I have frequently on this blog commented on the fact that genericism is one of the biggest problems we face in education (http://viewrz.com/video/genricism). Being generic means we don’t have to be specific, but being specific is good because it forces us to say exactly what we mean. If we are specific we can’t get away with meaningless platitudes.
A very good example of this is the use of the word ‘engaged’.
How many times have you heard “the pupils were really engaged in your lesson” or “this lesson would have been better if those boys had been more engaged”. My hunch would be that you’ve heard this more than once.
But what on earth does it mean?
On its own, it actually means very little. The word ‘engaged’ is sometimes used to mean ‘having fun’ or ‘enjoying oneself’. If this is what someone means when they say ‘the pupils should be more engaged’ then they should just come out and say it. “This lesson would be better if those pupils were having more fun” or “Have you thought about how you can ensure those boys are enjoying themselves more in your lesson”.
I think normally, however, people are referring to something more complex than that when they use the word ‘engaged’. The trick here is to specify just what it is that the pupils are engaged in. This demands that one specifies precisely what it is that the pupils are doing on which you are commenting. Are they engaged in listening attentively to the teacher? Are they engaged in discussing the consequences of the Seven Years’ War? Are they engaged in a systematic attempt to undermine the lesson?
The point here is, clearly, that in order for the word ‘engaged’ to be meaningful, we have to specify what the students are engaged in. Once we have specified that, then the word begins to become redundant. Using the examples above, I could easily move from
“The pupils were engaged in listening attentively”
“The pupils were listening attentively”.
There is no need for me to say
“The pupils were engaged in discussing the consequences of the Seven Years’ War”
when I could just say
“The pupils were discussing the consequence of the Seven Years’ War”.
You’ll notice in the first example that I am able to be even more precise in my description of what is happening by deploying an adverb (attentively). I could, alternatively, have said the pupils were listening ‘reluctantly’ or ‘enthusiastically’.
So this is why the word ‘engaged’ is actually redundant. If I simply mean “the pupils are having fun” then I can just say that and be nice and specific in my feedback. If I want to comment on what pupils are doing (listening, discussing, dismantling the lesson) then I can explicitly comment on that too.
The use of the word ‘engaged’ obfuscates – in an attempt to say something generic, we end up saying nothing at all.
So let’s ditch this word.