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Learning as Evidence: Improving Argumentation through Formative Assessment Practice (Winter 2017)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 to Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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Course Description

Formative assessment is an instructional practice to gauge where your students are in their learning by gathering evidence of their learning, assessing the evidence, and planning the next steps in instruction. The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics, the Next Generation Science Standards, and new English Language Proficiency Standards all include a focus on argumentation, requiring that students construct claims supported by evidence and/or reasoning. In this course, we will explore how formative assessment practices can be targeted in improve student argumentation skills, an essential, cross-disciplinary practice.

Participants in this course will use a range of practical tools for gathering and analyzing language samples that show how students currently construct claims supported by evidence and/or reasoning, as well as identifying next steps in students' development. These tools support formative assessment and instructional planning. Focal topics include: articulating claims; linking evidence and/or reasoning to claims; and evaluating evidence and/or reasoning. We will also explore similarities and differences in argumentation across content areas and grade levels. This course will enable teachers to collaborate with other educators and build professional relationships that result in an online community focused on improving students' abilities to engage in argumentation across content areas. This course is offered jointly by Stanford University and Oregon State University.

Course Objectives

The main objectives of this course are for participants to:

  1. Recognize and engage in the essential components of formative assessment
  2. Develop a practical understanding of argumentation
  3. Use the entire formative assessment process to focus on language to help ELLs develop argumentation skills
  4. Use Argumentation Analysis Tool to analyze student arguments, focusing on structure and language us
  5. Learn and implement teaching strategies for building students' capacities for argumentation
  6. Collaborate with other educators and build professional relationships

Course Organization

This MOOC is organized around four sessions. The content for each session will become available on a particular date.

  • Session 1: Introduction to the formative assessment process and how to focus on language while practicing formative assessment
  • Session 2: Argumentation, its role in the new standards and associated language demands
  • Session 3: Using the formative assessment process to interpret students' argumentation skills
  • Session 4: Implementing and adjusting instructional strategies to improve student argumentation

For each of these sessions, course participants will be asked to complete a series of tasks such as watching videos, reading articles or book chapters, and completing individual and team assignments. For the sequencing of the course to be effective, the tasks for Session 1 must be completed before Session 2 begins, and so on. Yet unlike a traditional classroom, there is no specific time or day that participants must log on or "attend" class; participants are free to complete the session tasks at their own pace as long as they finish them in the allotted time.

    More Information

    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 the entire 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 three weeks. We anticipate that each session will take approximately 7-8 hours to complete, spread out over the approximately three 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 coursesessions 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.

    The Instructors


    Sara Rutherford-Quach

    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.

    Karen Thompson

    Assistant Professor, College of Education, Oregon State University

    Dr. Karen Thompson is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Oregon State University. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Linguistics from Stanford University and an M.A. in Education from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also earned an elementary bilingual teaching credential. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Thompson spent more than a decade working with English language learners in California public schools as a bilingual teacher, after-school program coordinator, and school reform consultant. Her research focuses on how policy, curriculum, and instruction interact to shape the experiences of English language learners in U.S. schools.

    Steven Weiss

    Senior Research Associate and Project Manager, Stanford ELL Leadership Network

    Steven Weiss is a Senior Research Associate at 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.


    Stanford University Graduate School of Education and Oregon State University


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