Discussion in Diverse Middle School Social Studies Classrooms: Promoting All Studentsí Participation in the Disciplinary Work of Inquiry

by Chauncey Monte-Sano, Mary Schleppegrell, Sida Sun, Jiaxin Wu & Jeff Kabat - 2021

Background/Context: Although calls for rich discussion and argumentation about disciplinary texts and content are frequent, research indicates that in classrooms such discussions are rare. When discussions do happen, few students tend to participate.

Purpose/Focus of Study: We look to exemplar teachersí classrooms where a range of ethnically, racially, linguistically, and academically diverse students participated substantively in discussions throughout social studies inquiries to understand what those teachers do to support broad and substantive student participation in discussion, knowing that discussion promotes student learning.

Research Design: Using video recordings of class sessions, we conducted discourse analysis and used case study methods to examine classroom discourse over 20 days of inquiry across an academic year within the context of a larger, design-based research project.

Findings: We identify how two teachers build toward and facilitate three types of disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussions: Sensemaking, Argumentative, and Culminating Argumentative. We analyze the instructional work involved in preparing students for discussions, in situating discussions within a larger context of inquiry, and in facilitating discussions in the moment, focusing on the intellectual work being done when students take extended turns of talk that build on what has been said before.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This work contributes a broader understanding of how studentsí full participation in disciplinary discussion and argumentation can be supported in the context of inquiry. We draw implications for enabling all students to participate in inquiry, with particular attention to students learning English or needing support for reading complex sources.


Engaging students’ participation in classroom talk is fundamental to achieving the goals of current subject area standards. The Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math, Next Generation Science Standards, and C3 Framework for Social Studies call for all learners to participate in discussion and argumentation through inquiry in order to develop disciplinary practices and ways of thinking. Such goals are not new. Educators and researchers who draw on Bakhtinian and Vygotskyan sociocultural perspectives have long foregrounded dialogue in mediating understanding and knowledge development.

In reviewing research on classroom discourse, O’Connor and Snow (2018) identify three common classroom “discourse formats”: lecture/recitation, teacher-orchestrated whole class discussion, and small-group student-led discussion. They note—as have others—that recitation is most common, yet typically framed as undesirable, whereas discussion formats are more often framed as good practice. They recognize that student-to-student talk is highly valued, yet not always possible given classroom realities. They point out that research strongly supports the role of whole-class discussion in promoting learning, but offer less understanding of “either the mechanism(s) by which discussion works or the complexity of launching and maintaining it” (p. 323). They also note that facilitating a discussion has multiple complexities, including motivating student participation to ensure equitable access to the knowledge being developed, shaping knowledge with integrity and coherence, and managing time and other classroom constraints.

In this study, we examine classroom discourse in middle school social studies classrooms where two teachers implemented an inquiry approach, engaging students in the disciplinary intellectual work of analyzing sources, weighing evidence, and developing arguments in response to guiding questions. These were “intellectually lively and demanding” classrooms where students actively participated, extending beyond passive listening or rote learning toward “deeper learning” (Mehta & Fine, 2019, p. 5). Within these spaces, we identify moments of broad and substantive student participation, analyze the extent and nature of that participation, and examine how teachers build toward and sustain interaction, in order to recognize the instructional work that contributes to successful disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussion (see Table 1 for key terms). Based on these analyses, we describe three types of discussions that are situated throughout social studies inquiry and engage different aspects of the disciplinary work. We offer new insights into the pedagogy that supports productive classroom discourse and equitable student learning opportunities, and implications for studying discussion and preparing novice teachers.

Table 1-Clarification of Terms

Terms We Use 

What We Mean

Whose Work We Build On 

Disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussion

Abbreviated to “discussion”

Whole-class interaction that engages teacher and students in the text-based disciplinary intellectual work of social studies inquiry. Through discussion, the teacher and students engage with students’ ideas and common texts, make thinking visible and knowledge public, develop a shared base of knowledge and understanding, and think collectively about how to interpret complex questions and texts. 

Mercer (2000); Nystrand et al. (2003); Parker & Hess (2001); Reisman (2015)

Disciplinary, intellectual work within social studies inquiry

Abbreviated to “disciplinary work”

The thinking and reasoning involved in social studies inquiry, such as interpreting sources and assessing the credibility of potential sources of evidence, comparing different sources of evidence to identify points of agreement and disagreement, considering how different sources shed light on a central question, or synthesizing these considerations into a coherent argument. 

Examples of curriculum that represent the disciplinary intellectual work embedded in social studies inquiry include the C3 Teachers’ Inquiry Design Model, Read.Inquire.Write., and Stanford History Education Group’s Reading Like a Historian.

Grant, Swan, & Lee (2017); Monte-Sano (2010); Monte-Sano et al. (2014); Reisman (2012), van Drie & van Boxtel (2008); Wineburg (1991); Wineburg et al. (2011)

Classroom discourse

Any whole class or pair/small group interaction.

Boyd & Rubin (2002); 

O’Connor & Snow (2018)


A sequence of activities focused on the same instructional purpose. New episodes are typically signaled by initiation of a new topic or source.

Nystrand & Gamoran (1991)


The role of discussion in classroom learning has a long research tradition. Nystrand and Gamoran’s (1991) seminal work documented the dearth of dialogic interaction in classrooms and the prevalence of recitation. This is problematic, because interaction in the context of shared experience supports development of students’ language and disciplinary knowledge. Nystrand and Gamoran drew on Bakhtinian notions of dialogism that see monologic discourse as closing down opportunities to learn and participate. In dialogic discourse, the positioning of teacher and students shifts, and students become participants who contribute to the development of knowledge. From the perspective that language is a meaning-making resource through which we share experience and enact relationships (Halliday, 1978), supporting students to talk about what they are learning offers them opportunities to build from what they know to develop the abstract knowledge and more formal ways of presenting their perspectives that are valued in school (Schleppegrell, 2004). Language and knowledge develop together as students interact with each other and the teacher.

Supporting language and knowledge development through interaction is especially important for students whose ways of knowing and talking are often marginalized or who do not have opportunities to develop disciplinary ways of knowing and sharing knowledge outside of school, including those learning English while developing disciplinary understanding and those who are still developing the literacy skills needed to engage in complex reading and writing. In fact, these groups overlap in many classrooms, as students who are developing as bilinguals often become fluent in spoken language while still needing support for disciplinary literacy development. Both emergent bilingual students and students reading below grade level thus benefit from opportunities to talk about what they are reading and writing; however, research (e.g., Kibler et al., 2018) reports that these learners get few opportunities for substantive talk about what they are learning with peers or teachers. In response, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018) called for teachers to engage students who are learning English in activities that are meaning-centered and focused on disciplinary goals (see also Grapin et al., 2019), recognizing the assets these students bring to the classroom and enabling them to share their knowledge and perspectives.

Mercer (2000) adopts a sociocultural Vygotskyan perspective on language as a resource for joint attention and knowledge building to describe different ways people engage together in interaction that enables them to achieve different purposes. Most relevant here are his descriptions of “cumulative” and “exploratory” talk. In cumulative talk, “speakers build on each other’s contributions, add information of their own and in a mutually supportive, uncritical way, construct shared knowledge and understanding” (p. 31). Mercer characterizes such talk as useful for getting work done together. Exploratory talk, in contrast, engages participants “critically but constructively with each others’ ideas…Knowledge is made publicly accountable and reasoning is visible in the talk” (p. 98). Both kinds of talk enable joint thinking and knowledge building, but they make different ways of reasoning available. Cumulative talk builds a shared perspective and can be useful when students are working together to develop a common understanding (e.g., Klingelhofer & Schleppegrell, 2016). Exploratory talk, on the other hand, enables speakers to explicitly take different positions, with the expectation that the dialogue will help the group jointly develop greater understanding. Wells (1999) suggests that exploratory talk occurs when students work on tasks that are open-ended and interpretive, where the talk offers opportunities for considering different possibilities.

Research has often focused on the role of the teacher in guiding such talk. Transcripts typically show teachers making the majority of moves as they orchestrate interaction. This raises questions about how dialogic such interaction is and whether it is better characterized as the IRE (initiation/response/evaluation) discourse that is often critiqued (e.g., O’Connor & Snow, 2018). In response to critiques of such interaction as disengaging for students, Kelly (2007) analyzed a large database and found that students with weaker reading and writing skills are much less likely to participate in classroom discourse and that unequal verbal participation between high and low achieving students was associated with the cognitive level of teachers’ questions. Low achieving students are disadvantaged in classroom discourse where low-level questions predominate, because the questions might involve instant evaluation, not allowing students time to answer. High-level questions, on the other hand, expose students to negative evaluation if they give a wrong answer. Kelly and Turner (2009), in a review of empirical studies, examined whether whole-class activity structures are inherently less engaging for low-achieving students and also concluded that it is the particular kinds of discourse that teachers engage in during whole-class interaction that matter. They distinguish between IRE structures where the teacher is consistently evaluating and “Q&A” discourse, “where a student’s response is assumed to have merit, and is carefully considered before being evaluated, or where exchanges between teachers and students serve to build consensus” (p. 335). Other researchers have called for greater consideration of the functions of IRE interaction, suggesting that active facilitation of interaction may support the cumulative and exploratory talk that enables joint understanding of texts and development of new perspectives (e.g., Boyd & Rubin, 2006; Wells, 1993).

Researchers who analyze teachers’ discursive moves during whole-class interaction also consider the extent to which teachers facilitate students’ cognitive engagement or sharing of knowledge through their guidance and responses. For example, Dwyer, Kelcey, Berebitsky, and Carlisle (2016) found significant associations between teachers’ use of research-based discourse moves and early elementary students’ reading comprehension and vocabulary achievement. But to describe the role of the teacher in shaping classroom dialogue, we also need to go beyond teachers’ discursive moves in allocating and responding to students, to consider the broader context of their instruction.

