Shout outs

“R.E.A.L.® makes everyone feel the same comforting awkwardness.”
– 9th grader

R.E.A.L. Discussion has been such a boon to our school.

Our seventh-grade ELA team rolled the program out in the fall, and the results were remarkable within a couple months. I’ve been able to observe middle-school students doing high-level questioning, facilitating, self-reflection, and analysis thanks to R.E.A.L. protocols, portfolios, and data. I can already see how it will pay dividends in a couple years when those students move up to me and my team in the high school, where our English class are based on the Harkness/Spider Web Discussion models. R.E.A.L. is a perfect lead-in to those models, as it helps students develop more empathy and critical thinking in a way that’s effectively structured for younger teens and pre-teens. I believe it will eventually strengthen our whole 6-12 program. Overall, R.E.A.L. Discussion has been a “real” win for our students.
Alexis Wiggins
Author of The Best Class You Never Taught: How Spider Web Discussion Can Turn Students into Learning Leaders and English Department Chair at The John Cooper School

Patrick, Middle School Humanities

Pam, Upper School History

In our current tech 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.

Students love this framework; their ‘R.E.A.L. Portfolios’ are like treasure chests! The portfolio approach boosts confidence, deepens use of text evidence, and requires active reflection on what they’ve been hearing from their classmates.

Students are learning to value their classmates and their ideas, and so REAL becomes a vehicle for personal growth and character, too. I’ve never had so much fun as a teacher.
Carter, Middle School English
R.E.A.L. ensures I will hear every student’s voice, and, maybe more importantly, that every student will be heard by her classmates. That is simple but that engagement never gets old. R.E.A.L. also ties directly into analytical writing, which students appreciate, and I love. It just makes their so much writing better! I’ve talked with all of our teachers about using it next year.
Doris, High School Humanities
I am amazed at the effectiveness of a R.E.A.L. student-led discussion, every time. It underscores just how much our kids are capable of when we give them the tools to succeed. And it’s not hard to learn. The R.E.A.L. seminar was well-organized and engaging, even over Zoom! I appreciated hearing from colleagues at schools across the country. Liza’s energy for this work is infectious.
Joanna, Middle School English
started using R.E.A.L. this year after taking the [Asynch] Online Course last summer. I am impressed with how much better my classroom discussions go now, even in the midst of a pandemic and students being both in-person and remote. R.E.A.L. makes the students more engaged in the reading — reading comprehension scores have actually gone up. Students also love the feedback they receive from their classmates following each discussion. I could never go back to the basic book discussions of the past!
Bekah, Middle School English
Overall, I’m grateful for the ways R.E.A.L.® gives me and my students a shared language and set of values about skills that enrich discussion. In our era of hot takes, it’s helpful to ground students in values like asking and listening! It also makes grading discussion easier and less ambiguous because I’m able to give students more specific and actionable feedback.
Olivia, High School English + Innovation
R.E.A.L.® is giving me everything I’ve looked for and not found in Harkness for the last decade. And I appreciate that it’s about connecting teachers with each other, too.
Linda, High School History + Virtual Learning

Our School Partners

I can’t believe I was ever scared of talking in discussion. I remember the courage it took to raise my hand and speak in the best way that I could to express my ideas. I thought I was doing ok, but this was validated by NVCs I saw waving around me. I have grown so comfortable Excerpting, both E1 and E2, that I will focus on A next!
8th Grader
R.E.A.L. helps us engage with each other and everyone gets a better understanding of the text when they look at it from different points of view. Personally, I have an issue with shutting down the ideas of others without considering them, but R.E.A.L. helps with the life skill of of realizing there are multiple correct answers, multiple ways to solve a problem.
10th Grader
I had a fantastic experience in the R.E.A.L. Virtual Seminar last summer. R.E.A.L. showed me that discussion can be formulaic and organic, concrete and abstract: when you empower students with clear strategies to participate in productive discussion, the richer and more diverse the content of the conversation becomes. I think we spend so much time striving for deep, organic discussion but don’t quite know how to create it. REAL shows you how to achieve this.
Teddy, High School Language
R.E.A.L. helped my students find their voices. In fact, R.E.A.L. has become such an integral part of our classroom that the students made it extremely clear that it HAD TO be a part of our online learning journey this year! We have had to make some adaptations – like experimenting with the perfect size for breakout rooms…we’ve settled on four – but because of R.E.A.L. the students have continued to develop their communication and observation skills, even when they aren’t together physically. I also think that it is a great tool for ensuring our student’s wellbeing at this time of uncertainty.
Rebecca, Middle School English
R.E.A.L. is what every teacher should have been taught in grad school. It just makes sense.
Allie, Middle School English
Now, these are rubrics I can actually use!
Matt, High School English

Linda, Upper School History

Kay & Liz, Upper School Religion

My biggest win with REAL has been effectively relating my ideas to not only my peers’ ideas but also relating them to the world. Making connections to the real world allows us to give meaning to the themes we discuss and more readily apply those ideas.
10th Grader
I think REAL discussions serve as a draft for analytical writing, especially in how we use quotes, and they are a great place to speak your ideas and see how your peers react to it; similar to a band testing out songs at a concert before they release the studio version.
9th Grader
At the Shady Hill School Teacher Training Center, we value R.E.A.L. discussions about real issues. We have invited Liza to lead workshops for apprentice teachers and courses for faculty members. Whether presenting in-person or online, Liza empowers teachers to amplify student voice and brings resources that prompt deep reflection. Today, she is sharing the R.E.A.L. model with students and teachers all over the world. Now, more than ever, we need to teach students how to listen and bring kindness, empathy, and respect to others even when they disagree. Liza models this in the PD she leads and curriculum she designs — REAL-ly!
Desiree, Executive Director, Shady Hill Teacher Training Center
In giving names to the tasks and skills that students practice in the healthiest discussions, R.E.A.L. not only empowers and unites but also draws teachers together around a clear center. In pursuit of greater equity, rigor, and community, schools today strive to make curriculum coherent and practice intentional across departments and grade levels: R.E.A.L. offers teachers a tangible shared language through which to structure that effort.
Katherine, Upper School English

Jake, Middle School Humanities

Cally, Upper School English

REAL has made me conscious that I have started to ask more questions to move the discussion along, rather than just relating to my classmates. I think that this is a vital discussion (and honestly life) skill and I’m still working on it, but I have definitely improved.
10th Grader
I have gotten better at taking notes about my classmates’ comments, which is not only helpful for me in the future for my assignments, but also is helpful for them because I am consistently listening and processing their comments, even if I don’t agree perfectly with them.
9th Grader
The R.E.A.L. Discussion Online Course was perfect for helping me envision how an equitable discussion would look in my classroom (even this year in our hybrid model) and then breaking it down into concrete, teachable skills for my students. Many of my students are mystified when it comes to reflecting on what makes a good discussion – even the chatty ones! I love the way the language of the four R.E.A.L. skills makes it possible for all students to talk specifically about what they’re working on in discussion and how it helps move the conversation forward.
Patrick, Middle School Humanities
At the beginning of the year, you can tell your students that they are going to learn ‘discussion skills.’ To them, that is an abstract idea and can seem daunting. R.E.A.L makes the intangible tangible and gives students concrete methods to improve discussion and conversation skills. It has been wonderful to see their confidence and ability grow this year.
Francisco, Middle School English