Clinging to the position that camp is different and unique will isolate us unless we can speak intelligently about how camp is an essential complement to what young people do for the other ten or 11 months of the year. Carefully study the list of terms included in this article and you'll see that schools are striving to do a lot of what camps do incredibly well already. But don't rest on your laurels believing that just because we know that we are special, the rest of the world does too. That solipsistic stance has hurt the camp world and could eventually lead to our extinction.

Any youth leader who wants camps and schools to seamlessly complement each other — as many pioneering camp directors did in the late 1800s — must start by becoming bilingual. You won't need to learn Russian or Mandarin, but you will need to learn "Ed-Speak." In a world that prizes not simply education, but educating the whole child, camp professionals must learn more about our cousins in the classroom.

To be fair, Ed-Speak is not a language; it's a collection of contemporary terms that describe educational practices, policies, and procedures. When you're fluent with this lexicon, you will have even more credibility at the youth development table. And when you know something about current trends in education, you'll be both credible and convincing.

Parents — who of course pay for camp — want schools to use techniques such as cooperative learning, but most parents don't yet know that camps perfected this technique long ago. We will become more relevant to existing and potential clients when we can communicate our strengths clearly, using a language in which savvy parents are already fluent.

This article focuses on the most common words and phrases that educators use. Some key terms are missing from this list, but the list provides a solid starting point from which to compare the two disciplines of formal education and organized camping. Rather than browse it, I urge you to really bone up. Your fluency will help you extract the goods from Part 2 of this series, "Pedagogically Speaking," which will focus on current educational trends and big questions for contemporary educators.

A Pithy Pedagogical Lexicon

Of the hundreds of Ed-Speak terms, here are some of the most used and useful. As you examine the list, you'll begin to understand how schools talk about what camps do. There are fascinating style differences and even more stunning commonalities.

For brevity, this is not a comprehensive list. Readers are encouraged to consult the source for this material, (a partner in educator professional development). ASCD and other sources provide additional definitions, lengthier explanations, and discussions of some of the controversies surrounding topics such as sex education, evolution, full inclusion, and year-round schooling.


Official recognition that an individual or institution meets required standards. Accreditation of teachers is usually referred to as licensing or certification. Schools are accredited in two ways: by voluntary regional accrediting associations and by state governments, which are legally responsible for public education.

active learning

Any situation in which students learn by moving around and doing things rather than sitting at their desks reading, filling out worksheets, or listening to a teacher. Active learning is based on the premise that if students are not active, they are neither fully engaged nor learning as much as they could.


The effort to ensure that what teachers teach is in accord with what the curriculum says will be taught and what is assessed on official tests. If students are not taught the intended content — because of inadequate learning materials, inadequate teacher preparation, or other reasons — or if official tests assess knowledge and skills different from those taught, test scores will obviously be lower than they otherwise would be.

authentic learning

Schooling related to real-life situations — the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens, consumers, or professionals. Advocates complain that what is taught in school has little relationship to anything people do in the world outside of school; efforts to make learning more authentic are intended to overcome that problem. Authentic learning situations require teamwork, problem-solving skills, and the ability to organize and prioritize the tasks needed to complete the project.

behavior modification

Use of an approach based on behavioral science to change a person's way of doing things — specifically, systematic use of rewards, and sometimes punishments, to shape students' classroom deportment. Such systems usually involve explicit objectives, elaborate record keeping, and visible tracking of progress.

brain-based teaching

Approaches to schooling that educators believe are in accord with recent research on the brain and human learning. Advocates say the human brain is constantly searching for meaning and seeking patterns and connections. Authentic learning situations increase the brain's ability to make connections and retain new information.

character education

Teaching children about basic human values, including honesty, kindness, generosity, courage, freedom, equality, and respect. The goal is to raise children to become moral ly responsible, selfdisciplined citizens. Service learning is frequently a part of a comprehensive character education program.


