Discussion Cards

The San Diego County Office of Education has begun a beta site for disciplinary discussion cards for classroom pedagogical practice. Interestingly, the cards are split between Critical Reading and Disciplinary Thinking.

Critical Reading is defined as “questions are aligned to the Common Core Literacy standards. They are intended for students to explore the key ideas, details, craft, and structure of the text. There are also questions that help students integrate information into their own developing schema of the discipline’s field of study” (SD County Office of Education).

The second page of discussion cards for Disciplinary Thinking is defined as “questions to provide a lens for exploring and analyzing the text more formally. When used routinely, Disciplinary Thinking questions create habits of mind, a disciplinary lens through which students begin to see the world” (SD County Office of Education).

The single-subject matter discussion cards for classroom use can be helpful at assisting students as they begin their discussion journey in your classroom. The Assessment Tools for Improving Participation in Text-based Discussions has both formative self-assessments and peer assessments. Built on the frameworks of the Teaching & Learning Cycle and Making Thinking Visible, classroom teachers can print the discussion cards as is, or there is the editable Word doc that allows teachers to make adjustments to the cards and the language of instruction.

The Interactive Classroom

Empirical research continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of increasing classroom talk. A recent meta-analysis in the Journal of Educational Psychology synthesizes 71 research studies that suggested peer-to-peer interaction increases children’s learning. Even better? One-to-one with the teacher interaction showed more significant results. Another finding was that the classroom talk and interaction had to be structured. The findings of the research study reminded me of Structured Academic Controversy as a pedagogical practice in high school classrooms. Although focused on history/social science, this structured collaboration can become pedagogical practice across the single-subject curriculum.

Advocacy Speaking: Using Socratic Seminars to Investigate the Status Quo

Slide OneThe CA Association of Teachers of English held their annual conference in San Diego this past week. The “With Literacy and Justice For All” program was full of great professional development sessions for classroom teachers. My session regarding Socratic seminars introduced teachers to the need of having students investigate the status quo in public documents (laws, city ordinances, historical photography) in order to find out who enforces the way things are, and then to have a pinpointed call to action. Socratic seminars are used by teachers, but primarily for fictional texts. The framework used for the session is the CA High School Speech Association (CHSSA) Original Advocacy speech category. The national network for competitive speech categories does not use the Original Advocacy category, and it is unique to California. When I was a speech coach, I noticed how my students enjoyed the category, and it is linked to debating. When I saw this, I thought about how I could transfer this to my classroom.

Sharing this with classroom teachers on how to get our students to advocate within the general population English classes was important, and the session went well. Teachers spent a good portion of the session building a graphic organizer based on the organizer offered by CHSSA. We further used the Critical Thinking Cheatsheet and the Asking Good Questions sheets from GDC. Global Digital Citizen does great work with teaching resources that can be used within Socratic inquiry. I will continue to offer Socratic pedagogy to teachers by using different frameworks and methods of inquiry. Teachers walked out of the session with multiple frameworks for Socratic circles in their classrooms, and pictures of the group graphic organizers.

Dialogical Pedagogy +

downloadDialogical classrooms are rare, not necessarily unicorns, but rare enough that there is so much talk recently, but little action. The dialogical classroom is liberatory education. For the lack of a better term, it is a mindset of the classroom educator and students. “Emancipating Classrooms: The Necessity of Dialogic Pedagogy” is a paper that I am currently developing with Charlene Holkenbrink-Monk (Dignified Learning Project). As classmates in the doctoral program at SDSU/CGU, we began to think as to why it is much talked about, yet misunderstood and not implemented. The more we thought about the “methods” for implementation, we further thought that it is not a method to be implemented, but a truly democratic classroom where teachers and students know the purpose of dialogue in the classroom.

We will present the paper this April at an education conference at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and we are working towards publishing the paper. Stay up-to-date with this blog, and I will put forward the ideas that Charlene and I are working on regarding the importance of classroom action.

Dialogical Classrooms: Demystify ELD

FB_IMG_1512760052964 copyAt the CA League of Schools conference, I held a professional development workshop for teachers on the importance of speaking and listening for English Language Development (ELD). The ELD framework was adopted by the state of California to assist the teaching and assessment of students categorized as English Language Learners. Although the session was billed as “advocacy speaking” for secondary school students, I decided to move in the direction of English language development because of the need by our schools to better serve English language learners.

