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Using Complex Texts to Develop Language

Thursday, October 1, 2015 to Thursday, January 7, 2016
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Course description

This course is jointly provided by Belinda Louie from University of Washington, Tacoma, and Sara Rutherford-Quach and Jeff Zwiers from Stanford University. The purpose of the course is to support teachers to enhance students' language development by analyzing complex texts and using language from those texts, the major practices emphasized in the current college- and career-ready standards. The course will have 4 different sessions addressing the following: 1) what makes a text complex; 2) effective strategies for teaching students to analyze textual features; 3) effective strategies for teaching students to use and acquire textual language; and 4) designing lessons that emphasize students using textual language and analyzing textual features.

Throughout the course, participants will complete 4 assignments that require them to collect samples of student language as it relates to the analysis and discussion of complex texts. It also organizes a massive collaboration of educators who wish to support students, particularly English Language Learners, in developing their abilities to use complex language.


Orientation: Introduction to Course and Teams (September 28 – September 30, 2015)

Session 1: The Language of Complex Texts (October 1-Oct 21, 2015)

This first session provides a brief overview of the course and introduces the basics of text complexity, including the definition of complex text, the measures of text complexity according to the Common Core State Standards, especially the qualitative dimensions of text complexity. This session presents resources and tasks to prepare participants to analyze classroom discussions of a complex text.

Session 2: Teaching Students to Analyze Language Features (October 22- November 11, 2015)

In this second session, we focus on how to help students effectively analyze how language is used in complex texts. The specific types of text features that we focus on include: text structures for literary and informational texts, syntactic frames, and language devices.

Session 3: Fostering Ownership of Text Language (November 12- December 2, 2015)

In this third session, we focus on what teachers can do to support the use and acquisition (and ownership) of language that comes from texts that students are reading. Students will use text language as they explore layers of meaning in group discussion and individual writing.

Session 4: Designing a lesson focusing on text feature analysis and students' use of text language (December 3-December 24, 2015)

In this fourth session, we will focus on how to design lessons that support students' language development and content comprehension.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much does the course cost?

The course is offered free of charge.

2. Are any materials or textbooks needed for this course?

You will be asked to complete readings as part of the course, but all required readings will be available for free via the course website. Several of the optional readings will also be free to participants and available online. To access additional optional readings online, participants may need to pay a small fee for copyright royalties to authors and publishers. Details about how to access these optional readings will be available via the course website.

3. How do I show my school that I completed this course?

Every participant who completes the course requirements will receive a free statement of accomplishment signed by the instructors. As to whether this free statement of accomplishment may be used for professional development units in your specific context, you would need to check with your employer. Specific requirements for receiving a statement of accomplishment will be available when the course begins.

4. Do I have to be a teacher to take this course? Who else might be participating in this course?

You do not have to be a teacher to take this course. The course may also be valuable to ELL coaches, teacher educators, and site and district administrators, among others. In order to fully participate in the course, however, you do need to have access to a classroom in which you can obtain student language samples and implement lessons (or collaborate with classroom teachers to obtain student language samples and implement lessons). This is because several of the course assignments require submitting language samples - either samples of student writing or brief transcriptions of students' oral language - and reflecting on lessons.

5. Are there any tests or assignments?

The course will be organized into four sessions. Within each session, you will have one assignment to complete. In general, the course follows a cycle of inquiry approach in which you gather data about student language (specifically, samples of language students used when constructing a claim supported by evidence) implement a lesson based on your insights about student language, reflect on that lesson, and repeat the cycle again. In addition, you will provide feedback to your peers about their work.

6. If I complete all eight weeks of the course, how long should I plan on spending in the course and on coursework each week?

We anticipate that the course will take approximately 30 hours of time to complete. The course will be organized into four sessions, each spanning approximately two weeks. We anticipate that each session will take approximately 7-8 hours to complete, spread out over the approximately two week time span.

7. Is the course self-paced? Can I work ahead?

Some aspects of the course, such as readings and lecture videos, you can complete at your own pace. Within each of the four course sessions you can largely work at your own pace, but you cannot work ahead on future sessions. Because several assignments center around providing feedback to peers and collaboratively creating a lesson plan with your team, you will need to coordinate some aspects of your work with your teammates.


Belinda Louie, Professor, Education Program, University of Washington, Tacoma
Sara Rutherford-Quach, Lecturer in the Stanford Graduate School of Education
Jeff Zwiers, Senior Researcher in the Stanford Graduate School of Education
Annie Kuo, Researcher and Instructor in the Education Program, University of Washington, Tacoma

Using Complex Text

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