An approach to teaching based on research about how people learn. Many researchers say that each individual "constructs" knowledge rather than receiving it from others. People disagree about how to achieve const ruct ive learning, but many educators believe that students come to understand abstract concepts best through exploration, reasoning, and discussion.

cooperative learning

A teaching strategy combining teamwork with individual and group accountability. Working in small groups, with individuals of varying talents, abilities, and backgrounds, students are given one or more tasks. The teacher or the group often assigns each team member a personal responsibility that is essential to successful completion of the task.

cyber schools/e-learning/ virtual classroom

Educational institutions, many of them charter schools, which offer most or all of their instruction by computer via the Internet. This is also called "distance learning," "virtual classrooms," and "e-learning." More such schools are being established each year.

differentiated instruction

A form of instruction that seeks to maximize each student's growth by meeting each student where he or she is and helping the student to progress. In practice, it involves offering several different learning experiences in response to students' varied needs.

direct instruction

Instruction in which the teacher explains the intended purpose and presents the content in a clear, orderly way. Contrasts with inductive, discovery, or constructive teaching, in which students are led, by means of investigation or discussion, to develop their own ideas.

discovery learning

Learning activities designed so that students discover facts and principles themselves rather than having them explained by a textbook or a teacher. These activities are used most often in science classes where, for example, students can directly observe effects of various substances on other substances and infer possible reasons.

effective schools

Schools in which all students, especially those from families in poverty, learn at a higher-than-expected level. The idea of effective schools was pioneered in the early 1980s by the late Ronald Edmonds, who compared schools in which children in poverty earned high test scores with other schools that had similar student populations. He found that effective schools had strong principals who closely monitored student achievement and created an orderly environment characterized by high expectations.


Topics and activities that are valuable and interesting to learn but are not basic education — knowledge that is "nice to know" but not necessarily what people need to know. The term enrichment is also applied to efforts that parents make to supplement their children's learning outside of school, such as trips to science and art museums, educational vacations, visits to local libraries, and attendance at local theaters, orchestras, or ballets.

experiential learning

See active learning, authentic learning, cooperative learning, discovery learning, holistic learning, and interactive learning. Learning that is the byproduct of living through an experience. Sometimes these experiences are designed by the teacher or group leader; other times they are spontaneous — sometimes difficult and uncomfortable — life events. Experiential learning contrasts with lessons in which the teacher simply presents content.

family life education

School programs that teach the knowledge and attitudes needed by young people to become responsible members of healthy families, including essential attitudes and knowledge about human sexuality. Family life education programs are often controversial because one person's idea of an essential attitude may be completely unacceptable to someone else. See also: health education.

gifted and talented

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) says "a gifted individual is someone who shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression." For example, a person may be exceptionally talented as an artist, a violinist, or a physicist.

governance structure

Provisions for making official decisions in an organization. In schools, this refers to the distribution of power among levels of government — including national, state, regional, district, school, and classroom — and roles of various elected officials, administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Opinions differ as to the effectiveness of various governance structures, including the degree to which decision making is centralized or decentralized.

health education

A planned, sequential K-12 curriculum that addresses the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of health. The curriculum is designed to motivate and help students maintain and improve their health, prevent disease, and reduce health-related risk behaviors. It allows students to develop and demonstrate increasingly sophisticated health-related knowledge, attitudes, skills, and practices.

heterogeneous grouping/ untracking

Intentionally mixing students of varying talents and needs in the same classroom (the opposite of homogeneous grouping). The success of this method, also called mixedability grouping, depends on the teacher's skill in differentiating instruction so that all students feel challenged and successful.

higher-order thinking

Defined by researcher Lauren Resnick as the kind of thinking needed when the path to finding a solution is not specified, and that yields multiple solutions rather than one. Higher-order thinking requires mental effort because it involves interpretation, self-regulation, and the use of multiple criteria, which may be conflicting.

holistic learning

A theory of education that places importance on the complete experience of learning and the ways in which the separate parts of the learning experience are interrelated. Canadian scholar John Miller defines holistic learning as essentially concerned with connections in human experience, such as the connections among mind and body, rational thought and intuition, various subject matters, and the individual in society.

inclusion/full inclusion

The practice of educating all children in the same classroom, including children with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities. Inclusion classes often require a special assistant to the classroom teacher. In a fully inclusive school or classroom, all of the children follow the same schedules; everyone is involved in the same field trips, extracurricular activities, and assemblies.


As used in bilingual education programs, immersion means having students learn a second language by speaking, hearing, and reading it all day (or part of the day), including being taught several subjects in that language.