Indeed, facilitating discussion involves complex orchestration of both talk and activity. Schleppegrell and O’Hallaron’s (2011) synthesis of research on adolescent learners of English as an additional language highlights the role of carefully planned opportunities for language use across a unit of instruction (macro-scaffolding) as well as strategies for engaging students during the moment-to-moment unfolding of instruction (micro-scaffolding). Hammond and Gibbons (2005) suggest that Vygotsky’s socially oriented theories of learning and Halliday’s socially oriented theories of language are productive for considering the role of both macro-level planned scaffolds and micro-level interactional scaffolding. Discussion also varies across disciplinary contexts, because the intellectual work draws on different epistemological foundations and discursive practices (e.g., Cervetti et al., 2014; Herrenkohl & Cornelius, 2013).

Discussion facilitation has been identified as a “high-leverage” or “core” practice given its support for student learning (e.g., O’Connor & Snow, 2018). Such instructional practices form the basis of practice-based teacher education programs that prioritize learning to enact the work of teaching (Ball & Forzani, 2009; Grossman, 2018). Yet, the complexity of discussion facilitation combined with domain differences has yielded a variety of ways to define the practice of discussion facilitation. For example, whereas Windschitl and colleagues (2012) focus on eliciting students’ ideas as instructional resources in secondary science, Kazemi and Hintz (2014) focus on guiding principles of discussion facilitation and how they unfold in particular kinds of elementary math discussions (a.k.a. “instructional activities”), Reisman and colleagues (2018) focus on specific teacher talk moves within historical discussions, and Kavanagh and colleagues (2020) examine teachers’ responsiveness to student ideas across subject areas. The range of purposes accomplished through discussion and different grain sizes used to frame discussion motivated us to look more closely at the intellectual work involved in discussion during social studies inquiry to consider what counts as discussion and how to prepare teachers to facilitate this core practice.


Engaging students in social studies inquiry (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], 2013) and civic discourse (Lee et al., 2021) demands a major shift in classroom practices. Often social studies classrooms focus on mastery of information via lecture or textbooks, leaving little room for discussion. Nystrand and his colleagues (2003) found that more than 90% of the 569 episodes they analyzed from eighth and ninth grade social studies classrooms did not involve discussion.

In contrast, social studies inquiry opens up space for discussion as students investigate complex and debatable questions, consider multiple perspectives through analysis of diverse sources, weigh often-contradictory evidence, and develop grounded conclusions about unsettled social and historical issues—all while communicating with and learning from one another (Grant et al., 2017; NCSS, 2013). These are skills called for by the National Academy of Education’s recent report on civic reasoning and discourse (Lee et al., 2021). Inquiry provides a context for discussions that center the kind of intellectual work that has long been called for in social studies (e.g., Parker & Hess, 2001), supporting the classroom community to develop shared knowledge and think collaboratively. Through discussion, students have greater opportunities to engage with the knowledge at stake and with other participants in co-constructing and critiquing that knowledge.

Although curriculum resources have emerged to support teachers in this instructional shift (e.g., Library of Congress lesson plans), this complex instructional work can be challenging to orchestrate. Hess (2004) reports reasons discussions often fail, including that some students “persistently monopolize while others are silent” (p. 151), and that what students say can be low in quality or off topic. Discussions have the potential to marginalize some students, whether through inadequate support for reading and analytical thinking or by privileging only some students’ voices. Although discussion can support students’ learning through inquiry, teachers face the challenge of moving beyond a few volunteers and serial sharing to engaging the whole class in considering and pursuing each other’s ideas. Genuine inquiry has the potential to pique students’ interests and engage more voices, so understanding how social studies teachers support all students’ full participation as they shift to inquiry is an important focus of research.

Two recent studies show how history teachers’ discourse guides students’ disciplinary thinking. Havekes and colleagues (2017) identify learning challenges particular to history, including students’ inclination to look for a single correct answer and lack of clarity about what constitutes a strong answer. The discursive moves of the secondary teachers they studied more often focused on correct factual information than on the interpretive work of constructing or evaluating historical arguments, and did not support the disciplinary thinking that is the goal of historical discussion. Starting from a similar premise that discussion facilitation has the potential to support or constrain disciplinary thinking, Reisman and her colleagues (2019) found that after explicit instruction in social studies teacher education coursework, teacher candidates were initially able to engage students in responding to open-ended questions with high participation. However, the teacher candidates were less successful in eliciting the text-based interpretation of complex questions that is core to historical reasoning. The authors called for studies where teachers use supportive materials and more clearly specified learning goals to foster disciplinary discussions. These studies highlight some challenges of facilitating social studies discussion.

Other studies offer insight into the instructional work of supporting whole-class discussions of history before and during discussions. Reisman (2015) analyzed the relationship between teacher discourse moves and students’ historical understanding in nine classroom discussions, focusing on the text-based claims students offered and identifying the ways teachers fostered disciplinary deliberation and textual analysis. She highlighted the critical role of the teacher facilitator, but reported that student participation was influenced by the work students had done prior to engaging in discussion as well as by student interest in the topic. Freedman (2020) similarly found that a class of students that prepared for a historical discussion with a richer set of resources experienced greater engagement than another class that did not prepare, even though both classes demonstrated similar levels of historical reasoning. Freedman drew on Engle and Conant’s (2002) concept of “productive disciplinary engagement” to frame his search for “dialogic discussion, where students exchanged ideas with minimal teacher interference” (p. 10), contrasting it with “discussion sputter,” where teachers interfered or students failed to take up each other’s ideas. Kramer-Dahl and colleagues (2007), studying an upper secondary low-performing social studies classroom in Singapore where students were learning in a second language (English), traced the macro-structuring of activities that built up students’ knowledge and language, as well as the micro-scaffolding of classroom discourse. Transcripts showed that the teacher regularly encouraged students to give more information, make deeper connections, and actively participate in the class’s collaborative construction of knowledge. Over time, students’ active construction of knowledge and substantive communication during discussions increased. These studies indicate that context and preparation for social studies discussions matter as much as in-the-moment facilitation.


Across this research on classroom discourse and discussion, we see methodological challenges. Studies may not clearly define what counts as discussion, and various definitions have been proposed. In addition, research on discussion that reports empirical classroom studies often fails to offer examples of classroom discussion or provides only brief exchanges focused on teachers’ facilitation moves (e.g., Dwyer et al., 2016; see Havekes et al., 2017 and Reisman, 2015 for exceptions). Focusing only on teacher moves can miss important instructional work that supports discussion through preparation. In addition, what is called discussion has different realizations, as Mercer’s (2000) work on language as a tool for thinking illustrates.


We draw on Mercer (2000) to describe discussion in social studies that helps participants accomplish different kinds of disciplinary work. We focus on the kind of disciplinary work happening in diverse middle school social studies classrooms when students and teacher are engaged in interaction about sources they have read to build toward writing historical arguments, using an inquiry-based social studies curriculum. The instances of discussion that we analyze involve multiple participants making substantive contributions that build from what has previously been said. We analyze the broader structuring of activities within and across lessons during which teachers and students read sources, weigh evidence across sources, and develop claims and written arguments. We show how the disciplinary work students engage in evolves across participation structures and activities to set up contexts where discussions develop. We draw specific implications for students who typically participate less often (students learning English, students who require more support for reading), for teachers planning and facilitating discussions, and for researchers studying discussions. Four questions guide our work:


While working with an inquiry-based social studies curriculum, what is the nature of middle school students’ participation in classroom discourse (who participates, how, how many)?


What kinds of disciplinary work do students do as they participate in disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussions embedded in social studies inquiry?


How do middle school social studies teachers who are experienced in leading inquiry-based investigations prepare diverse students to participate in disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussions?


How do middle school social studies teachers who are experienced in leading inquiry-based investigations facilitate disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussions in ways that invite diverse students’ participation?


This article comes from a design-based research project that is developing and testing inquiry-oriented social studies curriculum to support diverse students’ growth in source-based argument writing (Monte-Sano et al., 2019). We began the curriculum design in collaboration with social studies classroom teachers in Winter 2015 and iteratively studied the implementation and revision of the curriculum over four years. We report on the second year of implementing this curriculum (2016–2017), using discourse analysis and case study methods to examine student participation in and teacher scaffolding and facilitation of discussion. Elsewhere we report that students in these classrooms grew significantly in their disciplinary thinking and argument writing over four week-long investigations (Monte-Sano et al., 2019).


Starling Middle School (proper names are pseudonyms except Mr. Kabat, a co-author) is a public school in a small midwestern city in the United States that serves students who identify as White (33.1%), African American (31.2%), Latinx (17.85%), bi/multiracial (9.19%), Asian American (7.97%), and Indigenous (0.69%), according to the U.S. census categories used by the state. (“White” includes a substantial number of students of Middle Eastern descent.) During the year of this study, 13% of students were designated English learners, and 52% were classified by the state as economically disadvantaged.

Mr. Kabat and Ms. Hurley each participated in the curriculum project from 2015 to 2019 with one class of seventh-grade (age 12) students. Prior to joining Starling Middle School, Kabat taught English for 15 years in a non-English-speaking country and then completed a postbaccalaureate secondary social studies education program. Hurley earned a masters degree in elementary education from a one-year intensive program before starting her first teaching job at Starling Middle School. The 2016-2017 school year marked Hurley’s second year as a full-time teacher and Kabat’s fifth year teaching social studies at Starling. Kabat identifies as a White man and Hurley identifies as multiracial.

In the two classrooms, 60.3% of the students read below grade level, 20.7% on grade level, and 15.5% above grade level, according to Scholastic Reading Inventory scores provided by the school (3.4% did not report this information). One class had five students identified as needing support for learning English and the other had three. Both classes also included many bilingual students, some of whom were formerly identified as needing support for learning English. In social studies classrooms in the United States, teachers often work with student populations with varying levels of literacy and English proficiency.

