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Those pesky words

June 10, 2012

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a shop teacher at a school for students with special needs. For many of our students language can be a real challenge. Many works we might give little thought are nonsensical to them. Take the word “square”. I frequently tell my students to “square up” a piece of wood. To do this we use a belt sander (in the high school they use a chop saw). So I’ll ask them to get a “square”, and draw a line “square” to one side, and then “square up” the board by sanding it down the that line. Of course, the tool we call a “square” is not square at all. They can be triangular, but in our shop they are “L” shaped (to my students they invariably look like a gun) and I will attempt to explain it’s not a gun and that it’s called a square because it is set at 90 degrees or the angle of each corner of a square or rectangle. “Bang, bang”, they’ll say.
Then there’s “finish”. My students are usually in a hurry to get projects done. I insist that most classroom projects be “finished”, that is coated with finish. Whereas my students want them “finished”, that is all done. I’ll tell them they must put three coats of polyurethane finish on the project, and that the finish must dry between each coat. If I don’t tell them it has to dry between coats they’ll just keep slathering on finish until they have gone over it three times. I have to use very specific language. A project can be assembled buy not completed, because it’s not “finished” until it’s been finished.

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