Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Two Things: PD for Humanities Teachers (through sprint, cohort, or custom learning paths) and Curriculum for gr. 7-10 students (includes digital and print resources and opportunities for customization). All schools using R.E.A.L. Discussion also have access to our Community: resources, events, coaching, etc.. Learn more under: PROGRAMS.

R.E.A.L.® is for grades 6-11, with a sweet spot of grades 7-10. 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 designed to integrate DEI best practices (based on work by scholars like Joe Feldman and Dr. Zaretta Hammond) into academically-rigorous humanities classrooms.

The R.E.A.L.® system ensures that all students feel heard and challenged to grow through class discussion. It also empowers teachers to study the student experience in terms of belonging and growth.

And the best part? R.E.A.L.® doesn’t only make discussion more equitable. Every single teacher who has used it also says it makes conversation more rigorous and easier to assess.

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.

Yes! Our portfolio-based approach to assessing discussion is the “secret sauce” when it comes to how we make student-led conversation equitable, rigorous, and growth-focused. R.E.A.L.® Coursepacks come with print (Portfolio) and online (Portal) resources for each student; we’re happy to show you a sample in a demo call. There are several different R.E.A.L.® Coursepack versions – and opportunities to customize for your school – all with unique ISBNs, so we will work with you to select the materials package that makes the most sense for your needs. Many schools sell R.E.A.L.® portfolios through bookstores or add them to lists of required texts the school procures.

Students express relief at clear expectations, consistent routines, and a sense of purpose when it comes to discussion. Although students might not say they “love” their newfound growth mindsets, we count the statistic that after using R.E.A.L.® 86% of students say that “discussion is something I can get better at if I work on it” (compared to 15% pre-R.E.A.L.®) as a major victory! Teachers all report that R.E.A.L.® improves student’s analytical writing and makes discussion itself more rigorous, equitable, and easier to assess. Many comment that it’s a lot less work than other methods, that they appreciate knowing that every student will be engaged and enjoy getting to know their students better in the process.

Some students bristle at the level of structure (though most appreciate it over time, especially as they find themselves surprised by the ease and depth of the discussions). Some teachers feel it’s hard to implement or that the learning curve is too steep (which we have worked hard to address through solutions like an online, video-based orientation for students). Others wonder at the relevance of a system that relies on handwritten manuals in the age of screens (we would respectfully refer those skeptics to the research, perhaps beginning with Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) or Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson (2019)).

We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has undercut funding at many great schools. That said, equity is a cornerstone of R.E.A.L.® and we will do whatever we can to bring your – and your students’ – voices to the table. If you or your team is interested in learning R.E.A.L.® Discussion but unable to pay full price, please email Liza.

Lots of folks ask us if they can use R.E.A.L. for student-led discussion outside the classroom, like in Advisory or Affinity Groups. The answer is simple: At R.E.A.L., we believe that discussion skills are so important that deserve to be taught, practiced, and assessed in a core academic class.

That said, when students are trained in R.E.A.L. through their Humanities classrooms, they will use R.E.A.L. skills in all kinds of other contexts. Too often in schools, we ask kids to have deep conversation (and spend a lot of time curating compelling content) … but we skip the step of teaching them how. R.E.A.L. ensures that every student will know how to engage in meaningful, screen-free, student-led discussion — in and beyond the classroom.

Just ask! We are always up for a good conversation.