Do you speak discourse?

With America’s national security at stake, Darren is investigating the “secret to high-quality education.”

Sadly, though, the information is encoded. The cryptological and linguistic skills needed to decipher the content in these pictures is beyond my poor abilities. So I turn to you, my readers, to see if any of you is capable of tackling for your country one of the most vexatious tasks possible — translating the following into English, and explaining how to put it into use.

Here’s one example. Darren has more coded messages, many of which involve “discourse” and “student voice.”

About Joanne


  1. Accountable Talk is a cornerstone of the new curriculum adopted by New York City. It must be good!

  2. Diana Senechal says:

    “In the Accountable Talk class discussion model, the students are able to discuss a topic around what they are reading and studying; that may be selected by the teacher, but the students are carrying on the discussion with minimal interference from the teacher. She or he is merely acting as a facilitator and not really leading the discussion.”

    Oh, how awful, to have a teacher “interfere”!

    See my commentary on “Accountable Talk” on the Core Knowledge Blog:

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “OK class… gather ’round. Good. Now, here is the book we are reading and studying. I want you all to form a circle with the book at the center. Good. Jane, come in just a little, and Matt, a little to the right. There we go. Now we’re going to discuss a topic. I’ll pick the topic, but you guys discuss it. The topic is how to make bluefin tuna into fine undergarments. Remember… the two things that are important here are that you run the discussion, not me, and that you discuss it around this book here.”

    (The atrocious construction “discuss a topic around”, of course, is not Diana’s fault. She’s just quoting.)

  4. The private schools call it the Harkness model.

    Even you, Diana, would be pleased with the conversations my students have about novels and poetry with minimal interference from me. It is a terrific way to teach close reading.

  5. I thought “accountable talk” (I will not capitalize it) was productive conversation among students relevant to whatever the academic topic at hand is, whether it be a work of literature or a science investigation, or a particular math problem, etc.

    It’s when kids begin discussing tonight’s party, or the newest blockbuster, or who friended whom on facebook that talk becomes unaccountable, or accountable to no one, which may not be the highest discourse, but certainly the most fun.

    For example, instead of saying “shut up about Friday Night Knockouts and get back on task”, the teacher says, “please maintain accountable talk in your discussion of Westward migration”.

    When did accountable talk become Accountable Talk with a “pedogogical model” attached to it?

  6. Diana Senechal says:

    Lightly Seasoned,

    I can believe that your students do a wonderful job with it and that I would be impressed.

    I do object to the notion that a teacher’s leadership of the class discussion (or even participation in it) is necessarily “interference.” Yes, there are reasons to have students conduct their own discussions on occasion. But the teacher should be there to challenge the students and point out errors in their argument.

    In the eighteenth-century German seminars, the professor would lead the students through an analysis of a particular text. The idea was to introduce the students to the rigors of the field. In economics workshops at the University of Chicago, faculty and graduate students would discuss a piece of scholarship, analyzing it closely for flaws.

    Now, it is good for students to learn to rely on their own judgment. I remember the tendency, in high school, to look at the teacher immediately after making a comment; the teacher generally tried to discourage us from that. But I am glad that the teacher was involved in the discussions; each teacher had special knowledge of the literature, and I enjoyed the classes especially for that.

    I always knew this as “class discussion” or “seminar discussion.” I see no need to call it “Accountable Talk.”

  7. Mike Curtis says:

    Doomed to failure…the question screams at the illiteracy of the teacher who asks it. If you apply the respected definitions of “strategy” and “accountability”, the request is gobbledygook.

    Oh, I get it now. This is eduspeak for “I can’t be considerated incompetent for implementing a curriculum that no one understands.”

  8. Well, one certainly doesn’t do it all the time. I like to start out with 20 minutes left in the class and work back to the full class (55 minutes) by the second semester — and have them once a week, maybe twice. And “minimal” isn’t none — I’m there to head off wrong turns, point out important passages, etc. I don’t find there’s any reason they can’t talk to each other instead of me. It is my looming presence that causes the discussion in the first place; otherwise they’d be gossiping. Nothing “minimal” about that. I’m definitely fully in charge.

    I’ve had particularly good results teaching poetry this way — yes, including Yeats.

    FWIW, you do have to teach students how to talk to each other, and scripted responses might be useful the first few times, but like anything scripted should go away fairly quickly as students internalize the concept of seminar discussion. I’m so loosey goosey I don’t even use text books, though.

  9. Uggg, this conversation reminds me of the crappy teacher I had for AP English in 1988. The eye-rolling boredom most of us experienced while we listened to the deep thinkers regurgitate back the teacher’s biases to pad their grade during “talk time” was worse than sitting through a Wayans brothers’ movie.

  10. It’s the English teacher cartel, Stacy. Be afraid.

  11. So you’re going with the know-nothing philistine angle, LS? For someone who probably appreciates good writing and the wonders of “diction”, isn’t it a bit trite and overdone? Maybe you should try more irrelevant wordiness.

  12. bill eccleston says:

    Hmmm… The direction here reminds me of something Rodney Dangerfield never said but would have were he a party: “Say, I went to a fight last night and English faculty meeting broke out!”

    I’d just like to say “Bravo, Darren,” for an excellent piece of subversion, exploiting brilliantly the possibilities of the cell phone camera. We teachers need to do a lot more stuff like this.

  13. Gracias for the link, Joanne 🙂