Original Abstract

The original abstract for the conference- “Student advocacy is much closer than we initially think. Teaching students the strategies for critical thinking and oral discourse can put the focus on student-owned design and development in the classroom. This interactive session will provide participants with strategies to teach the CCSS Speaking and Listening Standards to all language learners. Empowered by the California English Language Development Standards, come to this session to move your students toward mastery, create graphic organizers, and demystify the CA ELD Standards for speaking and listening.” While wanting to move in this direction, I decided that I would share the following pedagogical mechanisms that I learned in The Netherlands, and that I used in my own classroom:

  1. Dictogloss activity for second language acquisition
  2. Group Collaboration Observation Chart for feedback as students co-construct knowledge through speaking and listening during group work
  3. Discussion Rubric for Socratic seminars
  4. QAR Graphic Organizer and Question Stems for questioning during reading and discussion
  5. For advanced Socratic seminars to investigate the status_quo, teachers can adapt the graphic organizer created by the CA High School Speech Association for Original Advocacy speech. The ability for teachers to differentiate the transfer of a speech category to their general education classroom can empower students to learn the techniques to pinpoint a call for action.

The Speaking-Listening Standards K-12 are helpful for teachers to see the progression in the anchor standards/strands. It is further imperative for classroom teachers to begin demystifying the ELD standards for discussion. As the ELD framework explains, “Interacting in Meaningful Ways” can increase language acquisition through any of the above examples from the professional development session.


Primary School Speaking & Listening

Because my focus has always been secondary school, I am frequently asked about primary school. K-6 teachers will ask, “What about us?” On behalf of my classroom colleagues, I will make more of a sustained effort over the coming years to provide quality instructional practices for speaking and listening. Maybe I should start with mentioning the work of two professors at San Diego State University.

Drs. Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher of San Diego State University write about the importance of oral language development. In “Speaking and Listening in Content Area Learning“, the professors offer evidence-based speaking and listening instructional routines that have been useful for students during content area instruction. The rubric/checklist is a good starting point for primary school teachers to begin their journey of teaching the speaking and listening standards. In another article, “It’s All About the Talk“, the professors further discuss collaborative professional development for teachers in order to increase oral academic language use in the classroom.


Dialogical Teaching 1.0

What is “oracy”? It sounds like a made-up word, but a school in London has decided that it is equally important to literacy and mathematics. The oracy element added to School 21 nurtures the school to further implement a social-emotional learning curriculum through communication. The Progression in Oracy rubric gives standards at the school for teachers to design curriculum to move their students towards mastery. School 21 in London has become an exemplar for other schools in the U.K.


How has School 21 implemented their framework into the everyday curriculum? They made it their core pedagogy:

1. Embedding Oracy Into Your Classroom (It’s Already Happening)
2. Create Discussion Guidelines With Your Students
3. Guide Your Students to Reach a Shared Agreement
4. Help Your Students Analyze Discussion Guidelines
5. Consider How to Group Your Students
6. Create Discussion Roles
7. Create Structured Talk Tasks
8. Build Comfort and Confidence in Your Shy Students

What does the research say about oracy? The head school teacher and cofounder at London 21 lays out the thinking behind the decision to make oracy a primary focus. As a classroom teacher and educational researcher, I like how he puts forward the research while offering the partnerships that have developed since the start. Voice 21 is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the speaking and listening standards, while the head school teacher further mentions using Ignites (think quick TED talks).

Forensics Education is Important?

“It’s the best thing you don’t know.” That’s a line often repeated among students, parents, and speech coaches who believe the league’s competitions offer some of the most useful lessons high school has to offer. A direct quote from an article in the Boston Globe regarding the impact speech and debate is having on students in the region. Unfortunately, something so important to the development of adolescents is a funding nightmare for teachers with school districts cutting an important extracurricular piece to a child’s education.

