Substantive Conversations across the Curriculum

Can we change the usual grammar of the classroom where teachers talk too much (John Hattie found that teachers talk 70-80%, sometimes up to 89%, of all class time)? Pedagogy for socially just schools is more important than ever, and as Freire (2000) argued, “Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education” (pp. 92-93).

A recent study by University of Wisconsin-Madison doctoral student Nicole Marble (Director of Secondary Education, Wauwatosa WI School District) documents how one high school successfully supported their teachers’ professional growth in order to effectively implement AIW’s instructional standard of substantive conversation in all subject areas. Professional learning at “Turner High School” was focused and sustained; active in nature; supported by opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and feedback; and had direct impact to teachers’ everyday classroom experiences. As Dr. Marble writes,

Teachers at THS self-selected work to bring to their scoring teams where they used the (AIW) rubric from the instructional framework to guide their own professional substantive conversation to offer one another feedback, provide personal reflection, and collaborate on how to move professional practice forward based on said feedback. The descriptors on the rubric itself were identified as helpful markers for teachers to engage in personal reflection outside of their scoring teams as they planned for lessons or reflected on the one that just transpired.  The work conducted within the scoring teams was followed by an opportunity to then try out the revised work and get additional feedback to spawn further reflection through the support of Instructional Coaches.

Her study also explored the conditions at Turner, such as the long-term commitment to AIW and continuity in leadership, that nurtured their success as well as how they confronted persisting challenges of “teacher control” and “curriculum coverage.”

Dr. Marble dissertation thesis is entitled, “Fostering Rigorous Learning Opportunities Through Academic Conversations and the Teacher Professional Learning that Supports Sustained Schoolwide Use.”


M. Bruce King
Director, AIW Institute