A statistic, such as the percentage of students attending school daily, used as evidence of success in accomplishing an abstract goal, such as student interest in learning. The long-term results of education are difficult to measure, so people use measurable indicators — such as drop-out rates, honors won, and test scores — to help judge school quality.

integrated curriculum and interdisciplinary curriculum

A way of teaching and learning that does not depend on the usual division of knowledge into separate subjects. Topics are studied because they are considered interesting and valuable by the teachers and students concerned, not necessarily because they appear in a required course of study. Both integrated curriculum and interdisciplinary curriculum are intended to help students see connections, but unlike an integrated curriculum, an interdisciplinary curriculum draws its content from two or more identifiable disciplines.

interactive learning

Occurs when the source of instruction communicates directly with the learner, shaping responses to the learner's needs. Tutoring — one teacher teaching a single student — is highly interactive. Computers and other modern technological applications have made it theoretically possible to provide effective interactive instruction to any learner on any subject.

learning styles

Differences in the way students learn more readily. Scholars have devised numerous ways of classifying style dif ferences, including cognitive style (the way a person tends to think about a learning situation), tendency to use particular senses (seeing, hearing, touching), and other characteristics, such as whether the person prefers to work independently or with others.


An informal term for assigning students to the same teacher for more than one school year. Rather than teaching a new group of students at the same grade level each year, teachers stay with the same group of students as they move from grade to grade. More common in Europe than in the United States.


The practice of placing students with disabilities into regular classrooms. The students usually also receive some assistance and instruction in separate classrooms, of ten cal led resource rooms. (Programs in which students with disabilities spend all or nearly all of their time in regular classrooms are called inclusion or full-inclusion programs. Mainstreaming is also known as partial inclusion.)


Learning materials designed to help students understand abstract ideas by handling physical objects. An abacus is a mathematics manipulative. mentor A role model who offers support to another person. A mentor has knowledge and experience in an area and shares it with the person being mentored. For example, an experienced teacher might mentor a student teacher or beginning teacher.


The ability to be conscious of and, to some degree, control one's own thinking. Educators have come to use the prefix "meta" to refer to the application of a process to the process itself. You are using metacognition when you can track your progress in solving a multistep problem or when you realize that you have been looking at a page in a book without following the meaning and backtrack until you find the place where your mind began to wander.

multicultural education

Schooling that helps students understand and relate to cultural, ethnic, and other diversity, including religion, language, gender, age, and socioeconomic, mental, and physical differences. Multiculturalism is intended to encourage people to work together and to celebrate differences, not to be separated by them.

multiple intelligences

A theory of intelligence developed in the 1980s by Howard Gardner, professor of educat ion at Harvard University. Gardner def ines intelligence broadly as "the capacity to solve problems or fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural settings." He originally identified seven intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. He later suggested the existence of several others, including naturalist, spiritual, and existential. Everyone has all the intelligences but in different proportions.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

NAEP (pronounced "nape") is also known as the Nation's Report Card. It is a federally funded program (currently contracted to Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey) that provides information about the achievement of students nationally and state-by-state. NAEP tests a representative sample of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 each year and reports the results to the public.

outcome-based education (OBE)

An approach to schooling that makes outcomes — intended results — the key factor in planning and creating educational experiences. In the 1990s, some states and local school systems announced plans to drop some conventional requirements, such as using Carnegie units to measure the amount of learning, and instead to organize instruction around intended outcomes, such as teaching students to be "collaborative workers."


Intended results of schooling: what students are supposed to know and be able to do. Educators and others may use the term outcomes to mean roughly the same as goals, objectives, or standards; however, the word "outcomes" is associated with the idea of outcome-based education, which was controversial in the 1990s and is therefore avoided by most school systems today.


The art of teaching — especially the conscious use of particular instructional methods. If a teacher uses a discovery approach rather than direct instruction, for example, she is using a different pedagogy.

performance assessment

A form of assessment that is designed to assess what students know through their ability to perform certain tasks. For example, a performance assessment might require a student to serve a volleyball, solve a particular type of mathematics problem, or write a short business letter to inquire about a product as a way of demonstrating that he or she has acquired new knowledge and skills.


A collection of student work chosen to exemplify and document a student's learning progress over time. Just as professional artists assemble portfolios of their work, students are often encouraged or required to maintain a portfolio illustrating various aspects of their learning.

problem-based learning

An approach to curriculum and teaching that involves students in solution of real-life problems rather than conventional study of terms and information. Developed in leading medical schools, problem-based learning begins with a real problem that connects to the student's world, such as how to upgrade a local waste treatment plant.

