Originally posted on September 16, 2013 for Colorin Colorado by Diane Staehr Fenner

Last week, I learned of a new undertaking by our friends at the Understanding Language initiative and am excited to share it with you.

Understanding Language is offering a Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) for Educators around Common Core State Standards and ELLs. Educators can take the course for free. Here is more relevant information:

Course Title: Constructive Classroom Conversations: Mastering the Language of the Common Core State Standards


  • Kenji Hakuta, Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University
  • Jeff Zwiers, Senior Researcher, Stanford University
  • Sara Rutherford-Quach, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University and the Understanding Language Initiative

Dates: Oct 21, 2013- Dec 09, 2013

Description: The Common Core State Standards for ELA and Mathematics emphasize improving the quality of student-to-student discourse as a major feature of instruction. The new standards specifically describe the importance of students understanding the reasoning of others and engaging in meaningful conversations using evidence for claims. Yet this type of student-to-student discourse tends to be rare in classrooms. Common classroom activities such as whole class discussions, jigsaws, and think-pair-shares, can have the appearance of constructive interactions, but they often do not provide adequate opportunities for all students to engage in academically rich, back-and-forth dialogs.

This short course for educators looks closely at student-to-student discourse and addresses how to facilitate student engagement in the types of interactions required by the new standards. It organizes a massive collaboration of educators who wish to support students, particularly English Language Learners, to co-create and build upon each other’s ideas as they interact with the content. Starting with the notion that in order to improve the quality of student discourse, educators need to listen closely to existing talk, the course asks participants to gather, analyze, and share examples of student conversations from their classrooms. The overall goal is for participating educators to better understand student-student classroom discourse and use what they learn to facilitate higher quality interactions that build disciplinary knowledge and skills.

The four main objectives of this course are for participants (educators) to:

1. Develop a practical understanding of academically-engaged classroom discourse, with emphasis on what this looks like in linguistically diverse classrooms that are focused on teaching Common Core State Standards;
2. Listen more carefully to student talk and use a discourse analysis tool to analyze student discourse, focusing on how interactions build disciplinary language, knowledge, and skills.
3. Learn and practice practical teaching strategies for building students’ abilities to engage in constructive face-to-face interactions; and
4. Collaborate with other educators and build professional relationships that result in an online community focused on improving students’ abilities to engage rich academic discourse across disciplines and grade levels.

For more information including sign-up and full syllabus:

Diane Staehr Fenner