Our world is in a conversation crisis.
BUT GREAT TEACHERS CAN HELP. LET’S TEACH TODAY’S STUDENTS TO HAVE REAL DISCUSSION.
R.E.A.L.® helps all students find their voice in academic discussion.
It is a system for naming the skills we need for real conversation — and empowering Gen-Z to learn them. R.E.A.L.® bridges DEI and CBL best practices and gives teachers a method for making class discussion a place for all students to belong, learn and grow.
The stakes are high.
Discussion is important – in our classrooms and the world. It’s at the heart of everything from great Humanities curricula to healthy democracies and fulfilling relationships. Yet, sustained group conversation is hard – and the pandemic has made it even harder – for Gen-Z students.
Within independent schools, discussion is uniquely high-impact: a defining feature of the academic experience where, at its best, all students feel heard and challenged. However, as great teachers have intuited and recent social media movements have revealed, too often, our class discussions are riddled with patterns of inequity. Too many students in our schools feel as if they don’t belong, their voice doesn’t matter, and they don’t have what it takes to be successful in discussion.
So, how can we use student-led discussion – a hallmark of the independent school experience – to give all students a voice and a growth path? How can we teach today’s students the discussion skills they so desperately need?
It starts with R.E.A.L.®: the new language for student-led discussion. R.E.A.L.® begins with PD for humanities teaching teams and student support practitioners. Then, we provide student resources to schools and ongoing conversation among educators.
Everything we offer fits into the curriculum you worked hard to build. No massive overhauls necessary.
In a high-stakes era, R.E.A.L.® equips faculty to make all students feel heard and challenged in class discussion.
Overall, I'm grateful for the ways in which REAL gives me and my students a shared language and set of values about skills that enrich discussions. It also makes grading discussion easier and less ambiguous because I am able to give more specific and actionable feedback to students regarding their contributions to the class conversation.”
Common Questions About R.E.A.L.®
R.E.A.L.® is an acronym that stands for four fundamental discussion skills: Relate, Excerpt, Ask & Listen.
Three things: Professional Learning (for teachers and teams), Student Resources (print + online), and an Educators’ Exchange (to build industry-wide discussion about discussion). The first step in using R.E.A.L.® is to participate in PD. Learn more about the options under ‘PD.’
R.E.A.L.® is for grades 6-11, with differentiated materials for middle and high schools. It works in any class that uses texts, gives homework, and does 10+ discussions in a year. Teachers have loved using it in English, History, Humanities, Leadership Studies, Religion, Ethics, and Interdisciplinary courses. It is great for back-to-back years (e.g. R.E.A.L.® Jr. in 8th grade, R.E.A.L.® in 9th) or as a way to help teachers in different departments speak the same language (e.g. if History and English teachers are co-creating an interdisciplinary course...).
R.E.A.L.® Discussion is DEI work. It demystifies discussion so that all students understand what it takes to succeed and so teachers get feedback on their classroom climate. Research and recent social media movements have highlighted class discussion as a place where students’ familiarity -- or lack thereof -- with embedded cultural norms and relationship with the teacher often determine their success. R.E.A.L.® is an equity project, a system for naming discussion dynamics (so we can start talking about them) and making all voices heard (which makes discussion better).
Importantly, R.E.A.L.® offers DEI practitioners a concrete entry point for supporting academic teachers. How? R.E.A.L.® system expects and empowers teachers to study their class climate and students’ growth over the course of a semester (but in an easy, low-tech way -- no app-created dashboards). By aligning adults around common language and building systems for collecting and analyzing classroom-level evidence, we can make our progress visible.
And the best part? R.E.A.L.® doesn’t only make discussion more inclusive. Every single teacher who has used it also says it makes conversation more rigorous and easier to assess.
Both, and it also works well in hybrid / hyflex learning environments. On Zoom, R.E.A.L.® creates the social cues that students otherwise miss. In-person, R.E.A.L.® helps students connect even more deeply with each other. Sadly, for some students, R.E.A.L.® may be the only experience they regularly have with sustained group conversation!
Ideally, a team of three or more teachers. It’s great if it’s an entire grade-level and even better if the group includes an administrator. Why? Because once R.E.A.L.® gets into a school, people start talking about it. Thankfully, it’s usually “good press” but it’s definitely useful for administrators to have a baseline familiarity with the practice.
R.E.A.L.® fits into the curriculum you already have (no massive overhauls needed - we promise!). For most teachers, it streamlines the logistical headaches of FishBowl one day, Harkness another, Socratic Seminar the next. For instructional leaders focused on the curriculum spiral, R.E.A.L.® is a year-long primer that builds the skills students need to succeed in upper level, seminar-style courses. (To that end, an ideal sequence is using R.E.A.L.® Jr. in 8th grade; R.E.A.L.® in 9th; and then Harkness or other seminar techniques in 10th++).
Nope - though we wish it were! That said, it’s a system that approaches discussion differently. Using a combination of lived classroom experience and research about conversation in life beyond schools, we have reverse-engineered a system that develops shared language, solves for common pain points, and structures students for success. It doesn’t promise perfect discussions, but the R.E.A.L.® approach of Discussion as a Discipline does guarantee depth and growth.
Liza Cowan Garonzik built R.E.A.L.® in 2013 as a homegrown solution for helping her anxious, screen-addled students have better conversations about history, literature, and life. Since then, R.E.A.L.® has evolved thanks to feedback from dozens of teachers and thousands of students! We are still growing -- and, actually we are looking for team members. Curious? Reach out to Liza.
Just ask! We are always up for a good conversation.
"Is there a more important calling for our times? As teachers, for students?"
In our current technological age and political climate, in which everyone is talking but no one seems to be listening, discussion skills are more and more vital. Is there a more important calling for our times? For our students? R.E.A.L. provides a tangible framework for the essential skills -- relating, excerpting, asking, and listening -- that matter in and far beyond my English class.
While we used to implement fishbowl discussions, which were just fine, R.E.A.L. has felt far more student-driven. Students have loved this framework; their R.E.A.L. Portfolios are like treasure chests! Not only does the Portfolio system help them boost their confidence and deepen their use of found text evidence, but it asks them to actively reflect on what they've been hearing from their classmates. The point is not just to get your ideas out there as much as possible; they are learning that listening matters. Students are learning to value their classmates and their ideas, and so REAL becomes a vehicle for personal growth and character, too.
(And I have never had so much fun as a teacher as I do with R.E.A.L. Discussions!)”