Textbook Definition vs. Students’ Definitions

Teachers are often comfortable to present students with definitions, explanations, and descriptions of concepts (especially if they are new) from textbooks. While this is not a harmful practice, I wonder how many of us want to convince ourselves that only those who write textbooks are capable of aptly defining, explaining, and describing something. Since we are innately predisposed with an intense sense of curiosity, we tend to desire the act of explaining things on our own…in our own words, the way it reflects and is connected to our own past, present, and future realities. This, in essence, points toward our need and ability to construct and re-construct knowledge by attaching meaning to a new (or any) learning material.

Keeping this in mind, today’s lesson on General Learning Goals (in EDUC390 Measurement and Evaluation for Education class) was introduced by presenting students with series of examples of General Learning Goals (GLG). After allowing some time for scanning and reading the examples of GLG, students were asked the following questions:

  1. What are the similarities among the examples?
  2. What are the differences among the examples?
  3. What are other characteristics that you see emerging from the examples in front of you?

After writing answers for these three questions on the board, students were asked to write down their own definitions of GLG, in their own words, in pairs. These were some of the definitions proposed by students:

“General Learning Goals are statements that show the desired achievement of students as a whole, with no specific criteria.”

Vannak & Daneth

“General Learning Goals are central goals and can be broken down into sub-goals.”

Song & Champ

“General Learning Goals are aimed at building abilities in various aspects of learning in accordance to the course objectives or desired outcome from the course.”


“General Learning Goals are broad views of what students will be able to do or know, that can lead to writing the specific objectives.”

Lerie & Monta

“General Learning Goals are overall expectation of students’ achievement.”

Waleed, Asher, Jimmy, Ju

Textbook Definition:

“General Learning Goals are the general educational aims – the broad outcomes that are expected. In articulating learning goals, teachers are answering the question – what will our students learn? Goals can focus on content, skills, or attitudes.”

Now, how different is the textbook definition from students’? Not much of a difference!

However, when encouraged and permitted, students who formulate their own definitions are better able to retain the meaning of a concept, recollect the same whenever necessary, and apply it in appropriate settings to refine and extend knowledge. Learning becomes fun, personal, and more meaningful this way. This is known as brain-based teaching!

2 thoughts on “Textbook Definition vs. Students’ Definitions”

  1. I agree with your statement that teachers should allow students to formulate their own definitions, but that does not happen all the time. Teachers often time expect their students to define something according to what was being taught in the class. Teachers do this without realizing it themselves. I am not blaming the teachers for doing this but that is how it goes all the time. Teachers who use the book to instruct a class will only use what is in the book and they expect that to come out of students. One thing that i realize is that we are so dependent on a “fixed material” until we are tempted to use it all the time. However, one problem could rise when students are exposed or are used to this “fixed material”. When the teacher change their method of teaching, students tend to blame the teacher for not using the book to teach. In this case, what the teacher should do?

  2. I think relying too much on one particular material, especially when it comes to learning (in an age where information is abundant), is worrying. Students have the right to be exposed to more than just textbook materials. They also have the right to speak out their minds and spell out their understanding about what is being taught in the class. Students blame teachers for not using the book, only when teachers fail to communicate to them the beauty, significance, and power of constructing rather than copying knowledge. The teacher plays a role in creating a socio-cultural classroom environment where learning is done through discovery, exploration, and a combination of other dynamic approaches.

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