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Sentence Stems to Foster Dialogue: Using "I Notice" and "I Wonder" in Online Professional Development

Tue, April 9, 10:25 to 11:55am, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 700 Level, Room 715A



In this paper, we examine the potential of a popular set of sentence stems -- ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’ -- for developing productive dialogue among colleagues. We take up the question: What is the relationship between teachers’ use of ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’ and the nature of their written responses to colleagues’ reflections?


Fostering substantive discussion is a central goal of teacher PD (Grossman, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2001; McLaughlin & Talbert, 2006). It is also frequently a challenge as teachers may hesitate to express disagreement or critique, often focusing more on providing mutual support and praise (Authors, 2015b; van Es, 2012). Asynchronous online contexts introduce an additional challenge, with limited opportunities for hands-on facilitation to direct the flow of conversation, and thus a greater reliance on course prompts to inspire participants’ more (or less) substantive contributions.

Methods and Data sources

We draw our data from a mathematical modeling course (Authors, 2018) organized into 12 weekly modules. Five cohorts of six to twelve K-2 teachers were asked to read and watch carefully selected content, try out a set of activities in their own classrooms, and post reflections and responses in the form of videos, photos, and written commentary. We examine teachers’ responses to their colleagues’ commentaries in five modules within the course, two of which explicitly encourage the use of the ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’ sentence stems.

We conducted analyses at the sentence level and the response level. We began by coding each sentence of each teacher’s response for its sentence stem (i.e. ‘I notice,’ ‘I wonder,’ None) and primary conversational function (e.g. Describe, Praise, Interpret, Suggest) to examine ways teachers use ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’ sentence stems. Subsequently, we looked at how responses that include ‘I notice’ or ‘I wonder’ differ from responses than don’t.


At the sentence level, more than 90% of sentences using ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’ reflected seven specific functions: describing, connecting to colleagues’ experiences, interpreting, making a suggestion, imagining, or asking a clarifying question (see Table 1). Notably absent from these were praise or other forms of validation.
At the response level, using ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’ was also associated with differences in the response as a whole. In responses without either stem, teachers used almost half of the sentences (48%) to offer praise or some form of validation, or to share their own personal experiences. In responses using ‘I notice’ or ‘I wonder,’ that figure drops by nearly a half (to 26%), while teachers more frequently offer descriptions or suggestions, imagine scenarios, and make connections to their colleagues’ experiences (see Figure 2).


Using ‘I notice’ and ‘I wonder’ sentence stems seems to move teachers’ comments away from praise and towards more substantive contributions. Continued attention to the affordances of such prompts and sentence stems is needed, as selecting prompts wisely represents a potentially low-cost, high-leverage means of fostering meaningful discourse to facilitate teacher learning.


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