OpenEd17: The 14th Annual Open Education Conference
October 11 – 13, 2017  ::  Anaheim, CA

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Wednesday, October 11 • 11:30am - 11:55am
Giving All Students a Voice: Word Generation in Our Nation's Toughest Schools

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This presentation will briefly introduce the Word Generation program, describe its design features, and share teachers' and students' experiences, with a focus on those that give us hope by better preparing our nation's students as informed citizenry.

At a time in which rhetoric that challenges the norms for civility in public discourse has become commonplace, students in middle schools across the country ”from New York City to Salt Lake City to rural North Carolina ”are reaching for a higher standard. The Word Generation program developed by the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) offers freely available materials and web-based supports to bring evidence-based debate about important civic issues into the classroom, while at the same time promoting mastery of academic language.

Each Word Generation unit focuses on a challenging issue (e.g., What makes an American? Is the death penalty justified?) and culminates in a debate in which students use textual evidence to argue for their position. Design features such as discussion prompts and argument outlines guide students to develop and support positions and respond to each other's reasoning.

Engaging middle school students in civic debate is not an easy sell to time-strapped teachers. But the program is designed to develop academic vocabulary ”a high priority in middle grades. And teachers who initially doubt their students' capacity to discuss complex social issues at all ”let alone from multiple perspectives ”frequently express surprise at the depth of their students' thinking.

By using academic language as a vehicle, embedding supports for teachers and students, and offering the curriculum as an OER, students from disadvantaged backgrounds at the toughest schools are being given the opportunity to share and strengthen their voice, to respect and build on others' ideas, and to become expert in gathering and presenting evidence ”skills needed for the sustainability of a strong democracy.


Allie Huyghe

SERP Institute

Wednesday October 11, 2017 11:30am - 11:55am PDT