Pygmalion effect

The effect of teacher expectations on student performance. The term refers to a Greek myth that was the forerunner of the musical My Fair Lady, in which a teacher transforms an uneducated person into a proper lady. Extensive research has documented that student achievement can be affected by what students' teachers think they can do.

qualitative research

Research that uses methods adapted from anthropology and other social sciences, including systematic observation and interviews. For example, a researcher might spend an entire year visiting a particular school — observing classes, meetings, and conversations — and seeking to identify the way decisions are made and the roles played by various staff members.

quantitative research

Research conducted in a traditional scientific manner using statistical procedures to compare the effects of one treatment with another. For example, a researcher might compare test scores of students taught using an experimental method with the scores of students taught in a more conventional way. Some researchers now see this approach as limited, so make greater use of qualitative research methods.

reconstituting schools

Renewing schools with excessively low student achievement by replacing the administrators and most or all teachers. School officials and legislators have begun to use this strategy, usually in large, urban school systems, when it appears that other approaches to school improvement are not having an effect.


In testing, an estimate of how closely the results of a test would match if the test were given repeatedly to the same student under the same conditions (and there was no practice effect).


Specific descriptions of performance of a given task at several different levels of quality. Teachers use rubrics to evaluate student performance on performance tasks. Students are often given the rubric, or may even help develop it, so they know in advance what they are expected to do.


The way a teacher provides support to make sure students succeed at complex tasks they couldn't do otherwise. Most teaching is done as the students go about the task, rather than before they start. For example, as a group of elementary students proceed to publish a student newspaper, the teacher shows them how to conduct interviews, write news stories, and prepare captions for photographs.


A movement based on the belief that students are not adequately prepared for careers by the time they graduate from high school. Although a growing number of parents believe their children must attend college and earn at least a bachelor's degree to make a comfortable living, nearly three-quarters of U.S. citizens do not have a college degree, indicating that high school graduates need preparation and training to succeed in the work world.

spiral curriculum

An approach to curriculum design that provides for periodic revisiting of key topics over a period of years, presenting them in greater depth each time. Contrasts with mastery learning, which assumes that a topic should be taught thoroughly and mastered before students move on to something else.

student-led conference

A variation of the usual parent-teacher conference in which the student plays a major part. The student prepares for the conference and leads it by showing the parents or family members samples of his or her work, often in the form of portfolios, and discussing areas of strengths and weaknesses.

teacher certification

Official recognition, ordinarily by the state, that a person is qualified to be a teacher. A single certification used to last a lifetime, but many states now require certificate renewal every few years, with evidence of the completion of university or district in-service courses. Many teaching certificates are highly specialized by subject, grade levels, or specifics such as counseling or the ability to teach students with disabilities.

Alternative certification is a way for persons without the standard qualifications to teach while learning on the job (with continuing education and supervision). In addition to required state certification, some highly accomplished teachers now apply for and are granted national certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

teaching for understanding

Engaging students in learning activities intended to help them understand the complexities of a topic. Teaching for understanding is different from teaching simply for recall, which results in students being able to answer questions without knowing what their answers really mean.


In testing, validity means how well a test measures what it is intended to measure. For example, a test in history may be so difficult for young students to read that it is more of a reading test than a test of historical knowledge. That makes it invalid for its intended purpose.

values education

Teaching children about basic human values including honesty, kindness, generosity, courage, freedom, equality, and respect. The goal is to raise children to become moral ly responsible, selfdisciplined citizens. Because some values are controversial (such as attitudes toward homosexuality), parent groups have occasionally insisted that schools should not attempt to teach values at all.

whole language

A technique for teaching language arts that emphasizes the reading and writing of whole texts (sometimes beginning with picture books) before analyzing words and individual letter sounds. Advocates believe it instills a love of reading more than a strictly phonetic approach, which begins with drilling and memorizing the basic vowel and consonant sounds.

year-round schooling

Replacing the conventional school year of nine to ten months and a long summer break with a continuous school year with breaks at other times. Advocates say the traditional school calendar reflects a society that needed children home in the summer to work on farms. In today's society, children are frequently left home alone in the summer with little to do.

zero tolerance

Provisions in legislation or official policies that require specified punishments for given offenses, no matter how slight the offense. Zero tolerance rules are adopted to send a message about unacceptable behavior, and adherents support them for that reason.

However, school administrators who are permitted no flexibility in enforcing such rules are sometimes ridiculed in the press for their apparent poor judgment.

Skip, Skim, or Study?

If you've skipped ahead to this conclusion before reading through the lexicon, I urge you to turn back a page or two and actually read the descriptions of the words and phrases on that list. To succeed in the broader world of youth development, we need to educate ourselves about other disciplines, not skip or skim. Without a rudimentary understanding of what professional educators are doing, camp professionals risk appearing ignorant and therefore irrelevant.