Based on my own experience as a classroom teacher and the impact on my curriculum as a speech and debate coach, I can only say that extracurricular is only one way to reach students. The best way to increase the number of students impacted is to include the lessons into your everyday curriculum.images

With the advent of the Common Core curriculum in Florida, a principal decided that her middle school students (6-8) would be required to take a speech and debate class each year. The reason for the decision? The principal was a speech major in college, and knows the power of speech and debate in the curriculum. Any talk about how English Language Learners or “special needs” populations would falter with the more rigorous curriculum did not deter the curricular change. A mindset developed at the school that the students that would gain the most are the populations that have historically not been served by speech and debate. Students would learn methods in the speech and debate class, and then use those same methods in their core literacy classes.

Growth as Professional Development

Early on in my career I became confused as to why my school called our student early dismissal downloadday as “teacher professional development day”. I hoped that it would be the day that I could learn additional methods as an inservice teacher. What I soon found out is that the day would never become professional development for inservice teachers, but a faculty meeting. Occasionally, there was an attempt by an administrator to offer reading, discussion, and a PowerPoint presentation on how we can move our students’ learning forward. While this type of approach is seen on campus, I began to see this approach off campus as well. This may very well continue, and so I found a recent blog post “6 Keys to Planning and Delivery Effective Professional Learning“. Offering professional learning/PD needs a growth mindset for those who wish to try the top-down approach, I think the assistance is helpful for teachers, and for those who wish to teach teachers.

When I began my journey to clear my teaching credential by entering a BTSA program (induction for preliminary teaching credentials in California), I spoke to my BTSA coach about the problem. He told me that I needed to change my mindset about professional development, and that I would never receive proper PD on campus. Ultimately, I should seek proper PD off campus. Recently looking at the website of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), I came across a blog post that I wish I would have known about many years ago. “Going Beyond the Stitch Fix Approach to PD” is an excellent read for a teacher to understand the growth mindset as a classroom teacher. It makes me wonder why we look for the “top down” approach to professional development, and not the growth mindset approach that we as teachers will turn and ask our students to develop.

After years of trying to find this unicorn of off-campus PD, I would luckily hear about the National Writing Project. There are a couple of programs offered at universities in Los Angeles, but I was encouraged by a colleague to apply for the Cal State Northridge Writing Project site. I applied and entered the Invitational Summer Institute directed by Dr. Kathy Rowlands. Regardless of grade level or subject matter, I cannot say enough about the Writing Project and the profound impact it creates for inservice teachers. I can only now encourage classroom teachers to find their professional development unicorn, and give the National Writing Project a chance to create that growth mindset.

The Socratic Method as Form

1. Locate a statement confidently described as common sense
Ex. Being virtuous requires money
2. Imagine for a moment that, despite the confidence of the person proposing it, the statement is false. Search for situations or contexts where the statement would not be true.
Ex. Could one ever have money and not be virtuous? Could one ever have no money and mbfcd60bac47bec1ba03cd8d08aef060abe virtuous?
3. If an exception is found, the definition must be false or at least imprecise.
Ex. Is it possible to have money and be a crook? Is it possible to be poor and be virtuous?
4. The initial statement must be nuanced to take the exception into account.
Ex. People who have money can be described as virtuous only if they have acquired it in a virtuous way, and some people with no money can be virtuous when they have lived through situations where it was impossible to be virtuous and make money.
5. If one finds exceptions to the improved statements, the process should be repeated. The truth should be impossible to disprove. It is by finding out what something is not that one comes closest to understanding what it is.
Socrates described a “correct belief” as an opinion if one could not respond to objections. We must understand why something is true, and we must understand why the alternatives are false.
*The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton

Why the Debate? The Fulbright Report


The Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching grant ended on June 16th with the submission of two requirements: Summative Report and the Inquiry Project. Reflecting on my academic journey, and the educators that I met along the way gave me a new sense of purpose as I enter the Joint Ph.D. Program at San Diego State University and Claremont Graduate University.

Living in The Netherlands gave me a chance to travel throughout the country visiting multiple schools and teachers’ classrooms. Going to debate tournaments on the weekends to observe secondary students debating all led to my project of sharing Dutch speaking and debate strategies with U.S. teachers.