Our analysis draws on classroom video data to report on students’ talk as they analyzed and evaluated sources and developed evidence-based arguments about historical or social issues. At the time of this study, the curriculum (see Read.Inquire.Write. at https://readinquirewrite.umich.edu) offered four investigations for seventh graders, on the Silk Road, child labor in Nepal, post-apartheid South Africa, and Athenian democracy (a total of 20 lessons in each teacher’s classroom). Each investigation engages students in exploring a compelling question through building background knowledge (Day 1), reading and annotating sources to identify evidence relevant to the compelling question and weighing evidence and corroborating it (Days 2–4), and then planning and writing argumentative essays that critique others’ interpretations of the question (Day 5).

This curriculum builds on previous work in history (Monte-Sano, 2011; Monte-Sano et al., 2014) and shares similarities with the Inquiry Design Model (Grant et al., 2017) in its use of a compelling question and set of disciplinary texts as the foundations for social studies inquiry, the integration of disciplinary thinking and literacy, the emphasis on students as active learners, and the goal of constructing evidence-based arguments. It differs from the Inquiry Design Model in offering more extensive scaffolding through disciplinary literacy tools that structure students’ and teachers’ work in ways consistent with previous research (e.g., De La Paz et al., 2017). The Read.Inquire.Write. curriculum incorporates these tools across investigations designed for grades six to eight, engaging students in increasingly complex forms of disciplinary argumentation: the sixth-grade investigations focus on one-sided arguments that interpret sources, the seventh grade on critiquing arguments, and the eighth grade on writing arguments with counterarguments.


Researchers observed Kabat’s and Hurley’s classrooms during the inquiry-based lessons, collecting 39 video recordings of 45-minute lessons. (A technical issue meant only 11 minutes of Day 4 of the last investigation in Kabat’s class was captured.) As we began our study, we were especially interested in the participation of students who were learning English or reading below grade level. We know such students are best supported in disciplinary and literacy learning through meaningful engagement in classroom discourse about what they are learning (National Academies, 2018). Inspired by Boyd and Rubin’s (2002, 2006) analyses of the classroom participation of students learning English, we initially looked for instances during classroom discourse when students engaged in substantive turns of talk, and then situated these instances in the larger topically related sequence of instructional activities to identify what supported students to engage substantively.

Specifically, we adopted the analytic construct Student Critical Turns (SCTs) (Boyd & Rubin, 2002) to identify moments when a student’s turn of talk could be characterized as “substantive engagement” (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991) with the academic work. We operationalized SCTs as utterances of at least eight seconds that “build upon, elaborate on, or extend a previous utterance” in meaningful ways (Boyd & Rubin, 2002, p. 504). Although Boyd and Rubin used 10 seconds as a criterion for identifying SCTs, the distribution of our data showed that 8 seconds was an important cutoff between more and less substantive turns of talk. We did not count as SCTs any student turns that consisted of reading instructions or instructional texts, but did include turns in which students quoted from a source to offer their interpretation. When students paused within a turn for more than three seconds, we did not count the pause as part of the eight-second SCT. We did not count choral responses as individual student turns or SCTs. Three researchers viewed classroom videos, meeting to discuss decisions about SCTs and reaching agreement through calibration.

Figure 1-Examples of Student Critical Turns (SCTs)


* = Student Critical Turns (SCTs)

Figure 1 shows three examples of students’ SCTs from a discussion during an investigation of post-apartheid South Africa. All three speak for longer than nine seconds and provide evidence from sources to support their claims, meaningfully critiquing a campaign speech by Jacob Zuma. At 16’26”, Alec quotes from a source to make the point that opportunities are not equal for everyone. At 16’51”, Aadya critiques Zuma’s point that “Because we have these laws corruption is not a problem,” citing an NPR news story. Raphael’s turn at 17’24” attempts to refute Zuma’s point about economic growth by bringing up what he remembers from a video about post-apartheid South Africa. These turns of talk challenge Zuma’s credibility by providing contradictory evidence from other sources, demonstrating “substantive engagement” (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991) with disciplinary argumentation.

After identifying SCTs, we counted the number of students participating with shorter turns during those same interactions, because participation by multiple students is a characteristic of effective discussion (e.g., Hess, 2004). We identified 61 instances of whole-class interaction in which at least one SCT was produced and five or more students participated.

However, whole-class interaction is not the same as discussion, even when multiple students contribute SCTs or shorter turns. A central outcome of an inquiry-based curriculum in social studies is students’ analysis and corroboration of evidence from sources to develop arguments. We therefore defined disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussion (henceforward “discussion”) as whole-class interaction in which the teacher and students engage with students’ ideas and common texts and make thinking visible to develop a shared knowledge base, with collective thinking about the interpretation of complex questions and texts (see Table 1).

We analyzed the 61 whole-class interactions to identify discussions among them that matched our definition (excluding interactions when students were not reading sources or were writing, typically on Days 1 or 5). We consolidated these discussions into 21 episodes, drawing on Nystrand and Gamoran’s (1991) definition of episode as “...those classroom activities centered on a particular objective or purpose. A new episode starts when the teacher addresses a new objective; usually such a shift is evident in the initiation of a clearly different topic” (p. 271). We distinguished episodes by sequences of activities related to understanding and evaluating a single source in relation to the compelling question, or sequences of activities focused on corroborating multiple sources to develop an argument.

Each episode ended with what we refer to as a Culminating Argumentative Discussion (C-AD), a disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussion that followed a series of topically related activities with a source or set of sources (Reisman, 2015; Reisman et al., 2019). We traced back from each of the 21 C-ADs to identify the sequence of instructional activities and participation structures that preceded them. We found that the C-ADs were not the only discussions within the episodes, but they were the only discussions in which a coherent sequence of disciplinary work was synthesized and drawn to a close. Within the 21 episodes, we closely analyzed the 18 additional discussions that engaged students in text-based disciplinary work before the C-ADs. This enabled us to define additional Argumentative Discussions (ADs) that were not “Culminating,” as well as another type of disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussion that we call Sensemaking Discussions (SDs) (see Table 2 and Findings). In addition to defining these types of discussions, we mapped other types and combinations of participation structures within each episode, including direct instruction, individual work, and pair or small group work.

Table 2-Types of Disciplinary, Whole-Class, Text-Based Discussion We Identify in This Study

Type of Discussion  

Function of This Type of Discussion

Sensemaking Discussion (SD)

Addressing the disciplinary work of interpreting a source and/or noticing information in a source

Argumentative Discussion (AD)

Addressing the disciplinary work of assessing the credibility of sources, comparing different sources of evidence to identify points of agreement and disagreement, considering how different sources shed light on a central question, or synthesizing these considerations into a coherent argument

Culminating Argumentative Discussion (C-AD)

Argumentative discussions that come as the culmination of an episode that involves a sequence of instructional activities focused on a source or a set of sources

We transcribed the language teachers used to move students from one participation structure into the next in order to explore the disciplinary work the class was engaged in and how it was structured; in our findings we report on this for one episode. Finally, we drew on the framework of four discursive moves proposed by Reisman and colleagues (2018) for facilitating historical discussions to characterize the ways teachers’ in-the-moment facilitation of interaction supported disciplinary learning. These moves include: (1) engaging students as sensemakers, (2) orienting students to each other, (3) orienting students to the text, and (4) orienting students to the discipline (see Table 3).  

Table 3-Identifying Teachers’ Discursive Moves Using Reisman et al.’s (2018) Framework for Facilitating Historical Discussions

Discursive Move



Engage students as sensemakers

Teachers engage students as sensemakers by asking open-ended questions with multiple plausible responses to elicit new ideas around historical texts.

“…after you read this piece by Plutarch, how did it help you understand about democracy?”

Orient students to each other

Teachers encourage students to build on, respond to, and develop each other’s ideas.

“Did anyone put something similar to what Mansur and his group came up with?... Did anyone sort of interpret that a little bit differently than Mansur and his group did?”

Orient students to the text

Teachers orient students to establish a common focus, check understanding, and/or encourage students to use textual evidence to support ideas/claims.

“How do we know it [the source] was translated?”

Orient students to the discipline

Teachers highlight disciplinary practices, concepts, and knowledge central to constructing or evaluating historical interpretations.

“Angel, what’s wrong with my statement? Eventually we are gonna find problems with this. ...Somebody might find a flaw in my statement that ‘everyone had a role in democracy,’ in ancient Athens.”

Throughout these analyses, we also tracked student participation according to reading level—identifying students as above, at, or below grade level according to state-mandated assessments of reading proficiency—to identify the degree to which students with different academic status participated. Where families provided demographic information, we share students’ ethnic and racial identities, languages spoken at home, and eligibility for services such as English as a second language and special education. We do not report specific levels for English learners because the identification of levels of proficiency is problematic, assessments vary from year to year, and proficiency can only be captured in relation to the task(s) being assessed. Overall, the composition of the focal classes reflected the diversity of the school.


We report our findings on student participation in discussions that engaged them in different kinds of disciplinary work and on teachers’ instructional practices that created contexts for broad and substantive participation. We first offer an example of Kabat’s facilitation of a C-AD where we identified synthesis of the disciplinary work across an episode (Research Question 4). We then report on discussions that involved students in different kinds of disciplinary work through SDs and ADs prior to the C-ADs (Research Question 2). We report the levels of participation of students with different academic profiles and linguistic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds throughout (Research Question 1). Finally, we show how the teachers prepared students for participation in the C-ADs across the whole episode of instructional activities, using varied participation structures as well as SDs and ADs (Research Question 3).

To illustrate patterns in the data, we share in-depth analysis of discussions during two episodes (Episodes 12 and 13) from the same investigation in Kabat’s classroom, and situate those illustrations in relation to results from the full data set. This investigation was the last of the year, when students worked with four sources, guided by the compelling question, “What can we learn about democracy from ancient Athens?” The investigation unfolded over five 48-minute class sessions.

