Don’t Forget Discourse

For module 3 in our EDTC 6105 course I focused in on ISTE Coaching Standard 2f:

f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experience. 

When integrating technology into learning in the classroom there are many instructional design aspects that come into play. One such is student discourse. Creating a culture of productive student discourse and mindfully integrating it into technology-enhanced lessons provides opportunities for students to exchange ideas, ask questions, develop thinking processes, express understanding or misconceptions, and reflect on their learning. While technology like Flipgrid, Seesaw, Explain Everything, virtual field trips, pair programming are some examples of how you might use technology to elicit or enhance student discourse there are research-based elements that teachers can look for, plan for and/ or reflect on that will support students with discourse across the board. Throughout the rest of this blog post, I’ll dive deeper into elements of productive discourse as well as share strategies that technology coaches could use when working with teachers or model for teachers to use with their students. 

Hallmarks of productive discussions:

Michaels and O’Connor’s work emphasizes the ways teachers can support productive academic talk in the classroom. They outline hallmarks of productive discussions as such:

  • Everyone can hear and understand what is being said, so that every single student is part of the conversation.

  • The conversation is focused, coherent, rigorous, and leads to deep conceptual understanding.

  • Students are motivated to participate and want to go public with their thinking, feeling like they have a stake in the conversation.

  • Conversation is not just for good talkers; everyone has a right and responsibility to contribute.

  • The teacher guides students in practicing new ways of talking, reasoning, and collaborating with one another. 


Their research outlines 7 key elements of academically productive talk that makes the hallmarks listed above doable.

Elements of academically productive talk:

  1. A belief that students can do it

Establishing beliefs that all students are capable of deep understanding of concepts and that their ideas are valued is the first step in promoting productive talk. A strategy to establish and nurture these beliefs is through growth mindset discussions, activities, and reflections. This may include: learning about the importance of student discourse and how it enhances learning, building a community that values risk-taking and growth over competition, and setting and holding all students to high expectations and providing appropriate feedback, support, scaffolds or differentiation so all students are able to be successful. 


  1. Well-established ground rules

“A culture of talk is more likely to take hold when teachers develop a common set of discussion norms and limit the list to just three to five important ground rules.” (p. 6). Teachers should acknowledge the purpose of the norms and review them with the class before beginning their academic discussions. These norms can be established at the beginning of the year and evolve as the year unfolds. Anticipating norms that students may struggle with and planning time to review norms before students engage in academic discourse will help you and students keep them in mind during the discussion.


  1. Clear academic purposes

Teachers who orchestrate academically productive talk take the time to plan and prepare for discussions. Part of the planning process for a productive discussion includes teachers anticipating how the discussion might unfold. Micheal and O’Conner note that it is “helpful to articulate to yourself the key ideas you hope to bring forward” (p. 3). As well as expressing the academic purpose(s) to students verbally and visually helps them to understand the goals and direction of their learning.


  1. Deep understanding of the academic content

Facilitating productive discourse means you must be prepared, understand the concept(s), bring key ideas forward, and anticipate common misconceptions. 


  1. A framing question and follow-up questions

At the heart of productive student discourse is a “clear, open framing question, designed to spark multiple positions, perspectives, or solution paths that can be taken, explicated, and argued for with evidence” (p. 3). 


  1. An appropriate talk format

Thinking about how you want students to engage in academic discourse is also important. Different types of formats for student discourse include:

Whole group:

In this format, the entire class focuses on making sense around a shared problem or task. The teacher uses their understanding of the content and pedagogical knowledge to maintain a high level of focus and rigor. Students gather in a circle so that everyone can see everyone else to maximize listening, and make use of body language to show that they are listening (p. 7).


Small group:

In this format, students work in groups of three or four, or even partnerships of two, sharing materials and ideas and coming up with shared solutions (p. 8). Micheal’s and O’Connor state that for small group work to be productive, tasks need to be designed for group work, not tasks that can be done by one’s self. Other important elements of small group work include setting clear expectations for the intellectual work, a time limit, and an accountability piece. One strategy they shared was having the class make public what went on in each group to build a collective understanding. They also point out that you can use small group discussions to elicit ideas and thinking and then lead into a whole-class discussion. 

Partner talk:

In partner talk the discussion is usually brief (1-2 minutes) and done with a predecided talking partner. Teachers use partner talk strategically to listen in and either share out or lead into small group or whole-class discussions.


Different talk activities and strategies teachers can use in the classroom.

7. A set of strategic “talk moves”

Talk moves are general moves that can be used in any discussion, which strategically set students up to think, reason and collaborate in academically productive ways. “Research over the past 20 years and documentation of teachers who facilitate productive discussions has led to the identification of a small number of general talk moves that are remarkably helpful tools for making discussions work” (p. 10).

Talk moves teachers can use with students during discussions.

As a coach I think having these flow charts and talk moves is helpful when working with teachers and also as a tool to share with teachers and review when they are planning their lessons. Hopefully, as a technology coach I can better guide teachers on how to plan and implement student discourse into their technology lessons.

 A few interesting blog posts and resources I found around student discourse and technology:

Work Cited: 

Michaels, S. & O’Connor, C. (2012). Talk science primer. TERC. Retrievd from


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