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Constructive Classroom Conversations: Improving Student-to-Student Interactions

Enrollment is Closed


This is an archived course. This course is provided as a resource which you are welcome to access as you see fit, but it is not possible to earn a Statement of Accomplishment at this time. If you would like to earn a Statement of Accomplishment, a newer offering may be provided in the future on the Stanford Lagunita course listing page.

About This Course

New College- and Career-Ready standards emphasize the importance of speaking, listening, and conversing not only as a means for learning, but also as a valuable goal of learning. Starting October 3, Professor Kenji Hakuta and Drs. Sara Rutherford-Quach and Jeff Zwiers at Stanford Graduate School of Education once again will offer an online professional development course that focuses on student conversations, Constructive Classroom Conversations: Improving Student-to-Student Interactions. The overall purpose of this course is help teachers prepare students, and particularly language learners, to have in-depth conversations about content area concepts and topics.

This course consists of six online sessions, with two or three weeks devoted to each session. 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. Participants are free to complete the session tasks at their own pace as long as they finish them within the allotted time. Participants will learn to:

  • listen purposefully in order to assess student-to-student conversations
  • craft effective prompts and create conversational opportunities within a lesson
  • model and build activities for cultivating constructive classroom conversations
  • provide productive feedback to students and make instructional changes to strength conversations

The teaching team has been designing and offering online professional development courses for four years. All three instructors work in Stanford University’s Understanding Language Initiative, which focuses on language, learning, and equity issues across a range of educational settings. Thousands of educators have participated in these professional development courses. Comments such as this are common:

I have already been using the constructive conversation model in my lessons and have plans for many more.  My students […] actually ask when they will get to have a conversation again. They know the difference between just partner share, which is boring to them, and having a conversation. During one conversation, a student actually stated that he felt like an adult the way he was talking about books.  That's when I knew this was really a great tool to improve student speaking, and most of all their thinking. It also allows me access to student thought processes and thus to their knowledge and understanding of what I am teaching.  I made many incorrect assumptions in the past about what students knew; now I can structure a conversation to find out what they really know.

Our experience shows that the most successful MOOC completion rates are achieved when participants collaborate in face-to-face settings between the online sessions, such as in organized professional learning communities or during after-school meetings led by district coaches.

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. We look forward to working with you this fall!


There is no pre-requisites for the course. 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.

Course Instructors

Course Staff Image #1

Sara Rutherford-Quach

Dr. Sara Rutherford-Quach is the Director of Academic Programs and Research for Understanding Language in the Stanford Graduate School of Education. A former bilingual elementary teacher, Sara 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.

Course Staff Image #2

Jeff Zwiers

Dr. Jeff Zwiers is the Director of Professional Development at Understanding Language at Stanford Graduate School of Edcuation. He 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 focuses on developing teachers’ core practices for teaching academic language, comprehension of complex texts, and oral communication skills across subject areas. He holds a BA in Psychology from Stanford, an MAT in Language and Reading from Stanford, and a PhD in Education from USF.

Course Staff Image #2

Kenji Hakuta

Prof. Kenji Hakuta is the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus at Stanford Graduate School of Education. He is an experimental psycholinguist who has worked on research, practice, and policy supporting English Language Learners for over 30 years. He recently served on the Validation Committee for the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Frequently Asked Questions

What web browser should I use?

To optimize your learning experience, please use the current versions of Chrome and Firefox.

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Will I receive any completion document upon finishing the course?

Participants who complete the course requirement will be eligible to receive a Statement of Accomplishment after the course ends.

How many professional development hours is this course equivalent to?

We estimate that the coursework is equivalent to approximately 40 professional development hours to individuals who complete the course and gain a Statement of Accomplishment.

Can my work in this course be accepted by a school district??

Stanford University makes no representations that participation in the course, including participation leading to a record of completion, 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.