Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

03.12.21Mastering Online Discussion with Allison Dungey

We’ve just finished watching Allison Dungey’s lesson from Achievement First. She and her kids do a great job discussing Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and there’s lots to learn about getting the most out of discussions online from watching the clip. Jasmine Lane put together these notes on some of the things we liked: 

It’s helpful to know that before the clip began, Allison asked students to jot thoughts on the juxtaposition of two very different descriptions in the novel, one stressing the scenic beauty of Denmark and one stressing the terror of the Nazi occupation. The clip begins as Allison is following up on that initial reflection.

During the discussion, Allison is first careful to establish meaning. While it might be tempting to simply read a section of text and ask a students to analyze it straight away, this assumes that students have already understood what we wanted them to notice in the section of task– but developing readers don’t necessarily notice what the teacher does so Allison begins by asking students to simply describe the key difference in the two descriptions. When Sophia points out the sudden change, Allison uses what is essentially a close reading question to make sure students understand Sophia’s comment. “What is IT? What changed with time in that sentence?” This kind of referent question is often critical to establishing meaning of a text but here Allison is asking it about a student comment. If students don’t follow Sophia’s reference they won’t be able to respond fully to the text.

Allison also uses charting—writing summaries of key student contributions in the margin and tagging them with the names of the students who made them.  This honors student contributions but also keeps previous comments visible and available. Since students’ working memories are probably heavily engaged at this point, they’d be likely to forget many of their peers responses without this so the charting keeps comments ‘alive’ so peers can refer to them. This allows students to continuously refer to and weave one another’s thinking into their own. 

Alison also asks Kennedy to try to synthesize the direction of the discussion, which puts a high value on listening and reflecting on peers comments.  She is teaching students to listen well and connect with one another intellectually.

Afterwards students re-write their initial response. As we’ve noted elsewhere in this blog (and in Teach Like a Champion) this is an ideal post discussion activity.

Having noticed some difficulties with initial responses, Allison redirects students to the sentence frame to structure and organize their thinking. She also prompts students to use their classmates’ ideas which, again, is easy because they are still visible and tagged with names. She further amplifies this process via the beautiful phrase “Use the brilliant ideas from your classmates”- in Allison’s classroom that learning is a shared process.

We also loved the task because asking students to revise and improve their original answers (without judgment) based on the insights of their peers validates the discussion. It implies that the class shared things of value that rendered our initial thinking incomplete.  She sends them back their original answers so they can revise and see the difference. To learn more about the curriculum Allison is using, visit us at

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