The first episode we present—Episode 12—occurred on Day 2 of the investigation as students read and analyzed an excerpt from the Life of Solon by Plutarch. We present the C-AD of this episode and two SDs that preceded it. Later in this lesson, students read and annotated a second source (Plato’s Apology of Socrates), which they discussed at the beginning of Day 3 (not presented here).

We then focus on Episode 13, from the middle of Day 3, when students read, analyzed, and discussed another source, Protagoras by Plato. We provide an extended illustration of an AD that occurred as one of six activities preceding the C-AD of Episode 13. After this episode, on the same day of instruction, students read and analyzed one more source (Against Timarchus by Aeschines). The next day—Day 4—they weighed evidence across the sources, critiqued two arguments in response to the compelling question and source set, and began developing plans for writing. They composed, reflected on, and made minor revisions to their written arguments on Day 5. Below we draw on this context to illustrate patterns in our findings.


C-ADs involve disciplinary work such as assessing the credibility of potential sources of evidence, comparing different sources to identify points of agreement and disagreement, considering how different sources shed light on a compelling question, or synthesizing these considerations into a coherent argument. On average, each classroom had one C-AD on Days 2–4 of each investigation, with 64.3% of all students participating and half the students producing SCTs. Students with higher reading scores were more likely to contribute, but over 50% of students from each reading level participated and over 50% of those turns included SCTs. We present excerpts of the C-AD at the end of Episode 12 (see Appendix A for full transcript) to illustrate how Kabat facilitated participation through discursive moves that support disciplinary thinking, consideration of students’ ideas, and students’ discourse.

Supporting Participation in C-ADs with Disciplinary Discursive Moves

The C-AD at the end of Episode 12 focused on the Life of Solon source by Plutarch. Solon was a leader in ancient Athens who reformed the courts. In his biography of Solon written several hundred years later, Plutarch wrote: “Thetes, the poorest citizens, were not allowed to hold any office, but took part in the government only as members of the assembly and as jurors.” In this eight-minute discussion, 11 students participated and contributed 8 SCTs. Drawing on Reisman et al. (2018), we identified 18 discursive moves Kabat made to engage students as sensemakers, 11 moves to orient students to the text, 9 moves to orient students to the discipline, and 8 moves to orient students to each other.

To initiate this C-AD, Kabat nominates Jaspan, an African American boy (reading level unknown), to answer the question, “After you read this piece by Plutarch, how did it help you understand...democracy?” This steers students to draw on the source as evidence to respond to the compelling question, “What can we learn about democracy from ancient Athens?” Jaspan responds in Turns 2 and 4 (Appendix A), quoting directly from the Plutarch source. He interprets the source by identifying an excerpt that addresses the question. In Turn 5, Kabat affirms Jaspan (“sounds like you are talking to Plutarch over there”) and asks Raphael (a multiracial boy who reads above grade level) to share his thinking about the quotation Jaspan highlighted, noting that he is purposefully asking Raphael because he had observed Raphael’s good ideas about this quotation during the partner conversation that preceded this C-AD. With this move (Turn 5), Kabat welcomes Jaspan and Raphael as legitimate sensemakers and highlights where Jaspan identified an important quotation and Raphael made an interpretation for them all to consider together (orients to each other). This move also grounds students’ thinking in the source (orients to the text), while conveying that they have the authority to interpret the text.

Through a series of prompts, Kabat then pushes the class to dig deeper into who participates in democracy, using the contrast of ancient Athens and today (presumably in the United States). He starts by prompting Raphael to share a comment he overheard in an earlier partner conversation Raphael had with Kaleb (a White boy who reads below grade level and receives special education services) (Turns 5–15). Raphael shares, “I said it wasn’t as fair as democracy is today.” After some back and forth, Kabat poses the question he had asked Raphael in the earlier partner interaction: “Ok. So, the question was, ah, Raphael is saying that back then they couldn’t, poorest people couldn’t hold office. My question was, CAN they today?” (Turn 15). Kabat thus simultaneously engages students as sensemakers by inviting a student to share his ideas about the source, orients students to each other by highlighting one student’s thought for all to consider, and orients students to the discipline by framing the issue of continuity and change explicitly as they think about the concept of democracy in ancient Athens and today.

In response to his question (“CAN they today?”), students expand on the issue of who participates in democracy today before shifting to consider participation in ancient Athens. First, Kabat agrees with Selena’s (unknown ethnicity/language status, reads above grade level) declaration, asserting that “by rule” poor people can hold office today (Turn 17). Then, he adds nuance to the conversation by distinguishing what happens “by rule” and what happens in reality (“Realistically, in practice”). It’s possible that Kabat was highlighting that democracy today may not differ from democracy in ancient Athens in some ways, because today poor people do not tend to hold office, given the financial constraints of the election system. But, in Turn 20, Lacie (unknown ethnicity/language status, reading level) uses the source (quoting, “the masters of the laws”) to draw conclusions about democracy in ancient Athens by asserting that in some way—whether through holding office or participating in decision making—everyone participated.

Kabat’s prompting, while getting students to elaborate further and rationalize their responses, did not lead them to take up his suggestion that there may be some similarities between democracy in ancient Athens and today. So, at this point he takes a different tack by restating Lacie’s claim and re-establishing the context of the source (“In Athens, EVERYBODY participated...”, Turn 21), confirming it with her and writing it on the board for the class to consider, while saying “we might question it” (Turn 24). With this move, Kabat orients students to the important disciplinary practice of identifying and testing interpretations of sources and suggests the possibility of questioning them. The interaction that started with revisiting Raphael’s and Kaleb’s partner conversation ends with a possible proposition from Lacie about what the source says. Kabat then holds up Lacie’s interpretation of the source for the class to test, continuing his framing of students as sensemakers and orienting students to each other’s ideas.

As a class, they then test Lacie’s interpretation. In turn 33, Jordan (an African American boy who reads below grade level) shares his interpretation, lending support to Lacie’s proposition about who participated in ancient Athenian democracy. When Kabat asks Angel (a Latino who speaks Spanish at home and reads at grade level) what’s wrong with this statement, saying, “eventually we are gonna find problems with this,” Angel shares a nuance that not everyone had the same roles, using language from the source, saying everyone had “a part.” Kabat then asks Aadya (an Asian American girl who speaks English and Bengali at home and reads above grade level) what flaw she finds in the proposition (Turn 36), and she shares background knowledge from the first day of the investigation, that women had no role in democracy in ancient Athens (Turn 37). Lacie continues with a rebuttal that if you were to just focus on men, participation in ancient Athenian democracy was really quite broad (Turns 39). Thus, through framing students as sensemakers, orienting them to each other’s ideas, periodically orienting them to the text, and orienting them to the discipline through the testing of interpretations, Kabat explored with students what this source could tell them about who participated in democracy in ancient Athens.

Kabat then turns the conversation to how reliable the source is for addressing the compelling question (Turn 40). Shaimaa (a girl who speaks Arabic at home, receives services for learning English, and reads below grade level) weighs in that Plutarch did not reference any evidence (Turns 41, 43, and 45). Then, in Turn 47, Travis (a White boy who reads above grade level) responds to the question about reliability with an elaborated SCT, saying: “I say it is not trustworthy because the person that actually wrote this lived couple hundred years after this all happened, AND it was translated, re-written thousands of years later, who knows what could have been changed.” Kabat next asks Travis for evidence: “How do we know it was translated?” This follow-up question orients the students to the text and continues engaging them as sensemakers as he orients them to a new disciplinary issue: considering the source’s provenance. Travis offers evidence from the text about when the source was written. Kabat acknowledges that since “it was written 500 years after the event,” this raises questions about reliability, but he pushes back on the translation issue. Helen (a multiracial girl who speaks English and Spanish at home and reads above grade level) then joins the conversation “to support Travis’ theory” (Turn 55) and contributes information about where Plutarch and Solon lived to justify the potential threat to credibility posed by the translation. Raphael then adds a point that supports the reliability of the source, and Helen concurs with him, as students continue drawing on each other’s ideas.

Throughout this C-AD, Kabat facilitates the moment-to-moment development of the argument by treating students as sensemakers and orienting them to each other, to the text, and to disciplinary ways of thinking. Students also take up these moves as they refer to each other’s contributions and add points that echo earlier comments, while pursuing disciplinary issues and drawing on the text and on the earlier exchanges that led to this culminating argumentative discussion.


When we examined the 18 additional instances of discussions within the 21 episodes that each ended with a C-AD, we found nuanced differences in the kinds of disciplinary work students did during these discussions and how they built students’ knowledge about the sources and the compelling question in preparation for the C-ADs. Even though these additional discussions were disciplinary, whole-class, and text-based, we draw a distinction between C-ADs and the Sensemaking Discussions (SDs) and Argumentative Discussions (ADs) that preceded the C-ADs. In SDs, students considered or analyzed details about and within a source to understand the source’s meaning. In ADs, the disciplinary work was similar to the C-AD—consideration of the reliability of sources, corroborating and synthesizing sources, or identifying claims supported by evidence and reasoning—but ADs were not culminating moments in an episode (see Table 2). We present examples of SDs and ADs within Episodes 12 and 13 below.

Sensemaking Discussions

In SDs, the disciplinary work of interpreting a source or noticing details in the source prepared students to make arguments in later discussions. These SDs—most with broad participation and SCTs—happened while students read sources, typically on Days 2 and 3 of an investigation, before students began to corroborate or synthesize ideas across sources. At this point, students were not developing arguments in response to the compelling question, but instead were interpreting a source or noticing details in the source to prepare for interpretation and argumentation in later discussions.

We share two SDs from Episode 12, the same episode that ends with the C-AD shared above. During the entire episode, nine activities with varying participation structures—including the two SDs—precede the C-AD. (See Episode 12 in Figure 5 for how these SDs were situated.) In these SDs, students make sense of the Plutarch source, preparing for the C-AD where they analyzed the source in relation to the compelling question and evaluated its reliability.

