written and being more precise when conveying meaning and message? A rash assumption or generalisation on my part, maybe?

Rash assumption or not, your thinking aloud is very much welcome, Graham.I appreciate it.

I like your distinction between English speakers only and multi-language writers. When I read blogs, it is much more meaningful than nationalities.Canadians, Americans, Australians,I'm sure you see huge differences, but from my distanced view-point, although I see differences, the ones that matter to me are in mother tongue. They could be the same you could see between people from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Yet, if you tell us we are the same, you could lose an invitation to a beer!

The problem with explaining these significant differences I see is that I'm talking about a country a monolingual person hasn't visited. The flight to get there takes not hours but years and years.

The translation into Spanish of the 'should' I see in edublogs is probably a collection of phrases. But I can simply quote myself from older posts. I re-read them and find a bossy voice in me, which, by the way, is totally uninviting to comments. I'm trying to change that.

What I mean is, when Oscar Wilde says,
'Books are well or badly written. That is all.'

He is brilliant.

When I say,

'This is the way to teach in class. Or else you're 1.0."

That is bossy. And silly.A generalization of things I think I know. A claim of authority nobody can claim in a network anymore. Who's the most knowleageable here?

Now, in Spanish, that tone is very much present in blogs. It is cultural. In Argentina, we have big egos. Sometimes they are funny in a 3-hour cafe conversation, sometimes creative and witty in Tango dancing. For the most part, in edublogs, that tone is alieanating.

The reason why I read more and write more in English is because blogs are more inviting to thought than teaching in an old fashioned way.In that context, the use of 'should' I object to here, is a mere detail. Yet important, I think.

I love words. Learning languages, particularly translation, gives you that habit of checking words in the dictionary all the time. Words like 'pretentious' or 'home' (yeah, that one too). All of them. Writing in English, using your words in a more or less habitual/reflexive use is fine if your audience is English speaking only.

But we are on the www, right?

Hopefully my multi-lingual point of view is one that helps to bring other 'linguistic countries' into your networked thoughts. I'll be happy to do that.

I have said it a number of times, but not sure if I've ever done so on your blog: I think that often your choice of wording is better than most English only native speakers... BUT...

Actually there is no 'but', I put that there to make the point that 'but' can be equally as negative or conversation-killing as 'should'. A long time ago, I learned that 'but' could be replaced by 'and' in order to continue rather than kill a conversation. There is a significant difference between these two sentences:

"I like how you have your blog set up BUT it would be great if you had a way to search the content."

"I like how you have your blog set up AND it would be great if you had a way to search the content."

The same intention, but different in the way those messages can potentially be received.

I have not thought too much of 'should' although I try not to use it much.

I've never said, "You should blog", although I have said, "You would be a great blogger", or "You have a lot to contribute".

I will try to think about my use of 'should' or better yet, think of how to change my shoulds into questions or suggested possibilities. (That said, I'm not a huge fan of the word 'try' although I tend to use it too often... we'll save that for another blog post or comment.)

Thanks,
Dave.

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