We believe in the possibilities — and the imperative — for generative online discussions in Language Arts classrooms.

As literacy teachers and researchers, we know that such discussions are often not easy to facilitate. So we formed a research group to learn everything we can about having high-quality digital discussions about literature in English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms — and we are sharing what we find with educators around the world.

Digital Discourse logo

About the Digital Discourse Project

Our work together is guided by the research question: How do secondary ELA teachers learn to facilitate digital discourse in online discussion with students?

We have formed inquiry groups with teachers from a diverse group of school districts across the U.S. and are using qualitative, design-based research methods to collect data about teachers' and students' digital discussions of literature. Together, we analyze students' and teachers' digital discourse “moves” and develop a framework for facilitating generative digital discussion about literature. These data inform our production of educational resources and curricular resources for other ELA teachers. 

The Digital Discourse Project is a research initiative funded by the James S. McDonnell Foundation in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania and the National Writing Project.

Guiding Principles

Two students reading and discussing text

A Focus on Literature-Based Discussion in Secondary ELA Classrooms

As literacy researchers and teachers, we believe in the power of literature-based discussions to foster deep understandings and critical thinking. In this project, we draw on our own experiences in secondary-grade ELA classrooms to guide our focus on how online discussions of literature can be generative for students in grades 7 through 12.

Hands writing on a whiteboard

A Theory of Digital Discourse

We use the term “digital discourse” to represent the multiple interactive dimensions of communicating online. We think of digital discourse not only as words typed onto a screen but as a social practice that is part of larger cultural systems, including educational structures. This thinking guides our inquiry into digital discourse “moves” and how teachers can learn and teach them in sustained, empathetic, and thought-provoking discussions in and beyond ELA classrooms.

A facilitator standing facilitating a group discussion of adult learners

A Commitment to Teacher Inquiry

We rely on the expertise of practicing ELA teachers in designing and implementing this research project. Because we recognize that teachers' knowledge and teachers' practices are intertwined and inform each other, a teacher-inquiry-group model is at the heart of our research design.


Our five-year project will roll out with a timeline of activities designed to recruit, implement, scale up, and analyze the project.

  • Year One: Recruitment & Development
  • Year Two: Development & Implementation
  • Year Three: Refinement & Scaling Up
  • Year Four: Dissemination & Analysis
  • Year Five: Dissemination & Publication

Inquiry group activities

  • Recruit 12-16 focal ELA teachers (PA & CO) – Year 1
  • Focal teachers and researchers meet weekly in inquiry groups, using Slack, with the goals of analyzing data, developing digital discourse model, implementing model, and refining model – Years 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Recruit ELA teachers nationwide & share digital discourse model – Years 3, 4 

Classroom activities

  • Focal teachers’ ELA classrooms use digital discourse to discuss literature on Youth Voices – Years 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Additional teachers and students join digital discourse on Youth Voices – Years 3, 4, 5

Convening activities

  • CO & PA teams meet at NCTE – Year 1
  • Inquiry groups meet in PA – Year 2
  • Inquiry groups meet in CO – Year 3
  • All participating teachers meet at NCTE – Year 4
  • Pre-conference workshop at NCTE – Year 5

Research activities

  • Teaching pre-survey – Year 1
  • Ongoing data collection & analysis from inquiry groups, Youth Voices, and meetings – Years 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Teacher Post-Survey – Year 5
  • Publications – Year 5

Digital Discourse Project Timeline Years 1-5

Meet the Team

The Digital Discourse Project is made up of a large network of teachers, researchers, and collaborative partners.

Dr. Amy Stornaiuolo
Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
Principal Investigator

Dr. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
Executive Director, National Writing Project

Christina Puntel
Bilingual Spanish/English teacher, Carver High School, Philadelphia, PA

Joe Dillon
Language Arts teacher and instructional coach, Gateway High School, Denver, CO

Dr. Sarah Levine
Assistant Professor, Stanford University

Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Dr. Annie Allen
Research Associate, Institute of Cognitive Science 

Christina Cantrill
Associate Director, National Writing Project

Dr. Autumn Griffin
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Bethany Monea
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
Project Manager

Rabani Garg
Ph.D. Student, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

James Arrington
Ed.D. Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Barrett Rosser
Ed.D. Student, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education 

Kelcey Grogan
Ed.D. Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education


Dr. Nicole Mirra
Advisory Board Member

Dr. William Penuel
Advisory Board Member

Contact Us

Please follow us on social media for updates, including open-access curricular materials and opportunities to get involved.

Facebook: facebook.com/digitaldiscourseproject
Twitter: @digitaldiscourseproject
Instagram: @digital_discourse_project

For specific inquiries, please contact us at info@digitaldiscourseproject.org.