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ANet is a nonprofit dedicated to the premise that every child in America deserves an excellent education and the opportunities it provides. We pursue our vision of educational equality in America by helping schools boost student learning with great teaching that is grounded in standards, informed by data, and built on the successful practices of educators around the country.

Sparking text-dependent discussion

Discussion can act as a bridge between reading and writing for students. It can prompt them to articulate, refine, and build on their ideas; and listening to their peers can expand their thinking.

Doesn’t it make lightbulbs go off when one of your peers pushes you to investigate your assumptions or look at something from a different perspective?

Teachers want lightbulbs to go off for their students, too. We want to ensure that all our students are able to read, write, and think at a level that prepares them for the future. Text-dependent discussions are one way we can help all students—even those who are reading and writing below grade-level—access complex text and content. Through collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led), students support each other in making sense of challenging texts.

Discussion can act as a bridge between reading and writing for students. It can prompt them to articulate, refine, and build on their ideas; and listening to their peers can expand their thinking. Watch this video of Erin Oliver as she shares how discussion sets students up to be stronger writers.

 
 

There are a couple of critical prerequisites you'll want to consider before diving into text-dependent discussions: 

  • High-quality, text-dependent questions are the foundation upon which rich classroom discussions about texts are based. Craft questions that will help students make meaning of the text, so they’re able to have discussions in which they clearly articulate their ideas and build on the ideas of one another. (Many teachers find it helpful to provide students with a way to capture the evidence they will need to draw on while engaging in discussion, too.)
  • Use the language of the standards to develop rigorous text-dependent questions and sequence questions in a way that helps students build their understanding of the text.

In this video, Sarah Fakhoury, a sixth grade teacher at Alain Locke Charter School in Chicago, IL, explains her approach to engaging all of her students in group discussions. You’ll also see sixth-graders in action, using text-dependent questions to engage in student-driven conversations about Jack London’s “To Build a Fire.”

 

A group of second-graders approaches this work as detectives in this video from Daniela Healing’s classroom at Robert Treat Academy Charter School in Newark, NJ. Daniela uses text-dependent questions to help students gain a baseline understanding of the text and proceeds to ask more challenging questions that push students to think more deeply about the text.