Paula Johnson

Substantive Conversation in the Classroom – Podcast Episode 130 | Classnotes Podcast 130

Classnotes Podcast (October 17, 2013) Most of us can remember a time when students were expected to be silent in the classroom. Noise was a sign of trouble or at least inattention. But as the field has learned about the importance of student engagement in effective teaching and learning, educators and researchers have explored new strategies.

IDRA education associates, Veronica Betancourt, M.A., and Paula Martin Johnson, M.A., describe how introducing substantive conversation techniques can develop a deeper understanding in the content and academic vocabulary while stretching student’s thinking and connecting with their interests, explorations and questions. They give examples of using substantive conversation in the math and science classrooms. Veronica and Paula are interviewed by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., IDRA senior education associate.

Show length: 14:04

Send comments to

Sign up for Classnotes e-mail alerts.


Breaking the Bonds of Boredom in Science and Math
Veronica Betancourt, M.A., IDRA Newsletter

Five Standards of Authentic Instruction
Fred M. Newmann and Gary G. Wehlage

Substantive Conversations in the Classroom: Powerpoint Download

Promoting Substantive Conversation in the Science Classroom: Word Document Download
Learning Sciences International

The “Fourth-Grade Slump” and Math Achievement Addressing the Challenge with Student Engagement
Kristin Grayson, M.Ed., and Veronica Betancourt, M.A., IDRA Newsletter

Your feedback

We welcome your comments and questions to the podcast. Send an e-mail to

Listen to every episode!

To ensure you don’t miss a single episode of IDRA Classnotes, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, (download iTunes free if you don’t have it) or sign up to receive an e-mail alert as soon as a new show is published.


Show Notes

  • Paula and Veronica outline the engagement model of “substantive conversations” in the classroom, which moves away from the traditional method of the teacher speaking 90 percent of the time and instead places a greater emphasis on richer conversations with and between students.

  • Veronica explains why substantive conversations help make “learning understandable, in the context of real life.”

  • Paula discusses the “Turn and Talk” approach, where a teacher poses an initial question to the students, and then has them discuss potential answers with their classmates in a nonjudgmental environment.

  • Veronica and Paula explain how this conversational approach also works well in science and math settings, such as for problem solving and talking through scientific theories.

  • Veronica considers how these conversations help tap into and celebrate students’ own cultures and life experiences.

  • Paula notes how substantive conversations also develop two critical skills that STEM businesses want from new graduates: working in teams and conversational persuasiveness.

  • Veronica talks about the importance of students learning to use academic vocabulary in the appropriate context.