How-To: Content Specialist Dialogues

This page is to help students in Education 120 accomplish their assignment to participate in a professional and meaningful dialogue with a specialist in their content area.
-compiled by Elizabeth Drake '11, from the Education 120 class of Spring '09.

Description of the Assignment

Each student in Education 120, as part of this project, will need to contact a teacher in their content area and create five correspondences with them, discussing an academic article on literacy in their own content area.

  • It is most helpful if you already have a relationship with the teacher you want to contact; but, if you cannot think of anyone in your content area or the person you contact is too busy, Dr. Broda will help you find a specialist in the area.
  • The five correspondences can be in the form of phone conversations, face-to-face conversations, or emails back and forth. It should be noted, however, a hard copy of all five correspondences will need to be turned in by the due date. If you choose either the phone or in-person methods, you will need to type up a summary of each of the five conversations.
  • Not all five correspondences have to be about the academic article you choose to discuss. You may want to bring up issues discussed in class or you may have your own seperate ideas for discussion.

Picking an Academic Article

When deciding on an article to discuss with your content specialist, don't pick the first one you see. I would recommend that you look at some of the online databases on the college's library webpage; especially JStor and WorldCat. Also, if you know of a good book on literacy in your content area, it may be a good idea to pick out a chapter or a section of a chapter to discuss with your content area specialist. Some other helpful hints:

  • Don't pick an article that is too long. If you wouldn't want to read it, why would a teacher with a full schedule want to?
  • Don't pick an article that is too short. You need to be able to discuss this article with your specialist for a couple of weeks and you don't want to repeat yourself. Repeating yourself makes it seem like you don't remember what you discussed before and that you are OK with wasting time (which you are not).
  • Unless you love a certain article, make sure that the article is not too old or out of date. Anything since 2002 will probably be best, but, if you find an older one you really like, don't let its age stop you.
  • Try to pick an article as quickly as possible. You want to give your content area specialist as much time as possible to read the article once you've sent it to them.

Sending Correspondences

Writing letters to your content area specialist should not be a scary thing. In this project, you are acting as a professional, therefore remember to maintain a professional voice in your correspondences. Don't sound pushy about due-dates or your desire to discuss something; just remember that these people are doing this as a courtesy to you and their schedules may demand that they not get back to you as regularly as you email them.

  • Send your correspondences on time. As I said, your content area specialist may not get back to you regularly, but you should continue to send your letters once a week.
  • You need to make sure your specialist understands that you know they may not be able to reply each week, but that you will continue to send correspondences no matter what.
  • Always thank them in your correspondences. You can never be too grateful (maybe you can, but I think that it would be very difficult).

Discussing your Article

Once you have picked a good article and have communicated all of the expectations to your content area specialist, it is time to start discussing literacy in your subject. Not all of your correspondences have to be about the article you picked, but most of them should be. I would recommend that only one correspondence not be about your article. Try to break the article down into sections, so it is more manageable for both you and your content area specialist.

  • Use the sections to decide what you're going to discuss in each correspondence.
  • Don't pose too many questions. It can be overwhelming if you throw a million questions at them. It might be best to ask a few core questions and then leave the rest up to your content area specialist. They will have experiences that are applicable to your discussion.
  • Be prepared to proof-read your correspondences. Also, you should be able to read it out loud and have it make sense; if it doesn't make sense to you, it won't make sense to anyone else.

Notes and Follow-up

When you are done with all five correspondences (or conversations), consider sending a Thank You note. I, personally, think these kinds of notes are better sent in the regular mail, but that does mean you have to buy an envelope and stamp. You should once again thank your content area specialist for their time and willingness to particpate in these discussions with you. The last part of this project will be to create a summary for the discussions you had with your content area specialist.

A summary in this case is more of a 'Top Ten' list of the best points your specialist shared with you. For example, if your content area specialist made some wonderful points about how to apply previous readings to an activity, you will want to first summarize the question you asked and then their answer. On this website, under Content Specific Strategies, you can find examples of the Spring '09 class's summaries. Each content area did them differently, but they are all effective ways to share the best parts of your discussions with your classmates.

  • You will want to check with your classmates who are in the same content area as you as to which format they will use, so you can coordinate how you want to share your findings.
  • It may seem difficult at first to summarize parts of your discussions. You need to slow down and read through your correspondences again; something is bound to jump out at you.


Now, some fun hints to always remember during this project:

  • Turn your correspondences (or summaries of conversations) in on time, even if you haven't gotten a response.
  • Make your correspondences sound and look professional, and, if you are meeting with your content area specialist in person, make sure you are dress appropriately and arrive on time.
  • Read your article a couple of times. You want to really understand its contents and be able to sustain multiple discussion topics.
  • Understand all of Dr. Broda's expectations from the beginning (that includes due-dates and any follow-up projects he may plan to give you).
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