The Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards emphasize improving the quality of student-to-student discourse as a major feature of instruction. The new standards specifically describe the importance of students understanding the reasoning of others and engaging in meaningful conversations using evidence for claims. Yet this type of student-to-student interaction tends to be rare in classrooms. Common classroom teaching activities such as whole class discussions, jigsaws, and think-pair-shares can have the appearance of constructive interactions, but they often do not provide adequate opportunities for all students to engage in back-and-forth dialog. This short course looks closely at student-to-student conversations and addresses ways to improve students' abilities to engage in the types of interactions described in the new standards.
This course consists of four sessions with three weeks between each session in order to provide extra time for application and reflection. The learning in this course relies heavily on participant contributions and comments. The sessions and assignments are designed for participants who teach or have access to classrooms in which they can gather samples of students’ conversation during lessons. Finally, we include resources and tasks for instructional coaches and others who support teachers and build school-wide capacity.
Please note that this is a slightly modified version of a previous course offered in Fall, 2013. This course is targeted towards secondary school teachers.
We hope you will join us on this exciting journey.
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In order to participate in the course, you will need to have access to a classroom in which you or the teacher you are observing are able to collect short samples of paired student talk two different times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment?
This course may be taken for a free statement of accomplishment.
How much of the time commitment will this course be?
Online work will take around 1 hour per week; assignments will take around 1 hour per week.
Any additional textbooks or software required?
Weeks 1-2: Constructive Conversations I
In these two weeks we dive into what high-quality talk between students can sound like in lessons that effectively teach the new standards. Specifically, we focus on the features of “constructive interactions,” during which students create, clarify, support, and negotiate ideas as they talk about concepts and build understandings in a discipline.
Weeks 3-4: Teaching the Constructive Conversation Skills
These two weeks focus on instruction to support rich interaction introduced in Module 1. We analyze video clips that show teaching that fosters interaction skills described in the new standards. We look at activities that help students build interactions skills for staying focused on objectives, building and negotiating ideas, and clarifying ideas.
Weeks 5-6: Constructive Conversations II
These two weeks we will look more in depth at how to foster student interactions that build the learning of lesson objectives, challenge thinking, and push students to use more complex language of the Common Core standards.
Week 7: Collaboration, Communication, and Community
This will be a summative week, when we will pull together everything we’ve covered in the course to create a product that communicates to other teachers the value of having a discourse focus for implementing the new standards. You will also consider next steps for applying and collaborating in this work during the year.
Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Stanford Unversity
Kenji Hakuta is the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University. He has been at Stanford since 1989, except for three years when he left to serve the new University of California at Merced as its Founding Dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. He received his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Harvard University, and began his career as a developmental psycholinguist at Yale University. He is the author of many research papers and books on language, bilingualism and education, including Mirror of Language: The Debate on Bilingualism. Hakuta is active in education policy. He has testified to Congress and courts on language policy, the education of language minority students, affirmative action in higher education, and improvement of quality in educational research.
Senior Researcher, Stanford University
Jeff Zwiers is a senior researcher at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and director of professional development for the Understanding Language Initiative, a research and professional learning project focused on improving the education of academic English learners. He has consulted for national and international teacher development projects and has published articles and books on literacy, cognition, discourse, and academic language. His current research focuses on improving professional learning models and developing classroom instruction that fosters high-quality oral language and constructive conversations across disciplines.
Director of Academic Programs & Research for Understanding Language, Lecturer in the Stanford Graduate School of Education
Sara Rutherford-Quach is the Director of Academic Programs & Research for Understanding Language and a Lecturer in the Stanford Graduate School of Education. A former bilingual elementary teacher, Sara has more than 13 years of experience working with linguistically diverse students and their teachers and has conducted extensive research on instructional practices for English learners. Sara was previously awarded a National Academy of Education Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for her work on the role of silence and speech in an elementary classroom serving language-minority students. Her areas of interest include classroom discourse and interaction analysis; language, culture, and instruction in multilingual and multicultural educational environments; institutional, policy and curricular change; and educational equity. Sara has taught and co-taught several Massive Open Online Courses for Understanding Language including Constructive Classroom Conversations: Mastering Language for College- and Career-Readiness; Supporting English Language Learners under New Standards, Learning from Your Students: A Lab Course in Formative Assessment Practice and Mastering Language for the Common Core State Standards: Focus on Mathematics in Elementary Grades.
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