The Author Team

An experienced author and a distinguished group of consulting authors and researchers make up the Discussions4Learning author team.

Barbara Place


Barbara Place has taught reading and language arts in English and Spanish, and has taught English, Spanish, and French as a first and second language to K–12 students and adults. As a doctoral fellow at Boston University, she studied the oral and written acquisition of first and second languages. Barbara worked as a curriculum specialist, in conjunction with Simmons College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, to help school districts across the country develop reading and language arts curricula, particularly for linguistic minority students. Barbara has also headed up the development of reading and language arts curricula in both English and Spanish for major educational publishers. Since 2005, she has served as Director of English Language Development at Davis Curriculum and Research. In this capacity, she led the partnership of Davis Publications, Clark University, and the Worcester Public Schools in creating the curriculum for Discussions4Learning, an oral vocabulary and language curriculum based on fine art images and real-world photos.


Sarah Michaels, Ph.D.

Consulting Author

Sarah is Professor of Education and Senior Research Scholar at the Jacob Hiatt Center for Urban Education at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her current research focuses on academically productive talk in math, science, and English language arts in pre-kindergarten through high school. Sarah is one of the co-authors of the materials on Accountable Talk® and the lead author of the book, Ready, Set, SCIENCE!: Putting Research to Work in K–8 Science Classrooms (published by the National Research Council). Sarah is a member of the Advisory Board for “Building Capacity for State Science Education,” and is working nationally to support teachers to understand and implement the new vision of science education embodied by the NRC Framework for K–12 Science Education, and the Next Generation Science Standards.


Alfredo Schifini, Ph.D.

Consulting Author

Alfredo Schifini, Ph.D., assists schools across the nation and internationally in developing comprehensive language and literacy programs for English learners. He has served students new to English as a teacher, a reading/language arts specialist, a school administrator and university professor. Schifini has co-authored widely used reading/language arts programs as well as highly successful language development materials for students at all levels. He has keynoted and been a featured speaker at numerous language and literacy conferences and has contributed to two monographs published by the International Reading Association. Schifini’s research interests have focused on the integration of academic language development and content-area instruction.

Nancy Budwig, Ph.D.

Consulting Author

Dr. Budwig received a B.A. from Vassar College and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently the Associate Provost and Dean of Research at Clark University. Dr. Budwig's research examines issues of language acquisition, the construction of knowledge and human development. Trained in the areas of human development and the inter-disciplinary study of language, thought, and culture, Budwig examines issues of the development of knowledge and the role that participation in communities of practice plays in the gradual construction of meaning systems. Her research on language acquisition aims to understand the protracted nature of the organization and development of linguistic forms and the functions they serve in everyday interaction. Her work on language socialization examines ways participation in language practices contributes to the construction of culturally relevant senses of personhood.


Marianne Wiser, Ph.D.

Consulting Author

Dr. Wiser is Associate Professor and Chair of the Hiatt School of Psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. She studies conceptual change in children, students, and the history of science. Dr. Wiser received a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is studying conceptual change in children, students, and the history of science. Her main topics of research are symbolic development and science learning. Current projects focus on the development of numerical knowledge and number notation in young children; the development of young children's understanding of the nature and function of printed words (pre-reading skills) and how they come to understand the alphabetic nature of our writing system; young children's ability to use models and maps; and young children's conception of matter, weight, and materials.


Doga Sonmez, Ph.D.

Consulting Author and Researcher

Under the direction of her dissertation mentors at Clark University, Doga designed a rigorous, empirical research study that employed two experimental kindergarten classrooms to test Discussions4Learning’s approach, along with one control kindergarten classroom that did not test its approach. Interested in the relationship between culture and the developing mind, Doga recently served as Visiting Assistant Professor in Psychology at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts.