Supporting Student Argumentation in English Language Arts and History/Social Studies


Stanford Graduate School of Education


College- and Career-Ready standards emphasize the importance of speaking, listening, and engaging in argumentation as a means FOR learning and as a valuable goal OF learning. Starting March 20, Drs. Sara Rutherford-Quach, Jeff Zwiers and Erika Johnson at Stanford Graduate School of Education will offer an online professional development course that focuses on student argumentation, Supporting Student Argumentation in English Language Arts and Social Studies. The overall purpose of this course is to help teachers prepare students, and particularly language learners, to clearly communicate well-structured oral and written arguments about content-area concepts and topics.

This course consists of five online sessions, which will be released in succession. Each session includes expert video screencasts, classroom video clips, readings and resources, and assignments that will prompt participants to strengthen the curricular foundations of communication. Participants are free to complete the session tasks at their own pace as long as they finish them all before the course ends on May 31. During the course, participants will learn to:

  • listen purposefully to assess student argumentation
  • craft effective prompts and create argumentation opportunities within lessons
  • model and build activities for identifying, evaluating, and improving argumentation supports
  • provide productive feedback to students and make instructional changes to strengthen arguments

This argumentation course is based on a previous course offered by Rutherford-Quach and professors Karen Thompson and Kenji Hakuta. The current course has been revised and augmented based on participant feedback and to reflect the content-area specializations. The instructors are associated with the Understanding Language Initiative, which focuses on language, learning, and equity issues across a range of educational settings. The Understanding Language teaching team has been designing and offering online professional development courses for four years. Thousands of educators have participated in these professional development courses. Comments such as these are common:

Before taking this course I never thought of "argumentation" as a positive thing in my classroom. I know that by using this new concept of argumentation I can better prepare my students to state a claim and provide evidence and reasoning in an organized manner that allows them to express their thoughts but also listen to others.

I think a major takeaway for me is the instruction and modeling required to help ELL students create strong arguments. I collaborated with a teacher using sentence stems, and it wasn't enough for some of our students. They need more time to speak and practice their ideas! Also, the idea that sentence stems should further language instead of constrain language is an important takeaway for me.

Including a counter argument in my instructional practice has improved student argumentation speaking and writing tremendously. Another way I have already changed my instruction is by using formative assessments to guide instruction and has led to improvement in the quality of argumentation writing in my classroom.

Our experience shows that the best results are achieved in online courses when participants collaborate in face-to-face settings between the online sessions, such as in organized professional learning communities or during after-school meetings led by district coaches. Classroom teachers and instructional coaches from all grade levels, K to 12, are encouraged to take the course together with their colleagues. Moreover, although this course focuses on English Language Arts and Social Studies, educators from other subject areas may also take the course if they find it applicable. We look forward to working with you soon!


There are no pre-requisites for the course. Classroom teachers and instructional coaches are encouraged to take the course.

Course Instructors

Sara Rutherford-Quach
Dr. Sara Rutherford-Quach is the Director of Academic Programs and Research for Understanding Language in the Stanford Graduate School of Education. A former bilingual elementary teacher, Sara has nearly 20 years of experience working with linguistically diverse students and their teachers. She also has conducted extensive research on instructional practices for English learners and led Understanding Language's online efforts since 2013. 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 multilingual students. Sara holds a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College, MAs in both Education and Cultural Anthropology from Stanford, and a PhD. in Linguistic Anthropology of Education from Stanford.

Jeff Zwiers
Dr. Jeff Zwiers is the Director of Professional Development at Understanding Language at Stanford Graduate School of Edcuation. He has worked for more than fifteen years as a professional developer and instructional mentor in urban school settings, emphasizing the development of literacy, thinking, and academic language for linguistically and culturally diverse students. He has published books and articles on reading, thinking, and academic language. His most recent book is Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings. His current work focuses on developing teachers’ core practices for teaching academic language, comprehension of complex texts, and oral communication skills across subject areas. He holds a BA in Psychology from Stanford, an MAT in Language and Reading from Stanford, and a PhD in Education from USF.

Erika Moore Johnson
Dr. Erika Moore Johnson is a post-doctoral scholar in the Stanford Teacher Education Program at Stanford University. Erika taught in bilingual and sheltered English classes for 10 years before getting her doctorate in Literacy and English Education. Her research focuses on how teachers can offer effective, responsive ELA instruction to culturally diverse student populations. Her work has been published in Teaching and Teacher Education and the Journal of Language and Literacy Education.

Frequently Asked Questions

What web browser should I use?
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Any additional textbooks or software required?

Will I receive any completion document upon finishing the course?
Participants who complete the course requirements will be eligible to receive a Statement of Accomplishment after the course ends.

How many professional development hours is this course equivalent to?
We estimate that the coursework is equivalent to approximately 40 professional development hours to individuals who complete the course and gain a Statement of Accomplishment.

Can my work in this course be accepted by a school district??
Stanford University makes no representations that participation in the course, including participation leading to a record of completion, will be accepted by any school district or other entity as evidence of professional development. Participants are solely responsible for determining whether participation in the course, including obtaining a record of completion, will be accepted by a school district, or any other entity, as evidence of professional development coursework.

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