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Orchestrating Whole-class, Text-based Discussion (Literature Focus)

Course Instructors: 

Lisa Barker is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at The State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz, where she teaches courses on English education, the teaching of writing, and the facilitation of discussion. She received her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teacher Education from Stanford University and her M.A. in Educational Theatre from New York University. The 2011 Winifred Ward Scholar, Lisa conducts research on the role of educational theatre in teacher learning. For example, her dissertation, entitled “Under Discussion: Improvisational Theatre as a Tool for Improving Classroom Discourse,” examined how high-school English and history teachers learn to engage in the difficult work of orchestrating rich and, by nature, improvised classroom discussions. Prior to her work with SUNY New Paltz, Lisa taught with the Stanford Teacher Education Program and the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching and performed with the Stanford Improvisors and children’s theatre companies such as Barrel of Monkeys in Chicago and the Story Pirates in New York. Lisa began her career as an English, reading, and drama teacher at James Lick High School in San Jose, California.

Course Dates: 
SSTI 2013
Section of Course/Event: 
Previous Courses
Course Name: 
Orchestrating Whole-class, Text-based Discussion - Humanities - Designed for secondary teachers of all subjects

Leading a whole-class discussion is a complex instructional practice that cuts across content areas and teaching contexts. Within the Speaking and Listening domain of the Common Core State Standards, secondary students are expected to demonstrate “Comprehension and Collaboration” during classroom discussions. The first standard states that students should be able to “participate effectively in a range of conversations…, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.” The language of this standard raises several questions: What does it mean for students to ‘participate effectively’ in such discussions? What does clear and persuasive expression that ‘[builds] on others’ ideas’ sound like? Moreover, what teacher moves support students’ ‘comprehension’ of content and capacity for ‘collaboration’?

Attending teachers will experience and develop strategies and tools for helping young people prepare for, participate in, and reflect upon whole-class, text-based discussion. We will examine how to plan for discussion (i.e., setting norms, selecting texts, designing questions), facilitate classroom talk (i.e., listening actively, monitoring participation, responding to ideas), and assess and provide feedback on the quality of discussion.

Teachers have the option of attending one or both weeks of this two-part course sequence. Across both weeks, we will engage in text-based discussions ourselves in order to experience and unpack discussion- based tools. Both weeks’ discussions will focus on African-American civil rights movements of the mid- 20th century and be anchored by the overarching question: What rights are worth fighting for, and what’s the best way to fight? Discussions in week one will use historical documents to investigate the topical questions: Why did the Montgomery Bus Boycott succeed? What can we learn from this movement that can influence contemporary civil-rights struggles? Discussions in week two will be tethered to visual and literary texts with the topical question: Can art and fiction affect social change? Although we will ground our discussions in historical documents (in week one) and visual and literary texts (in week two), the courses are open to teachers from all subject areas.