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Rich discussions, better readers and writers

by Sarah Tierney

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.

We’ve spent ten years learning from thousands of leaders and teachers across the country about the things that make a big difference for schools. Now, we want to give you the opportunity to do the same. We’ve organized these Lessons From the Field in a new section of our website by our main areas of focus—everything from harnessing the power of formative assessments to fostering a culture of adult learning.

Sarah is a director of new partnerships and former coach at ANet. She’s leading the Lessons From the Field project.

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