“Why the Debate? How the Study of Argumentation and Debate Increases Language Proficiency” Summative Report includes:

  • Program Experience
  • Project Description
  • Project Process (Resources, Methods, Participants)
  • Results
  • Relevance & Application


The Final Project is created as a “script” that is adjustable based on the audience of download-1the professional development seminar. The goal of the Inquiry Project is to transfer what I learned in The Netherlands to helping classroom teachers in the United States. The first opportunity to do so will be at the National Speech & Debate Association’s Education Conference in Denver, Colorado August 24-27. The workshop titled “International Best Practices: Strategies for Teaching Debate to First and Second Language Learners” will share Dutch strategies for teaching English Language Learners. The Fulbright Inquiry Project allows me the flexibility to move in the direction of teaching teachers based on the specific topic.

Discussion as Structured Controversy

Class Discussion for Teaching Goals

Although Stanford University’s Center for Teaching and Learning focuses primarily on university teaching, I have blogged in the past about their work and how to adapt the strategies for imgressecondary classrooms. Their 2005 research and practice-based newsletter Speaking of Teaching exemplifies teaching strategies for classroom use. What matters from the research is that discussion must be taught, it is not naturally acquired, “Truly successful classroom discussions are guided by specific teaching goals such as increasing students’ comfort with the specialized language and methods of a field or developing critical thinking.” Ultimately, discussion-based teaching and learning should serve the following three elements:

  1. Increase students’ comfort with the specialized language and methods of a field.
  2. Develop critical thinking.
  3. Develop problem-solving skills.

But…where should teachers start? I have spent an enormous amount of my career developing discussion-based teaching methods with inclusion of deliberation and debate. I have further spent frustrating moments trying to get my teaching colleagues to join this research-based and success-proven endeavor. The Stanford article supports this approach, and further encourages the teaching approach for undergraduate classes with hundreds of students! Some of the articles tips and tops for teachers:

  • Exercises and Prompts ~ Analyzing texts or examples from the field.
  • Comparing Texts or examples from the field. One step up from analysis is comparison. Ask students to compare and contrast two texts or examples.
  • Guiding Discussion, Partner Swap, Two-Four-Six-Eight (enlarge grouping)
  • Troubleshooting during Discussion ~ when students lack intrinsic motivation
  • Stir up controversy!!!
  • Encourage and provide competing alternatives

Teachers are then encouraged to assess student learning through reflective assignments, asking students to write about how the discussion changed their thinking or understanding.

Stirring Up Controversy, albeit “structured academic controversy”

Developed by social studies teachers, Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) is discussionimages that moves students beyond either/or debates to a more nuanced historical synthesis. Sample lessons are offered by different websites, but I have included a history format with reading and handouts. SAC is also an excellent opportunity for discussion in the science classroom. In the past, I have found this teacher document to be the best primer, and it includes a generic task card and worksheet. The goal of SAC is for students to work towards finding consensus, but also offers a type of deliberation. When my students could not find consensus, we took the topic to a vote. There are several ways for a teacher to develop the SAC method in their classroom and the ultimate measure is for teachers to see the value in the critical thinking/language acquisition.

In their article “Understanding and Developing Controversial Issues in College Courses,” Brian Payne and Randy Gainey offer possible topics in eleven different disciplines, and then go further in detail for the main four that social science students are most interested in (gun control, death penalty, alternative sanctions, and drug legalization). The authors highly note that teachers must take into account:

  1. There may be differing degrees of background knowledge on behalf of students
  2. Gender and demographic differences that affect individuals’ beliefs

searchThe instructor must make students aware of these differences in order to help students understand their own values and how they may differ from others. This is further important to stress the differences to students so that the discussion is not monopolized by one segment of the class with a distorted view of the issue. Interestingly, the authors point to the method of notecards on each student that is randomly called upon. The article further notes that one instructor quadrupled the turn-in rate for notes and reflections because students are told that the notes are returned the day of a test, and that they may use their notes and reflections on the assessment.

For note-taking, I teach and encourage high school students to use the double-entry journal method or the Cornell notes method. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but they are both effective tools for secondary school students’ success!

