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

three books and a digital notebook

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.

two speech bubbles

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.

three teachers and an idea lightbulb

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 project progresses over the course of five years with activities designed to recruit, implement, scale up, and analyze the project.

Project timeline in graphic form, described in text below.

Each year of the project has a main focus. Year 1 focuses on recruitment and development; Year 2 focuses on development and implementation; Year 3 focuses on analysis & dissemination; Year 4 focuses on refinement & scaling up; and Year 5 focuses on dissemination & publication.

While engaging in the project, there are two core phases. Phase 1 (Years 1–3) is our Core Inquiry, in which our partner ELA teacher-researchers meet in inquiry groups as data from these teachers and students is collected and analyzed. In Phase 2 (Years 3–5), the project expands to the national level with a focus on resource sharing. In this phase, curriculum and resources are developed and shared as the project expands to include ELA classrooms nationwide.

Meet the Team

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


Dr. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl Headshot

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

Christina Puntel Headshot

Christina Puntel
Spanish and creative writing teacher, Walter B. Saul High School, Philadelphia, PA

Joe Dillon Headshot

Joe Dillon
Instructional coach, Aurora Highlands P-8, Denver, CO

Dr. Sarah Levine Headshot

Dr. Sarah Levine
Assistant Professor, Stanford University

Dr. Ebony Elizabth Thomas Headshot

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

Dr. Annie Allen Headshot

Dr. Annie Allen
Research Associate, Institute of Cognitive Science 

Christina Cantrill Headshot

Christina Cantrill
Associate Director, National Writing Project

Dr. Autumn Griffin Headshot

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

Rabani Garg Headshot

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

Emmy Talian Headshot

Emmy Talian
Ph.D. Student, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Barrett Rosser Headshot

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

Latrice Ferguson Headshot

Latrice Ferguson
University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education 

Meet our Teacher-Researcher Partners

Shullamuth Ballinger Headshot

Shullamuth (Shelly) Smith
Denver Writing Project, Thornton High School

Bonnee Breese Bentum Headshot

Bonnee Breese Bentum
Philadelphia Writing Project, Science Leadership Academy at Beeber

Katherine Burrows-Stone Headshot

Katie Burrows-Stone
Philadelphia Writing Project, Science Leadership Academy at Beeber

Angela Crawfrod Headshot

Angela Crawford
Philadelphia Writing Project, Wagner Middle School

Jennifer Dunbar Headshot

Jennifer Dunbar
Denver Writing Project, Centaurus High School

Jen Freed Headshot

Jen Freed
Philadelphia Writing Project, Springfield High School, Delco

Jennifer Henderson Headshot

Jennifer Henderson
Denver Writing Project, Aurora Central High School

Samuel Reed III Headshot

Samuel Reed, III
Philadelphia Writing Project, U School

Sarah Woodard Headshot

Sarah Woodard
Denver Writing Project, DPS Online High School, University of Colorado at Denver

June Freifelder Headshot

June Freifelder
Philadelphia Writing Project, Academy at Palumbo

Rolyn Heywood Headshot

Rolyn Heywood
Philadelphia Writing Project, Central High School

Molly Robbins
Denver Writing Project, Cherokee Trail High School

Jon Saliman
Denver Writing Project, Littleton High School

Alex Thieme headshot

Alex Thieme
Denver Writing Project, Littleton High School

Geoffrey Winikur headshot

Geoffrey Winikur
Philadelphia Writing Project, Carver High School of Engineering and Science

Caleb Wohlust Headshot

(Michael) Caleb Wohlust
Denver Writing Project, Endeavor Academy

Contact Us

For more information about the project or to get involved, please contact the principal investigator, Dr. Amy Stornaiuolo, at amystorn@upenn.edu.