The first SD in Episode 12 focuses on details students notice about the source’s creation (e.g., who wrote it, when it was written, why it was written). This SD occurs after (1) the teacher has provided direct instruction in how to notice details about the origins of and influences on the source, (2) students worked individually to analyze the headnote and attribution, and (3) students worked in small groups to share what they noticed. The teacher first asks students to share what they noticed about the author and why he created the source. Helen says that Plutarch wrote about famous Greeks and Romans. After a brief exchange between Helen and Jaspan about where she found that information, Jordan points out that the author lived much later than the person he wrote about. We identify this brief exchange as an SD because it shows the class working together to produce and record collective knowledge: (1) Jaspan asks Helen to specify where the details she noticed were located and thanks her for sharing; and (2) Kabat annotates a projected source with Helen’s and Jordan’s contributions, affirming that these are important details about the creation of the source that will later help them analyze the central question of the investigation.

At this point, (1) the teacher offers direct instruction in how to work with the Bookmark (a disciplinary literacy tool in the curriculum) to understand the source; (2) students read and annotate the source individually; and (3) students talk with their groups about details that seem important for understanding the source. While the students work in groups, Kabat walks around, listens to their conversations, and interacts with them in different ways. He then initiates a second SD in which students share which parts of the Plutarch source seem most important for understanding it (see Figure 2). He indicates that he has been listening (Turn 1: “I had some conversations...”), and asks Raphael to report what he heard from his group, which included Vincent (an Asian American student who receives services for learning English and reads below grade level). Raphael’s answer (Turn 2) initiates an extended exchange during which Kabat also draws in Tina (a girl who qualifies for special education services and reads below grade level) to ask if she agrees with Raphael. Kabat saw confusion about the source in small groups and strategically brought students in to sort it out together. To do so he asks Vincent to read a quote from the text (Turns 13–14) that surfaces the misconception and the problematic language (Turn 15, “where am I gonna find out what this is?”). Throughout this discussion, Kabat does important facilitation work and validates the contributions of all the students at the end (Turn 19). Without this conversation, students could have moved forward with an incomplete understanding of the source, hampering their ability to use it later when developing arguments.

Figure 2-Example of a Sensemaking Discussion in Episode 12 During the Ancient Athenian Democracy Investigation


Note: This discussion took place earlier in the episode that ended with the C-AD in Appendix A. See Episode 12 in Figure 5 to see how this SD is situated; this is the eighth activity in that episode.

* = Student Critical Turns (SCTs)

Together, these two discussions represent the range of what we observed in SDs: classroom discourse rooted in sources that clarified meaning, identified important disciplinary features of the source, made thinking visible, and created public knowledge for everyone to use. We see the teacher and students draw on points made in SDs in subsequent C-ADs, indicating that discussion while reading sources sets the stage for analysis, evaluation, and synthesis.

Argumentative Discussions

In some discussions preceding C-ADs, the disciplinary work was similar to the C-AD: considering the reliability of sources, corroborating and synthesizing sources, or identifying claims that are supported by evidence and reasoning—all aspects of developing an argument. We call these ADs because of this disciplinary work. They are not culminating (C-AD) because they did not occur at the end of an episode, when the focus on a particular purpose came to a close and the class moved on (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991). On Day 3 of the Athenian democracy investigation, Kabat led students through Episode 13, which culminated in a C-AD evaluating the reliability of Protagoras by Plato. Before reaching that C-AD, students first considered how the source helps them respond to the compelling question of the inquiry in an AD (see Figure 3). This source captures a dialogue between Protagoras and Plato’s teacher, Socrates, about how and whether people can be taught citizenship in ancient Athens. Plato reports Socrates’ argument that when expertise is needed, an expert needs to be consulted, but when issues of administration of government are involved, every citizen can equally well advise. After students annotate the source individually, Kabat directs them to share their annotations in small groups. After a few minutes, he asks the students to individually “scribble an answer” to the questions: “How does this help us understand democracy in ancient Athens? What do we learn about Athenian democracy from this?” He tells them they will need to cite evidence from the source when they share. Then, Kabat initiates a discussion of these questions, the focus of the inquiry.

Figure 3-Example of an Argumentative Discussion in Episode 13 During the Ancient Athenian Democracy Investigation


Note: This discussion happened on Day 3 of the investigation, following the SD in Figure 2 and the C-AD in Appendix A, which were both on Day 2. To see how this discussion is situated in Day 3, refer to Episode 13 in Figure 5; this is the fifth activity.

* = Student Critical Turns (SCTs)

Jaspan and Leah (a White girl reading on grade level) propose the same claim and quote different parts of the source as evidence (Turns 2–10). Helen proposes a slightly different claim and draws on the evidence shared by Jaspan and Leah (Turns 12–14). Students’ contributions show understanding of the source, identify key ideas in the source related to the compelling question, indicate ability to select and quote relevant evidence, and present understanding that different evidence can support the same or different claims. Leah and Helen also connect their contributions to those of the students who spoke before them, indicating they have been listening and thinking collaboratively. We also see that Kabat is familiar with at least some of the students’ ideas from his work circulating while students worked. He uses that knowledge in Turn 5 when he says, “I know, I saw it on more than two people’s papers. James, that’s what you had, yeah? Why is your hand not up?” In this moment, Kabat points out that James (an African American boy who reads below grade level and speaks English and Mandingo at home) had something of value to share. Because students shared plausible responses to the compelling question of the inquiry on the basis of sources, we characterize this as an AD—doing the same kind of disciplinary work as C-ADs, but not at the end of the episode. After a few minutes of individual work following this AD, the episode ends with a C-AD that focuses on the reliability of the source for responding to the compelling question and marks the class’s final consideration of this source and its role in their inquiry. (See Episode 13 in Figure 5 for how this AD was situated.)


Over each episode, the sequence of activities leading up to C-ADs offered opportunities for classroom discourse through a range of participation structures and discussions. This built students’ knowledge over time and engaged them in disciplinary thinking and practice that prepared them for C-ADs where they synthesized ideas.

Sequencing Different Kinds of Discussion Within an Inquiry

The combination of discussions focused on different aspects of disciplinary work at different points in the inquiries contributed to the participation we observed in C-ADs (Research Questions 1, 2, and 3). Thirteen SDs and 5 ADs preceded the 21 C-ADs where we noted broad and robust participation. SDs mainly occurred when students read sources (on Days 2–3 of the investigations). ADs more often occurred on Days 3–4 of the investigations, after students had read multiple sources and were ready to develop arguments in response to the compelling question (Day 4), but also occurred as students discussed the reliability of a single source in relation to the question (see Episode 13 example). Across all discussions, 73% of students participated.

Figure 4 shows how the SDs and ADs that preceded the C-ADs did important scaffolding work that enabled more students to participate substantively in the C-ADs.

Figure 4-Student Participation and SCTs by Reading Level in Sensemaking, Argumentative, and Culminating Argumentative Discussions Across the 21 Episodes (for the 56 students for whom we have reading levels)


Figure 4 breaks down participation according to students’ reading levels in the SDs, ADs, and C-ADs within the 21 episodes. Students across levels participated in SDs more consistently than in ADs that preceded the C-ADs. This suggests that it was challenging for students who read on and below grade level to participate or contribute substantively to the ADs, which were dominated by students who read above grade level. Participation across levels was greatest and most substantive during the C-ADs, where points that were explored earlier come back into focus. For students reading on or below grade level, their highest levels of SCTs were produced in the C-ADs; their second highest levels of extended participation occurred in the SDs. Overall, student participation was broader in SDs than in ADs, but the strongest participation across reading levels occurred in the C-ADs that followed SDs and ADs.

Integrating a Range of Participation Structures Within a Lesson

In Figure 5, we illustrate teachers’ orchestration of a range of activities, including direct instruction, individual work, pair or small group work, SDs, and ADs prior to the 21 C-ADs with substantive and broad participation.

Figure 5-Participation Structures Leading to the 21 Culminating Argumentative Discussions (C-ADs)[39_23855.htm_g/00010.jpg]

Note: Episodes are arranged chronologically by day of investigation across the year for each teacher.

K = Mr. Kabat, H = Ms. Hurley, inv = Investigation, 7.X = seventh-grade investigation # (1, 2, 3, or 4), D = Day during the investigation

Typically, multiple activities preceded the C-ADs and—except for direct instruction and individual work—most of those activities involved students talking together about the sources. That meant that most discussions—whether SD, AD, or C-AD—happened after students had time to think and work individually and with a partner or small group. Students did not dive directly into a substantive discussion; instead, a combination of activities—many of which provided opportunities to talk about sources—led to the moments of discussion where students shared their perspectives.

Frequent Transitions Between Participation Structures

Engaging students in multiple activities required teachers to orchestrate frequent transitions between participation structures within any one episode. Eighteen of the 21 episodes ending with a C-AD involved two or more such transitions. Over half of the episodes involved three or more transitions; the C-AD presented earlier was preceded by nine participation structures, each signaled by a transition statement from Kabat (see Episode 12 in Figure 5). Two of the three sequences that contained only one transition occurred on Day 4 (see Episodes 6 and 7 in Figure 5), after students had spent time making sense of sources together and moving through multiple participation structures on previous days.

These transitions also reveal the active scaffolding teachers do throughout and across lessons to set up more robust discussions. Figure 6 illustrates how Kabat transitioned between activities leading to the C-AD at the end of Episode 12 on Day 2 of the ancient Athens investigation presented above.

Figure 6-How Mr. Kabat Signaled Transitions Between Participation Structures in Episode 12

Transition #

Time Stamp

Mr. Kabat’s language to initiate a new activity

Participation structure



As we look at this first source, I want to focus on, you know what, I’m gonna go to this. I want you to have your bookmark open to the front side, the side with the boxes, and let’s focus on, point, ah I had a plan (unintelligible). Let’s focus on the second and fourth bullet point. I’m gonna give you about 2 or 3 minutes, and as you read source 1's headnote and attribution, I want you to focus on these two points. When and where was it written, why was it written, for whom it was created. You are circling information in the headnote and the attribution.

