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Constructive Classroom Conversations: Mastering Language for College and Career Readiness (Spring 2016)

Thursday, February 18, 2016 to Tuesday, May 31, 2016
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The Course

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 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 main 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, especially in the team collaboration setting. Participants will be expected to complete both team and individual assignments for all sessions. 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 previous courses offered since the Fall of 2013. This course is targeted towards both elementary and secondary school teachers.

We hope you will join us on this exciting journey.

More Information


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 on two different occasions.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment?

Participants who complete the course requirements will receive a FREE Statement of Accomplishment issued through NovoEd. Please check with your employer as to whether this statement of accomplishment may be used for professional development credit. There is no fee for this course and to receive a statement of accomplishment.

If you would like to receive a Record of Achievement with Narrative Evaluation from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education with the approximate number of professional development hours to which the course is equivalent, you may pay a fee of $200 as well as complete the course requirements. Participants who choose this option with also receive a narrative evaluation from instructors on their course performance.

2. How much of a time commitment will this course require?

The course has 4 main sessions, each three weeks apart. Studying course materials (lecture videos and readings) takes about 1.5 hours per session, while assignments will take around 6-8 hours per session.

3. Any additional textbooks or software required?



Orientation: Introduction to Course and Teams

Session 1: Constructive Conversations I

In this session 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.

Session 2: Teaching the Constructive Conversation Skills

This session focuses 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.

Session 3: Constructive Conversations II

In this session, 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.

Session 4: Collaboration, Communication, and Community

This will be a summative session, in which 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.

The Instructors

Kenji Hakuta

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.

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.


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