Still skeptical about the importance of boning up on the world of education? Consider the numbers: The Federal Government spent $107 billion on education in fiscal 2012. How much do you think the government spent on camps? None, at least directly. Some camps received stimulus money through FEMA for things like storm shelters and road work. Other camps may receive meal subsidies and discounts or rebates on surplus foods, such as milk. But if you're like most camps, you haven't received much — if any — state or federal money.

Clearly, educational professionals have a kind of clout that camp professionals can only dream of. Granted, the majority of American children never even attend camp, and they are required to go to school. (All 50 states passed compulsory school laws between 1852 and 1917. Massachusetts was first; Mississippi was last.) And for those children who do attend camp, they are spending 20 or more times the number of days in school than at camp. To play our complementary role adeptly, we need to know something about our educational partner, so I urge you to actually study their language.

Common Ground to Stand On

Basic fluency with Ed-Speak reveals some interesting commonalities between camps and schools or, more accurately, between the groups of people who work at camps and schools.

First, camps, like schools, are run by professionals. Teachers and schools have more sophisticated certifications and accreditations than do directors and camps. Fortunately, ACA encourages an accreditation process that includes continuous professional development for directors and outcomes-based credentialing for camps.

Second, the two groups of professionals — organized camping and education — are highly invested in youth development. For modest salaries, both groups of adults strive to accelerate cognitive and affective learning, and prepare children and adolescents to be happy, healthy, and contributing members of society.

Third, both groups gather children and work with them away from home. (The exception, of course, is home schooling.) The notion that responsible adult caregivers can complement the home-based work of parents is a principle that grounds both camps and schools.

Fourth, both groups are actively striving to design effective programs. Innovation abounds. The educational field includes some famous names, such as Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Benjamin Bloom, B.F. Skinner, and Howard Gardner. Camping has Eleanor Eells, Ernest Thompson Seton, Lord Baden Powell, and Juliette Gordon Lowe, among other luminaries.

The pioneers in both fields have, along with their disciples, worked hard to conceptualize, construct, and revise programs that work. Just as wise educators have understood that school is not all about memorization, so have wise camp professionals understood that camp is not all about playing games. There is much more to both. Just how to design the best curriculum delivery system is an ideal toward which both groups have been striving for centuries (schools for much longer, of course). Both fields use the buzz word "intentionality" to describe this thoughtful, data-driven, inventive process.

Fifth, both fields have young people's best interests at heart. And beyond that, both education and camp professionals are working to create a better world. Not in some trite, romantic way, but in concrete ways that make young people grow up to be responsible citizens, family members, workers, artists, athletes, scholars, and dreamers. Some will, of course, circle back and become educational and camp professionals. And their goal will be the same: Do it all better than the previous generation while still preserving the essential kernels of what makes schools and camps unique.

We Do That Too

As you examined the pedagogical lexicon that formed the heart of this article, I hope you smiled a few times thinking, We do that too, maybe even better. Camp, for example, trumps most school programs when it comes to things such as heterogenous grouping, manipulatives, scaffolding, and multiple intelligences, as well as interactive, discovery, active, and holistic learning. Most camp professionals are also as good as or better at behavior management and values education than most classroom teachers. School programs, of course, trump camps in some important ways, including qualitative and quantitative research, health education, and the assessment of learning style differences.

There are a few terms on the Ed-Speak list that should intrigue you, such as using e-learning or cyber schools. More and more staff training is conducted online in a way that tracks learning outcomes and complements on-site training.

There are even a few terms that should alarm you, such as year-round schooling. To stay ahead of the curve, you'll want to learn more in the coming months about both online learning and the local school calendar.

Now that you have some basic fluency with the language educators use to talk about their work, you're in a strategic position to discuss and refine the ways your camp complements the schools that your campers attend. The next step is to make appointments with a few school principals and begin some conversations about working and marketing together.

The camp world cannot wait for the school world to knock at its door. Schools spawned camps, not the other way around. Let's take some initiative this winter to help our contemporary classroom colleagues understand what we do and join us in our shared mission.

Author Note : Look for "Pedagogically Speaking, Part 2: How Education's Cutting Edge Carves Camp a Niche," in the January/ February 2015 issue of Camping Magazine.

Christopher Thurber, PhD, ABPP, is a boardcertified clinical psychologist and the cofounder of, which hosts educational content for youth development professionals. He designed The Secret Ingredients of Summer Camp Success, ACA's homesickness prevention DVD. Contact: or visit

Originally published in the 2014 November/December Camping Magazine.