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Research-Based Solutions

Over the last two decades, researchers internationally have evaluated the experiences of English Learners. Existing approaches, it turns out, have not led to widescale success.

The good news is this: Researchers at The National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners have developed a model called “Quality Interaction” that is among the nation’s first to allow students to simultaneously develop (1) language, (2) other content knowledge such as math and science, and (3) analytical thinking, all through interacting socially with others.


It is about every student finding their voice.


The idea: Through talking with and listening to each other, language learners simultaneously explore substantive ideas and embrace new words, building meaning into those words from their own personal starting points.


A student weaves together concepts, analytical practices, and language practices, learning all three at the same time.

Under the Quality Interaction model, “imperfect English” is accepted as part of the road to full proficiency. What is valued above all is intellectual engagement: making sense of and understanding each other’s central ideas, including the logical links across them, the connections, and the differences. 


More higher-order thinking and more exploration lead to more language development, as students weave new information into preexisting structures of meaning. For example:

  • Students in math class might discuss how one student’s “5” card is different from another student’s “3” card, exploring “less than/greater than.”

  • History class students might share ideas about the source of a document: who wrote it and why.

Hands weaving_edited.jpg

Along the way, building on whichever points students start from, teachers scaffold their development toward proficiency in language, critical thinking, and content.


The Quality Interaction model combines sociocultural and sociolinguistic research on effective practices with English Learners, including studies in second-language development, oral and written literacies development, systemic functional linguistics, and theories of accelerated English language development.

Hear what researchers and practitioners have to say about the development of language:

Language and literacy are social practices. You develop language and literacy by actually doing them.” 

–Amanda Kibler,

Professor, College of Education, Oregon State University

Our interaction, cognition, and histories combine to make language."

–Diane Larsen-Freeman,

Professor Emerita in Education and Linguistics, University of Michigan

[Our goal is to] build the immense talent that all our learners, especially our English Learners by their lived experiences, bring to school. [O]ur work is precisely taking them where they are and running with them . . . dreaming deep ambitious dreams with them. [W]e also need to tool ourselves with information and expertise to make that dream a reality.”

Aída Walqui,

Director, National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners

It’s about every student finding their voice—it’s not about there being one way to speak or a kind of certain way that is privileged over others—but rather creating the time and opportunities for students to find that voice, whatever form it takes."

–Alice Stott,

Director of Schools, Voice 21, United Kingdom 

  • The relationship between being able to talk well and learn well. Alice Stott, Director of Schools, Voice 21, United Kingdom

  • What is “Critical Dialogic Education?”
    AERA webinar at 8:20  

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