Frequently Asked Questions
There’s no such thing as a silly question!
R.E.A.L. is an acronym for four fundamental discussion skills: Relate, Excerpt, Ask, Listen.They can be used in different ways, in formal discussion or casual conversation.
The short answer is no: R.E.A.L.® Discussion is the cornerstone of Conversation Culture. Occasionally we’ll work with schools on a staff initiative, but we prefer to keep the needs of Gen-Z students front and center.
Why? Well, remember Computer Labs? Our thesis is that although Gen-Z doesn’t need “Computer Lab” class to learn to type, they desperately need a “Conversation Lab” class to learn to talk. R.E.A.L.® Discussion is a research-backed approach to teaching and assessing these in-person communication skills – and it’s designed specifically for independent school Humanities teachers.
Once R.E.A.L.® Discussion skills, language, and routines are taught in designated Humanities courses (usually 2-3 grades), they can be reinforced by other faculty and staff in all areas of school life. We’ve heard from both Humanities teachers and non-Humanities teachers that their respective trainings with R.E.A.L. have been the best PD of their careers.
R.E.A.L.® Discussion is the secret sauce for getting Gen-Z’ers to look each other in the eye, speak up in class, listen actively, disagree civilly, and conquer fears of being “cancelled.” You can’t skip it if you want Conversation Culture on your campus!
That’s great news! We love working with schools that have already done the hard work of identifying values and vision. Usually, we will review your plan together and then decide which “bucket” (or, often, “buckets”) R.E.A.L.®and Conversation Culture fits in best. We’ll work with you to align our content to the language you already use in your strategic plan and measure impact along the way.
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++).
R.E.A.L.® Discussion has been built over a decade to bring together best practices from four research areas: Deeper Learning (Learning Science), Wellbeing / SEL, Belonging / DEI, and Future-of-Work. All of our PD is also built to align to best practices in adult learning. To get a sense of our rigor, here are footnotes behind the design of R.E.A.L.® from a Deeper Learning perspective:
R.E.A.L.® Curriculum operationalizes “Deeper Learning” concepts such as: building routines for making thinking and growth visible (from Project Zero at Harvard GSE), ensuring each discussion includes the Deeper Learning triad of mastery, identity, and creativity (Jal Mehta & Sarah Fine, Deeper Learning) and the strategically spaced reflection described in Neuroteach (Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher). R.E.A.L.® materials, such as Discussion Portfolios, are designed to draw out the benefits of support screen-free face-to-face interactions (Okdie at. Al. 2007) and deepen brain engagement through handwriting (Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014); Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson (2019). The R.E.A.L.® methods for feedback and assessment recognizes the need for teacher agency but recommends specific frameworks to cultivate intrinsic motivation (Duckworth, 2014), document growth over time (Guskey, 2010), facilitate portfolio-based, evidence-informed assessment (Birgin 2007), and separate feedback and grading (Feldman, 2018) – all within the context of student-led discussion. Concepts like Chou and Lin’s (2015) idea of “positive Interdependence as a classroom accountability mechanism” also inform our curriculum design.
Introduce yourself here! We’ll be in touch ASAP with an invitation to meet – we can’t wait to learn more about your big dreams when it comes to Conversation Culture on your campus.
Students and Teachers both report a sense of relief after starting to use R.E.A.L. For students, they appreciate being explicitly taught how to do something that feels scary, mysterious, and high-stakes! They also see the utility of R.E.A.L. immediately, not just in terms of making class discussions but reflecting that it’s useful for them in life beyond school – in mock trial, in arguments with their mom, even on dates!
For teachers, it’s a tie between feedback about the magic of hearing every student’s voice and that R.E.A.L. takes the “pressure off” by giving them a go-to method for making class discussion rigorous, inclusive, and about skills not politics! Teachers also love, love, love our PLC – they come to Office Hours and “Study Sesh” calls regularly and appreciate being part of a national community of independent school educators focused on solving this critical problem.
Some faculty find it disheartening when they realize how truly challenging in-person conversations are for Gen-Z – it’s something no one likes to think about. For Humanities teachers, the early days of using R.E.A.L. – when you discover that today’s kids don’t know about eye contact, or struggle to listen actively enough to take notes, or self-censor because they’re scared of being cancelled – can be challenging. But, once the R.E.A.L. routines kick in, the learning curve is so steep that things turn from awkward to authentic very fast!
Other faculty don’t quite know what to do with their Impact Dashboards. We survey students every three discussions and provide teachers with impact reports about their class discussion dynamics – we’re working on making that data friendlier!