Implementing the Program
Discussions4Learning is designed to be used for 20 minutes a day, four days a week, for 24 weeks. It can easily be adapted to include three 20-minute lessons each week for 32 weeks.
Each level of Discussions4Learning is organized around four cross-curricular themes. These themes capitalize on students’ curiosity about the world around them, and allow teachers to make connections to core curriculum content in language arts, math, and science. The program themes are:
- Theme 1 (Weeks 1–6): Things We See and Use
- Theme 2 (Weeks 7–12): Our Living World
- Theme 3 (Weeks 13–18): Places and Spaces
- Theme 4 (Weeks 19–24): Our Changing World
This flexible program is designed to meet your individual school and classroom needs.
The program is designed to be used for 24 weeks, with four 20-minute lessons a week. It can easily be used for 32 weeks, with three 20-minute lessons a week.
Fitting Discussions4Learning into a Busy Day
We know that scheduling for a busy classroom day can be a real challenge. Yet research indicates that setting aside just twenty minutes a day for explicit practice in oral vocabulary, just three or four days a week, can make a significant difference in overall student vocabulary, and in comprehension of both fiction and nonfiction texts. We’ve provided some suggestions below for ways to incorporate Discussions4Learning into your busy day:
- Use during story time, alternating with a story two days a week and Discussions4Learning three days a week.
- Use as a whole-group activity during discussion time at the beginning of the day.
The fast-paced oral language approach and focused discussions are a perfect way for students to begin their day with unique opportunities to observe, speak, listen, and discover.
- Use as a bridge from one subject area or activity to another. The program’s rich cross-curricular images can easily be linked to a variety of content. In addition, the whole-group lessons and fast pace can help to focus students’ energy and get them engaged, energized, and focused just after returning from lunch or transitioning to or from music, art, or physical education.
Discussions4Learning is designed to be a whole-group program. The questions are multi-tiered, so that you can provide adequate support and challenge for all of your learners—from your most linguistically at-risk to your most advanced. The wealth of fast-paced Every Pupil Response questions ensures that your most at-risk students can participate and learn, even if they begin by copying the answers of more proficient students. In addition, the focus on academically productive talk provides linguistic challenges for your more advanced students. Open-ended guided discussions challenge students to use evidence in each image to formulate and support an opinion. The fast pace of each lesson means that there is no need to tailor separate lessons or approaches for different levels of learners. There are plenty of opportunities to ensure that no student is lost, while keeping all students on their toes and challenged.
Meeting Individual Needs
Support for English Language Learners
The program is ideal for English language learners, including newcomers. Specific support for English language learners includes the following features:
- All new vocabulary words are presented in context so that students can become familiar with new vocabulary based on the semantic and syntactic context in which they first hear the target word.
- Students are encouraged to use each new target word orally in a complete sentence. (These scripted sentences are displayed for the teacher by introducing the sentence with a speech bubble and applying boldface to the sentence. The target word is highlighted in yellow.) This built-in repetition is particularly supportive of English language learners who can gain oral practice with new vocabulary in a nonthreatening, whole-group forum that doesn’t single them out, but provides them with valuable oral language opportunities.
- Every Pupil Response questions are included throughout each lesson, including in the Quick Question Review sections at the end of each lesson. In this way, English language learners can test their understanding of each new target word while getting support from their English speaking peers.
- Built-in review of target words across lessons is helpful to students who are learning English. By revisiting previously learned vocabulary, students are provided with the time and experiences that are critical to internalizing new words.
- Careful scaffolding of target vocabulary and concepts ensures that teachers provide all students with the necessary support to learn and internalize new words.
- Guided discussions include additional support for English language learners. One common talk strategy in these discussions is to ask students if they agree or disagree with a classmate. If you have students with limited English language skills, you can ask them to agree or disagree with a thumbs up or thumbs down gesture. Other strategies that will support English language learners include asking a child to restate what another child has said or to add additional information to what a classmate has said.
Support for Linguistically Advanced Students
Discussions4Learning was developed on the premise that all students need to be challenged and can profit from focusing on sophisticated, advanced vocabulary that will help them comprehend more challenging texts and to become more proficient writers. Discussions4Learning meets the needs of these students in several ways:
- Guided discussions provide unique opportunities for advanced students to utilize new vocabulary and to hone their language skills. Each lesson includes one or two guided discussions that are open-ended opportunities for students to apply previously learned vocabulary and concepts to the discussions of each new image. These guided discussions encourage students to think critically and to listen to each other. This means that your most advanced students will learn to give careful thought to their responses, because they will need to offer some evidence to support what they say, rather than simply raising their hands and offering an opinion.
- Vocabulary tips in the sidebars provide teachers with engaging extension activities, including examining word parts such as prefixes, suffixes, and root words. The vocabulary tips in the sidebars can be used with all students. They are ideal for extending the lessons for those advanced students who require continuing challenges above and beyond the basic curriculum.
- Engaging cross-curricular content promotes higher-order thinking skills. The fine art images and real-world photos expose all students to a variety of engaging content and concepts. Teachers (and students) will notice many ways they can connect each image to science, social studies, math, history, and other subjects. These natural opportunities for extending learning allow your most advanced students to demonstrate meaningful connections across the curriculum.
- Regular opportunities to compare and contrast images also promote higher-order thinking skills.
- Each fine art image is paired with a real-world photo. This pairing allows students to compare and contrast concepts they learn while viewing one image to new concepts in the second image.