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Integrating English Language Development and Content Area Learning: A Conversation-Based Approach

Monday, February 1, 2016 to Wednesday, June 15, 2016
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The Course

This course is for teachers and others who work with English learners and other linguistically and culturally diverse students. The main focus of the course is helping teachers to use conversations to develop students' language, literacy, and thinking skills within content area classrooms. Conversations offer a host of academic, social, cognitive, and linguistic benefits, many of which you will see as you work with students and apply the ideas and reflections that emerge in the sessions.

The videos, readings, and assignments in this four-session course are meant to help you create a culture of conversation in your classroom, as well as explore how you can use conversations to teach the skills of interpretation,argumentation, and application—and the language used to enact these skills—across disciplines.

More Information

Coaching/PD Provider Component

You do not have to be a teacher to take this course. The course may also be valuable to instructional coaches, teacher educators, and site and district administrators, among others. Coaches/PD Providers also have different but related assignments.

Classroom Requirement

In order to fully participate in the course, you 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).

Statement of Accomplishment

Participants who complete the course (i.e., finish the required assignments 1, 2, 3, and 4) will receive a Statement of Accomplishment from NovoEd. Please check with your employer as to whether this statement of accomplishment may be used for professional development credit. There is no fee to take the course.


Session 1 – Creating a Classroom CULTURE of Conversation

This first session provides a brief overview of the course and addresses the role of classroom conversation in learning and teaching and assessing of key thinking skills across disciplines. In this session we address why attending to student conversation skills is vital (but often neglected), particularly if our ultimate goal is to improve the overall quality of academic learning. This session opens with suggestions for cultivating classrooms that value learning through constructive conversation. We present an overview of key conversation skills as well as instructional scaffolding and teacher modeling to support them. The session prepares participants to observe paired student conversations, model and scaffold conversation skills, then analyze paired student conversations to improve teaching and assessment.

Session 2 – Fortifying INTERPRETATION Skills & Language with Conversation

In this second session participants learn how they can use the conversations in their discipline to teach the skill of interpretation and its language across disciplines. Interpretation, in a nutshell, means using clues (textual, visual, etc.) to construct meanings that aren't explicit and obvious. Students often interpret when reading, listening, and/or viewing. Interpretation happens in various flavors across disciplines. A student might interpret: data from a lab in science, what is happening in a long word problem in math, themes in a short story in English, the purpose of symbols in a famous painting in art, and an author's bias in a primary source document in history--all in the same day!

Session 3 – Fortifying ARGUMENTATION Skills & Language with Conversation

In this third session you learn how you can use the conversations in your discipline(s) to teach the skills of argumentation and its language. Argumentation, in a nutshell, means building up two or more competing sides of an issue with evidence and then comparing the "weight" of the two sides to decide on a winner. Argumentation is highlighted in most of the new standards for ELA, math, science, and ELD. Argumentation, of course, varies across disciplines. A student might argue: that the data gathered in a lab is not strong enough to support the original hypothesis, that a person needs to find the slope of the line to move on in a math problem, that the poem is about the cost of freedom in English, and that the patriots were justified in inciting events that led to the Revolutionary War—all in the same day!

Session 4 – Fortifying APPLICATION Skills & Language with Conversation

In this fourth and final session participants learn how they can use the conversations in their discipline to teach the language and skills needed to apply newly learned knowledge and skills across disciplines. Application, in a nutshell, means using knowledge and skills in novel contexts. Application, for the purposes of this session, includes related skills such as transferring, extending, designing, problem solving, and creating. Application looks different across disciplines. A student might apply: newly learned ideas about animal adaption in science to make conclusions about local birds, methods for solving an algebra problem to figuring out college costs, a theme in a novel to explain a situation at school, and skills of recognizing bias in historical primary sources to present day news articles--all in the same day!

This final session also pulls together what we have learned in the course to design lessons that effectively and efficiently use conversations to strengthen language and content learning.


The Instructors


Jeff Zwiers

Senior Researcher in the Stanford Graduate School of Education

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.

Steven Weiss

Project Manager, Stanford ELL Leadership Network

Steven Weiss is a Senior Research Associate at Stanford's Understanding Language/SCALE and the Project Manager for the Stanford ELL Leadership Network, a collaboration between seven small to medium sized school districts in Northern California focused on developing leadership capacity around English Language Learners. Prior to joining Understanding Language, he worked at the Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) program at WestEd, where he was a professional developer and instructional coach for secondary teachers and administrators in urban school districts such as New York City, Austin, San Diego and San Jose. He has also worked as a K-8 school administrator, a bilingual/ESL resource teacher, and a high school Spanish/History/ESL teacher. Steven is bilingual in Spanish. He holds an M.Ed. from U.C.L.A., an M.A. in Educational Administration from San Francisco State University, and an M.A. in Spanish from Middlebury College.


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