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Effective Conversation in the Classroom

Monday, July 25, 2016
Course topic: 

Fee Applies.


New College-and-Career-Readiness standards emphasize the importance of speaking, listening, and conversing not only as a means for learning, but also as a valuable goal of learning. This short summer course is intended to help teachers prepare for teaching students to have in-depth conversations about content area concepts and topics. The first month of school is a vital time for establishing norms, building participation structures, preparing lessons, and fostering a culture of productive and respectful communication. The three sessions in this course will provide you with clear explanations, examples, and rationales for establishing constructive classroom conversations from the get go, when it counts the most.

Thousands of educators have participated in our professional development courses. A big a-ha! moment for these participants is the introduction to and practice with language tools. In this course we will be working with the Conversation Analysis Tool that has been developed by our team. The Conversation Analysis Tool is aligned with the shift in contemporary English Language Proficiency standards and focuses on language functions (what students do with language as they engage with content and interact with others) rather than language forms (grammar and vocabulary). Teachers can use this tool to examine whether conversational turns are building up previous turns to build up an idea, and more importantly, whether the conversational turns focus on content or skills related to the lesson objectives. This quick and easy tool allows teachers to formatively evaluate teaching and student learning, and to receive and offer feedback on a daily and weekly basis.

This course will serve as good preparation for our quarter-long Constructive Classroom Conversations course in the fall. Participants will be able to build on and put into practice what they have learned in this short course, and to collect, analyze and act on conversations between their own students.

Classroom teachers and instructional coaches from grades K to 12 and in all subject areas are welcome and encouraged to take this course together with their colleagues (for example, content teachers with ELD/ESL teachers).


This course consists of three online sessions, three weeks in a row. 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 the first month of school.

  • Session 1: Establishing a Classroom Culture of Conversation (August 2 - August 8) - This session provides models and suggested activities for cultivating classrooms that value learning through constructive conversation.
  • Session 2: Creating Effective Conversation Prompts & Tasks (August 9 - August 15) - This session focuses on how to look at a lesson, envision the conversational opportunities, and craft effective prompts for back and forth conversations between students.
  • Session 3: Preparing for Effective & Efficient Formative Assessment of Conversations (August 16 - August 22) - The session prepares participants to (1) set up an assessment plan for assessing and reflecting on observations of paired student conversations, (2) provide immediate feedback to students during their conversations, and (3) reflect on conversation assessment to improve teaching and assessment.


Kenji Hakuta; Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus

Kenji Hakuta is active in education policy. He has testified to Congress and courts on language policy, the education of language minority students, affirmative action in higher education, and improvement of quality in educational research. Kenji is an elected Member of the National Academy of Education, a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recognized for his accomplishments in Linguistics and Language Sciences. He has served on the board of various organizations, including the Educational Testing Service, the Spencer Foundation, and the New Teacher Center.

Jeff Zwiers; Senior Researcher in the Graduate School of Education

Jeff 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 at the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching focuses on developing teachers’ core practices for teaching academic language, comprehension of complex texts, and oral communication skills across subject areas.

Sara Rutherford-Quach; Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education

Sara Rutherford-Quach, a former bilingual elementary teacher, has more than 13 years of experience working with linguistically diverse students and their teachers and has conducted extensive research on instructional practices for English learners. 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 language-minority students. Her areas of interest include classroom discourse and interaction analysis; language, culture, and instruction in multilingual and multicultural educational environments; institutional, policy, and curricular change; and educational equity. Sara has been involved with the design and teaching of more than 20 MOOC offerings since 2013 and she also directed the development of many learning modules with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the ELPA 21 Consortium.


Is there any prerequisite for the course?


Will I get a Record of Completion?

Students will receive a Record of Completion upon finishing the course requirements. Please note that Stanford University makes no representation that participation in the course, including participation leading to a statement of accomplishment, 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.

What is the course pace?

Unlike a traditional classroom, there is no specific time or day that you must log on or “attend” class: you are free to complete the session tasks at your own pace as long as you finish them within the allotted time.

Any additional textbooks or software required?