Direct instruction



Please begin, on your own for about a minute or two, then you'll talk to your neighbor.

Individual work



Ok, either you have the thing circled that we think we are after or maybe you could use some guidance, either way, our next step is I'm gonna give you a minute or so I want you to talk to somebody or some people at your table, share what you circled and why, and we'll do it together on the screen…

Pair/Small group work



We are gonna start with Jaxon telling us about a date or two that you circled and what's the deal with those.

Sensemaking Discussion



Alright, we are gonna move on to phase two of our bookmark. We are gonna look at the source. As we look at this source, we will be doing underlining, not the circling, and I want you to focus on two things in this particular one. I want you to focus on what parts of the source are most important for understanding it, and what parts of the source tell you what the author thinks, … (unintelligible) I’m gonna ask a volunteer to read this aloud as we get started so we can all hear it. Isaiah. Thetes, is the first word here. (Student reads the excerpt.)

Direct instruction



Alright, I'd now like to give you 2 or 3 silent minutes to re-read that yourself, and as you are doing that, you may underline anything that's referenced here, but I want you to especially focus on the two that we put check marks with. Take about 2 minutes and then I'll start a discussion.

Individual work



Alright, I'd like you to turn to talk to some neighbors about what you underlined and why.

Pair/Small group work



I not only saw some interesting things underlined, I had some conversations that were enlightening. And I heard some things, that I want to be shared to the group. So, I would like someone to raise their hand to tell me what they heard. I'm not asking you to report what you underlined, but what somebody else told you about, Raphael.

Sensemaking Discussion



I'd like you now to take about 2 minutes again silently on your own before we talk. I want you to deal with these 3 questions at the bottom of the table. We'll share in just a few minutes.

Individual work



Ok, Jaspan, after you read this piece by Plutarch, how did it help you understand about democracy?

Culminating Argumentative Discussion

Note: This episode includes the C-AD represented in Appendix A and the SD in Figure  2

Episode 12 includes 10 different activities in two cycles of direct instruction, individual work, pair/small group work, and SDs, with another period of individual work immediately preceding the C-AD. Kabat clearly signals when students are to shift to the next participation structure and what students are expected to do. For example, he first asks students to read the headnote and attribution of the source and annotate them by circling information about “when and where it was written, why it was written, for whom it was created.” He frames student work (Transition 1), and asks students to work on their own (Transition 2) and share with their neighbors what they noticed (Transition 3). He then brings the class together as a whole group (Transition 4) to share what they learned from the headnote and attribution in an SD that lasts six minutes and includes seven student contributions and seven SCTs. These first four activities prepared students to consider the authorship of the source and the context of its creation. The next four activities (Transitions 5–8) cycle through the same participation structures but focus on what the author thinks and what ideas are most important. In Transition 9, Kabat prompts students to think about how the source helped them understand democracy in ancient Athens. He then initiates the C-AD of the episode (Transition 10), an eight-minute discussion based on students’ thinking about those questions (see Appendix A).

In offering multiple participation structures, these teachers scaffold complex disciplinary work that resulted in coherent episodes that prepared students for discussions. Kabat’s clear, concise directives exemplify the ways he and Hurley moved their students through a series of text-based activities that provided multiple opportunities for students to think and talk together and alone before engaging in a C-AD. In other classrooms we observed, with less substantive and narrower participation, students more often did one or two activities for an entire class session during an investigation.


Through this study, we analyze disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussions occurring throughout inquiry to identify three types of discussion: Sensemaking (SD), Argumentative (AD), and Culminating Argumentative (C-AD). C-ADs are similar to social studies discussions described in other research (e.g., Parker & Hess, 2001; Reisman, 2015). Recognizing SDs and ADs broadens our conception of the spaces for discussion within the context of inquiry and the disciplinary work students can meaningfully participate in through discussion. Seeing the ways these types of discussion work together to support student learning offers us new insights into research and potential pedagogical benefits.

All of these types of discussions were facilitated by instructional work that made engagement in inquiry possible for middle school students who benefit from literacy and language support. Students thought and talked in a range of participation structures as teachers frequently and skillfully transitioned between activities while focusing on the disciplinary work of social studies. This created contexts where a broad range of students could engage in and contribute to collective inquiry.


In social studies inquiry, discussions that focus on a compelling question or issue and investigate multiple perspectives through a range of sources represent the heart of disciplinary work. Such discussions involve students in shared inquiry on the basis of materials or texts that are open to competing, reasonable interpretations (Parker, 2003; Parker & Hess, 2001). In this context, discussion becomes a vehicle for sharing and co-constructing different interpretations and perspectives, making the process of reasoning about sources and developing evidence-based arguments visible. As students engage with the knowledge and with each other, they use disciplinary language and engage in practices that position them as participants in knowledge development. This kind of student involvement in collaboration, critical thinking, and communication as a means to develop academic knowledge and skill is also a hallmark of “deeper learning” (e.g., Mehta & Fine, 2019).

In Kabat’s and Hurley’s classrooms, discussion made students’ intellectual work visible, while also serving as the medium for accomplishing that work. We drew on Mercer’s (2000) notions of cumulative and exploratory talk to differentiate two kinds of disciplinary thinking demanded of students in different kinds of whole-class interactions. SDs are similar to what Mercer calls “cumulative talk,” where speakers build on each other’s contributions or add information of their own, and construct shared knowledge as they use language to think together, often as they came to understand what was important in a source they were reading. These were not always conversations in which students got excited about big ideas or responded to each other throughout. Indeed, we saw students offer information, evaluate information, repeat information, and elicit information—all different ways of participating in “cumulative talk”—while the teacher often annotated a projected source with students’ various contributions. These SDs and the visual artifacts of them developed a shared base of knowledge and provided opportunity for clarifications and developing understanding as students participated in foundational disciplinary work (even though they were not yet at the point of making arguments). This shared knowledge, developed in SDs, became a resource to draw on when constructing arguments (in ADs or C-ADs) (Mercer, 2000, p. 33). In comparison, ADs and C-ADs are similar to Mercer’s idea of “exploratory talk” in their focus on developing and considering arguments on the basis of evidence and reasoning. In exploratory talk, proposals are offered and may be evaluated or challenged, knowledge is made “publicly accountable,” and reasoning is made explicit (Mercer, 2000, p. 98). Students present alternative perspectives and do not necessarily come to consensus on a common understanding or perspective on the topic they are arguing.

We have described these argument types in the context of social studies learning through inquiry, identifying the specific disciplinary ways of thinking that students are being apprenticed to in that context. Although these SDs and ADs may be comparable to forms of whole-class discourse in other school subject areas (e.g., Cervetti et al., 2014; Mercer, 2000), with commonalities in the intellectual work accomplished in and through discussion across disciplines, there are also differences. Whereas in some contexts of exploratory talk the class may work toward agreement (Mercer, 2000), in historical discussions that is not always the case, because a core aspect of the disciplinary work is the recognition that the available evidence may support multiple plausible claims. Thus, we turn to further explore how this study contributes to our understanding of the disciplinary nature of discussions during social studies inquiries.


ADs and C-ADs involved students in disciplinary work such as corroborating sources, evaluating the reliability of sources for responding to the compelling question guiding the inquiry, or constructing claims based on evidence; this is similar to Reisman’s (2015) whole-class discussions after reading sources, as students drew conclusions in response to a guiding inquiry question. In addition, we identify SDs that prepare students for those argumentative discussions through foundational intellectual work. In SDs, students begin to notice details about sources, work with the language of sources, ask questions about the meaning of sources, and generally make sense of sources. Students share their initial noticings and use them to build an understanding of a source, setting the stage for later use of these sources in constructing arguments. Supporting text comprehension as an early stage in inquiry appeared to contribute to subsequent evaluation of the source and skilled use of it in an argument. This conceptualization of SDs as disciplinary, whole-class, text-based discussions expands prior framing of historical discussions.

Our conceptualizations of SDs share features of the Seminars described in Parker and Hess’s (2001) work in civic education, but important distinctions led us to distinguish SDs. First, the disciplinary goal of a Seminar is to develop an understanding of a single, timeless text to consider the meaning in its own right and larger truisms implicated by the text. In SDs, in contrast, students worked toward interpretation of a text in order to compare it with others and work toward understanding a historical or social phenomenon. As such, a source in SDs represents one of many perspectives that are compared and investigated: attention to understanding a text is a step toward understanding the broader phenomenon students seek to understand. In other words, instead of working toward one’s own “enlarged understanding” (Parker & Hess, 2001) of a text in a Seminar (which may emphasize the reader’s perspective), the SDs worked toward understanding a text’s meaning with attention to the author’s perspective and intentions. This may reflect disciplinary differences across history and civics. Second, Seminars engage secondary students and assume they understand the texts they read, and thus begin with questions that ask about text meaning. In the middle school classrooms we studied, students were not asked to respond to questions about a text’s meaning until they had opportunities to engage in dialogue with others about the sources they were reading. Taking these differences in combination, we see variation in Sensemaking and Seminar discussions by virtue of the disciplines grounding the work—history or civics—and by virtue of the structure and scaffolding provided.

We also recognize similarities between our notion of Argumentative and Culminating Argumentative Discussions and Parker and Hess’s (2001) framing of Deliberation. Both focus on synthesizing multiple sources to develop a response to a guiding inquiry question; however, the ultimate disciplinary goal differs, shaping the intellectual work. Deliberation focuses on developing a response focused on policy or action. ADs and C-ADs focus on developing understanding of a historical or social phenomenon. Guiding questions ask why a social phenomenon like child labor exists in Nepal, how we should interpret democracy in ancient Athens, or how to evaluate a context such as post-apartheid South Africa. They are not discussions of policy or what to do about those phenomena; instead, they focus on practicing heuristics for how we can come to understand historical and social phenomena. These different disciplinary purposes have implications for the intellectual work.