Why Not? Discussion for Language

Science Inquiry

113d3e571712af017a9743d9d71cd25cThe Inquiry Project focuses on the use of academic talk in the science curriculum. How do we get science teachers to value the use of academic discussion, deliberation, and debate when acquiring scientific vocabulary? Schools that integrate language and science instruction can close the science achievement gap for English-language learners, according to a yearlong analysis of six California school districts by the nonprofit Education Trust-West. Among the report’s recommendations are adopting the Next Generation Science Standards and providing regular, engaging language lessons. There is a quality for academic discussions that teachers should take note with the difference between “output” and true interaction. The Oakland Unified School District created a rubric for teachers to assess their own teaching practices, and to see how teachers can grow in the direction of offering better interaction between students in the classroom.

The Literacy in Learning Exchange  offers a webinar for science teachers to begin the process of teaching evidence-based argumentation within the science curriculum. “The presenters share examples of ways to teach students to glean appropriate evidence from informational texts and other resources and methods for compiling and sharing evidence in a cohesive, academic manner in both written and oral formats.” All of my colleagues can benefit from the Seven Ways to Scaffold Instruction for English Learners.

imagesNPRed recently offered a story titled “English Language Learners: How Your State is Doing” to give more background on the 5 million (and growing) identified English Language Learners in the United States. An undercurrent that is reported is how “gifted” ELLs are not being identified as gifted and talented, and how educators are at-risk of failing to adequately serve this community.

Once again, the Teaching Channel offers great insight regarding the importance of teaching language learners the academic discussion techniques. I have pulled directly from Nicole Knight’s blog post:

Why are Academic Discussions So Important for Our ELLs?

Academic discussions help all students develop reasoning skills and deepens understanding of content and multiple perspectives. For ELLs, academic discussions are critical to language and content development because:

  • ELLs need the opportunity to hear language in authentic and varied contexts. Teachers, as well as students with higher language proficiency, serve as language models. Particularly important is exposure to discipline-specific language so ELLs hear what it sounds like to communicate in an array of academic contexts.
  • ELLs need opportunities to produce language in contextualized and purposeful ways. They need to practice applying form (e.g., grammar, vocabulary) and function (e.g., language used to clarify, explain, argue) to communicate and build ideas.
  • ELLs benefit from redundancy of ideas and their related vocabulary. Discussion allows for multiple opportunities to hear new concepts and content explained, analyzed, and interpreted.
How Do We Make Sure Our ELLs are Fully Engaged in and Benefiting from Academic Discussions?

Just because we give students the opportunity to discuss, doesn’t mean they will. We need to provide additional supports and structures so that the students who can benefit the most from academic discussion actually do! Here are five important teaching strategies you can use to support your ELLs to fully participate:

1. Mix up your grouping structures, but give more time to pairs. Whole group discussions provide a great opportunity to model discussion skills, to hear a broad perspective of ideas, and to synthesize learning from small group or pair conversations. The biggest payoff, however, is paired conversations, because they maximize speaking time and increase overall engagement. Even when the structure is a whole-group discussion, consider inserting paired conversations (Turn and Talk or Think-Pair-Share) throughout to allow for ELLs to rehearse their ideas and related academic language.

2. Use discussion strategies that require every student to talk. You can simply open a discussion with a Round Robin, or use Talking Chips or Discussion Cards that allow for equitable participation. Watch students actively participate in discussions in Participation Protocols for Academic Discussions.

3. Provide language support. Providing students access to language resources, such as sentence stems and word banks, gives students both the academic language and confidence to participate. A note of caution: overuse of prescribed sentence starters or stems can actually stifle talk, as students just fill in the blanks. Better yet, have students rehearse a few choice sentence stems and relevant vocabulary before they engage in academic discussion. The goal is for students to know how to access and use language supports when needed and independently (Watch Talk Moves in Academic Discussion).

4. Accept imperfect language. When ELLs are engaged in academic discussion, privilege communication over precision of language. Overcorrection or too much attention to grammatically correct language can hinder ELLs language production and interrupt the flow of ideas. During a discussion, we want our ELLs to approximate correct and sophisticated language, not perfect it.

5. Expect and require extended responses. One of the biggest disservices to our ELLs is to accept one-word or abbreviated responses — even worse is when we complete their sentences. Instead, provide wait time, encourage students to continue, and press students for evidence by asking, “Why?” or, “Can you give me an example?”