Our findings suggest attention to the variation in disciplinary goals and thinking embedded within discussions—including the overall functions of discussion within inquiry—as researchers seek to understand discussions and educators seek to lead them. A narrow definition of what counts as disciplinary discussion may miss important moments of whole-class discourse where different kinds of disciplinary work contribute to the richness of ensuing discussions focused on drawing conclusions or arriving at policy decisions. In Kabat’s and Hurley’s classrooms, SDs and brief, intermediary ADs acted as a scaffold for C-ADs. Similarly, Havekes and colleagues (2017) specify the disciplinary learning challenges and demands embedded in discussion in order to understand teachers’ strategies.

Attention to the disciplinary work being done in different types of discussions may also address challenges identified in previous work that indicates that social studies teachers spend far less time on synthetic discussion of a central question, problem, or issue and much more time on learning background, reading texts, or other early forms of investigation or exploration (e.g., Reisman, 2015). Yet, Reisman et al. (2019) found that novice teachers were able to engage students in sensemaking with high participation. Explicitly distinguishing SDs could enable teacher educators to clarify different purposes and functions of discussion and how to work toward productive argumentative discussions that are the larger goal of inquiry. SDs prepare students for the synthetic, argumentative work (as in the C-ADs) that has more typically been studied. This reframing of what counts as discussion highlights the importance of the different kinds of disciplinary work that can be accomplished through discussion, and how a discussion contributes to the goals of inquiry.

In fact, “discussion” itself may be too complex and layered to be defined as a single instructional practice. In terms of preparing teachers through practice-based teacher education, we have come to agree with Lampert and her colleagues’ (2013) framing of different types of discussion as distinct “instructional activities”—each defined by a particular purpose—that contain multiple core practices and disciplinary knowledge within them (pp. 227–228). Within the framework of an instructional activity (e.g., a Sensemaking Discussion about a source’s meaning), teachers enacted multiple core practices. We observed teachers explaining or modeling a reading strategy, structuring and supporting small group work, eliciting and responding to student thinking, giving directions, and managing transitions, all within the context of discussion. Applying Lampert et al.’s (2013) framing to our research might mean that teacher educators could work with novices on SDs, ADs, and C-ADs as distinct instructional activities with particular functions in students’ inquiry learning. Within those instructional activities, teacher educators could support novices to enact multiple core practices as they respond to students’ ideas and social studies content. As Lampert and her colleagues argue, the layering and coherence of the instructional activity framing maintains the “complexity” of “ambitious teaching” in this social studies inquiry teaching context (Lampert et al., 2013, p. 228).   


One aspect of this layering and coherence is a collaborative classroom climate with well-established routines that support inquiry. Both Kabat and Hurley created and maintained classroom communities with shared respect, routines for pair and group interaction, and motivation for engagement. In other work (Estrada Rebull et al., in press; Read.Inquire.Write., n.d.), we share how these teachers establish norms and routines at the beginning of the school year to create a learning environment that supports students’ participation.

Within the context of inquiry, teachers play a crucial role in supporting successful discussions in which students are being apprenticed into disciplinary thinking. Hurley and Kabat were actively involved in making discussions with broad and substantive participation possible through the activities they supported before and during the discussions. Previous work has highlighted teachers’ in-the-moment discussion facilitation. Researchers across subjects point to similar discursive moves as effective—questions with multiple plausible responses rather than one specified answer, questions focused on building knowledge rather than quizzing knowledge, moves that demonstrate the teacher has heard a student or that use a student’s comment to further the discussion or that push students to build on each other’s ideas (Mercer, 2000; Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991; Wells & Ball, 2008). These domain-general “talk moves” (O’Connor & Snow, 2018) underpin the domain-specific discursive moves in historical discussions offered by Reisman and her colleagues (2015, 2018, 2019). We add that such discipline-specific talk moves require careful listening and uptake of student contributions related to the goals, and that students need to be prepared and positioned through prior engagement in disciplinary work that leads up to discussion.  

These two teachers’ instructional work preceding discussions highlights how much more goes into a discussion than talk moves used in the moment. Much as Freedman (2020) found, without careful planning and preparation, all students will not be positioned to engage in the disciplinary work that discussion moves aim to elicit. These findings are consistent with O’Connor and Snow’s (2018) suggestion that participation structures and talk moves all contribute to discussions; this is akin to Hammond and Gibbons’s (2005) notions of “macro-scaffolding,” design work in advance of a discussion, and “micro-scaffolding,” the interactional work that unfolds during discussion (pp. 13, 21). The implications, then, are for researchers to look at the broader context that situates discussions and for teachers to plan prior activities to prepare students to participate.


When teachers provide both macro- and micro-scaffolding, students who are developing bilinguals and those who read below grade level engage along with their peers in the disciplinary practices of reading and annotating sources in SDs and developing claims from sources in ADs. The micro- and macro-scaffolding bolster all students preparing for discussion, attending to and welcoming their participation. As Schleppegrell and O’Hallaron (2011) argue, the combination is particularly important for learners who are learning language and content simultaneously.

Time in small group and individual work, where learners were able to rehearse with others what they would later say to the whole class, prepared them to participate in discussions. Then, during discussion, the teachers’ active scaffolding of students’ participation enabled those who otherwise might not speak to contribute. Our transcripts show students who are learning English and students with low reading proficiency engaged actively with sources and with each other in discussion, supported by the classroom environment, curriculum, and teachers’ preparation for and facilitation of their participation in cumulative and exploratory talk. Students who were learning English and others who read below grade level participated in SDs at higher rates than in the ADs (not including C-ADs); the SDs provided opportunities to develop understanding of the sources, setting students up for eventual higher levels of participation in the C-ADs. This provides further evidence that language, literacy, and subject area learning develop together when learners are supported to engage in authentic disciplinary practices with their peers (National Academies, 2018).


Although an important goal of discussion is to foster student-to-student discourse, too much teacher talk takes over the intellectual work and devalues or discourages student involvement by conveying that the teacher knows best and that the inquiry is not a collective, shared endeavor. Hess (2004) noted that the teacher’s role is in tension with several challenges, which often contribute to failed discussions: “the tendency of teachers to talk too much,” the “lack of focus and depth in students’ contributions,” and “the unequal participation of students” (p. 152).

In this study, teachers supported successful discussions by facilitating different patterns of talk throughout an inquiry—ranging from IRE to more open-ended talk—as they shifted from cumulative talk toward exploratory talk across an episode. The teachers in our study played a heavy role in facilitating the discussion, often taking every other turn. However, they often focused on one student’s idea across multiple turns. So, although there was not a lot of direct student-to-student talk in these episodes, there was robust teacher scaffolding that corresponded with substantive disciplinary contributions from a wide range of participants, focused on one person’s idea at a time. Cervetti et al. (2014), who found that more structured IRE-type exchanges led to discussions that Mercer (2000) might have called “exploratory,” suggest framing discursive patterns like IRE as a tool teachers can use strategically to support students’ participation and conceptual understandings, rather than something that’s “inherently good or bad” (p. 568). Kelly and Turner (2009) also found that when teachers engaged students in dialogue by asking questions with both high and low cognitive demand, and provided robust scaffolding of tasks, levels of effort between high and low achieving students were more evenly distributed. We, too, saw teachers actively directing questions, asking more closed questions, and encouraging serial sharing during SDs. When situated in the context of their inquiry, this skillful teacher facilitation enabled students to develop collective knowledge they could marshal in subsequent discussions.  

Teachers in this study also realized a constructivist approach by actively balancing their talk with student contributions, all while centering student thinking and disciplinary aims. Wells and Ball (2008) refer to this role as “both manager and weaver” in their analysis of elementary school discussions (p. 10). Throughout this research, we see teachers actively listening to students’ thinking and drawing their ideas out in discussion. They regularly circulated as students engaged in group work and they listened or looked at students’ annotations during individual or group work. In shifting to discussion, the teachers often called on specific students or groups to highlight their ideas on the basis of earlier observations, drew out the students’ thinking through questioning, and used students’ ideas strategically to launch discussions. Although teachers actively “managed and weaved,” the focus of their instructional work was on student thinking and how that thinking connected with the goals of the lesson. And part of that managing and weaving included attending to who had been contributing and actively working to bring a range of students into the discussion space.


The curriculum teachers used also played a role in setting up contexts for discussion. Having a range of sources and tools paired with a compelling question to drive inquiry over multiple days reframed social studies teaching and learning as focused on questioning, sensemaking, and co-construction of knowledge (Fitzgerald & Palincsar, 2019). The designed curriculum provided space for multiple perspectives and interpretations (Hess, 2004; Parker, 2003). It also integrated the disciplinary work in social studies with language learning support toward clear and challenging goals (Schleppegrell & O’Hallaron, 2011). Disciplinary literacy tools supported the intellectual work while offering activities for surfacing students’ thinking. For example, in the SD highlighted in Figure 2, Kabat uses students’ annotations in response to questions from the Bookmark tool to structure a discussion of evidence from a source; we saw similar patterns in other SDs. The curriculum’s five-day inquiry structure established a coherent sequence of disciplinary activities that built on one another (e.g., reading several individual sources, corroborating multiple sources, constructing plausible arguments) in ways that supported different kinds of discussions across an episode. Nystrand and Gamoran (1991) describe this “discourse contiguity” as a feature of instructional discourse that leads to engagement and uptake. This contrasts with single-day social studies lessons that feature stand-alone discussion (e.g., Parker & Hess, 2001) or that struggle to move beyond reading sources toward discussion of sources in light of the compelling question guiding the inquiry (e.g., Reisman, 2015; Reisman et al., 2018, 2019).

Of course, the student experience is not ultimately defined by curriculum. When teachers used the curriculum, they did not simply follow steps laid out by the different tools or lessons. The Bookmark tool, for example, did not originally specify that Kabat should facilitate a debrief of students’ work or have students periodically work in pairs or draw on a student’s annotations to launch a discussion. Those are all ways that he and Hurley integrated the intellectual work and questioning embedded in the tool with a collective, constructivist approach to inquiry grounded in discourse. In fact, we have revised the Bookmark based on our experiences in these and other classrooms so that regular opportunities to talk in pairs and together are suggested in the tool itself. Thus, we see the curriculum and teachers as partners in cultivating discourse.


By integrating discourse analysis and disciplinary analysis alongside attention to who participates and the context of highly engaged discussions, we gain a more complete understanding of what is involved in cultivating whole-class discourse that moves beyond a few, regular participants. We began with a premise that rich discussions of content that involve a wide range of participants are possible, though rare. We therefore looked to exemplar teachers’ classrooms where ethnically, racially, linguistically, and academically diverse students participated substantively in discussions situated within social studies inquiry. Within these spaces, we identified moments of robust student participation to narrow our focus to discussions that were successful in cultivating multiple students’ substantive involvement and thinking. We then distinguished discussions by the disciplinary work demanded of students and the ways the discussions contributed to student learning in the context of social studies inquiry.

As compared with research that emphasizes facilitation within moments of culminating discussions, here we also identified and analyzed the sequences of activities that built toward those moments. As a result, we are able to understand the instructional work involved in preparing students for discussion as well as the instructional work involved in facilitating discussion in the moment within the context of social studies inquiry. Based on the degree to which students who can often be marginalized participated in the discussions we analyzed, we suggest that this combined attention to the disciplinary work embedded in social studies inquiry, who participated, the ways teachers prepared students, and how teachers facilitated discussions contributed to understanding how these teachers generated robust and broad participation. Overall, this work suggests that taking a disciplinary perspective in research on discussion can surface other ways classroom discourse can attend to the particular instructional goals and contexts of different subject areas.


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A Culminating Argumentative Discussion in Episode 12 as Students Think About the Plutarch Source During the Athenian Democracy Investigation

Transcript conventions:

All speakers’ names are pseudonyms.

Identified SCTs are marked with an asterisk (*).

Emphatic words are in CAPS.

e.g., We DON’T!

Words quoted from sources are in italics.

e.g., Source 3 says he told stories to entertain people.

Words that are unclear or uncertain are put in curly brackets.

e.g., It {might have been} translated.

Regulatory language of the teacher is italicized and put in parentheses.

e.g., We’ll move on to the next source. (Jason, go back to your seat.)

Overlapping talk is indicated by a bracket.

e.g., Mariam: I heard school will be closed on Friday [because of snow.

       Jacob:                                          [Why? 

Nonverbal actions are put in parentheses.

e.g., So you circled this part? Ok (circling on the whiteboard)

Quoted speech within dialogues is enclosed in single quotation marks.

A question mark signals rising intonation.

Unidentified student speaking is shown as S?



Time Stamp





Mr. Kabat

Ok, Jaspan, after you read this piece by Plutarch, how did it help you understand about democracy?



Jaspan (S1)

Now I know that the poor citizens were not allowed to hold any office but took part in the government



Mr. Kabat

Turn up the volume.



Jaspan (S1)

only as members of the assembly and as juror. This proved to be of the very highest importance, because most disputes finally came to the jurors. 



Mr. Kabat

Sounds like you are talking to Plutarch over there. Um, thank you. Who else wants to share? I want Raphael to share actually. Raphael, what did this statement help you understand about democracy in Athens? And I’m picking Raphael specifically so I want you to listen ‘coz I heard I like what he wrote.



Raphael (S2)

I said it wasn’t as fair as democracy is today? 



Mr. Kabat

And I said, Wow, what’s not as fair in this story compared to today, and he said,



Raphael (S2)

Uh, Thetes, the poor citizens were not allowed to hold any office? Um,



Mr. Kabat

And I stopped, what did I say, Kaleb? 



Kaleb (S3)

I forget, can you remind me?



Mr. Kabat

Something about today.



Kaleb (S3)

Oh that today like rich people, like poor people don’t really have a role? in today’s society? like they could be living in an alley in like a big city. 



Mr. Kabat

Certainly not what I said, I asked a question (Laughs).



Kaleb (S3)

Well I answered your question as I said that.



Mr. Kabat

Ok. So, the question was, ah, Raphael is saying that back then they couldn’t, poorest people couldn’t hold office. My question was, can they today? 



Selena (S4)




Mr. Kabat

Selena says, ‘Yes.’ Selena, tell us why you are saying yes. I don’t disagree with you. Because anybody can hold office, right? So BY RULE, the answer is yes. Realistically, in practice. 







Mr. Kabat

Lacie, what do you have to say?



Lacie* (S5)

I wrote down that they looked down on the poor even though they became the masters of laws because you know jurors make the final decisions and now like that’s what I see in democracy now, like they make the decision, it’s a specific group of people, they make decisions together and like they decide what happens, so I feel like those people are really what makes, you know, everything put together and make everything happen.  



Mr. Kabat

So are you saying that in Athens, EVERYBODY participated in [democracy ‘coz even the poor had a big role?



Lacie (S5)

             [Yea, like they still,            



Lacie (S5)




Mr. Kabat

I’m gonna write that and we might question it.



Jaspan (S1)

I wrote that. 



Mr. Kabat

Everyone had a role in democracy?



Jaspan (S1)

Wait, so does this kind of, is this kind of like that? 



Mr. Kabat

What did you write?



Jaspan (S1)

Uh, even if {there is the slightest hope it’s help}? 



Mr. Kabat




Jaspan (S1)

Is that good? 



Mr. Kabat

It’s fine. Um who’s gonna help me with this, Angel, uh, Jordan, what do you got to say? 



Jordan* (S6)

I said that it shows that the poor can still be at high power in, uh, Athens, um, democracy.



Mr. Kabat

The poor can still have some power. Angel, what’s wrong with my statement? Eventually we are gonna find problems with this. (Hold on a second, I got expectations not being met.) Somebody might find a flaw in my statement that ‘everyone had a role in democracy, in ancient Athens.’



Angel (S7)

Cos not everybody had the same like, roles, or like same opportunities. They had like a part, each person had a part.



Mr. Kabat

Aadya, what’s my problem? 



Aadya (S8)

Women had no role in democracy and they couldn’t even be full citizens.



Mr. Kabat

That’s what I’m looking at. Let’s talk about the reliability. 



Lacie* (S5)

Yea but that’s not what I meant though. I meant like if you are looking at it in the view of like men, and just like, cos we all know that women could have been part of democracy, we already know that, if we are just looking at men in general, we see that, you know, poor men, rich men, like people, like, they all had some sort, something to do as they were a citizen with, in the democracy. 



Mr. Kabat

Yea, that’s exactly what my feeling was when I wrote that, then I was like “woo but not the women,” so I just want to make a note to that. Yea, I’m with you Lacie. Uh, reliability. Let’s put a yes or no. Who wants to tell me what makes this a reliable source? Shaimaa. 



Shaimaa* (S9)

I think it’s not reliable because, um, he didn’t really like say what he thinks in the, in the middle, 



Mr. Kabat

Who’s he?



Shaimaa (S9)

I mean, (Another student: Plutarch) yea, like in this paragraph where he had the last sentence. It was his opinion but he didn’t really like, support it, kind of, so.



Mr. Kabat

Ok, so, you are saying the author Plutarch is not giving his, not supporting his opinion? 



Shaimaa (S9)




Mr. Kabat

Uh, Travis. 



Travis* (S10)

I say it is not trustworthy because the person that actually wrote this lived couple hundred years after this all happened, AND it was translated, re-written thousands of years later, who knows what could have been changed. 



Mr. Kabat

How do we know it was translated? 



Travis* (S10)

We don’t! (Laughter) That’s another reason. Actually no, wait a minute, Plutarch, the original guy who wrote it he wrote it in 75 C.E., and it says the original thing took place 594 B.C.E., that’s hundreds of years later.



Mr. Kabat

Alright, so it was written 500 years after the event. I’ll give you that that questions the reliability. 



Travis (S10)

and then it was translated.



Mr. Kabat

Translated from Greek into modern English at some point, that’s pretty, pretty reliable stuff I think. 




What is



Mr. Kabat

(Tapping team, please stop tapping.) Helen



Helen* (S11)

Uh, to support Travis’ theory that it might happen to be translated, it said that Plutarch lived in the Roman Empire, and Solon lived in Athens, [which is in Greece, 



Mr. Kabat

                                  [You are right.



Helen* (S11)

so that, it {might in fact be} translated, and translator might have gotten some stuff wrong. But it’s possible that maybe it didn’t because he maybe spoke Greek. 



Mr. Kabat

Alright, I’m gonna put translated down here but I’m not so sure, I don’t think translated is something we wanna latch onto as unreliable. We are gonna, I’m gonna put my trust in the translators, that they were bilingual and accurate in doing that. (S?: Nah) I would like to hear something from this side. Raphael first. 



Raphael* (S3)

I think it’s pretty reliable because he didn’t give his opinion. Um, he included facts, not his own opinion, and it says that he worked in a local government, and that he’s written about famous Greeks and Romans before, so this (unintelligible)



Mr. Kabat

He’s an experienced biographer? (Raphael: Yea) Uh, Helen



Helen* (S11)

I was gonna say what he said, like the fact that it’s his job to, like he said he worked at a local government and wrote about the famous ones, so



Mr. Kabat

Ok. Ladies and Gentlemen, outstanding analysis. 

Note: See Figure 2 to see a Sensemaking Discussion that preceded this C-AD and Episode 12 in Figure 5 to see what other activities preceded this CA-D.

* = Student Critical Turns (SCTs)


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 10, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23855, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 10:05:09 AM

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