Institute for Learning

The basic premise of Accountable Talk® discussions is simple, a community of learners with diverse thoughts, lived experiences, knowledge assets, and skills sets can come together in mutual respect and collaboration to figure out things that were previously unknown to the community.

Engaging students in an Accountable Talk discussion, whether online or in-person, requires joint effort on behalf of the teacher and the students to commit to the principles of Accountable Talk discussions. Students must be expected and be given opportunities to put effort into explaining their thinking (using evidence to support those ideas) and listening and responding constructively to others’ ideas. The goal of such discussions is having students, in collaboration with one another, make progress as a community in solving a challenging problem, understanding the ideas in a text, or investigating a theory. In short, this is the kind of talk that promotes learning for every student.

Talk facilitates more equitable instruction…

when the facilitator leverages the assets of the students who enter the classroom, while also focusing on their needs and on honoring the personal experiences, linguistic variations, and cultural backgrounds of every student.

When educators approach this instructional practice with an anti-bias lens, engaging others in Accountable Talk discussions can lead to more equitable learning opportunities.

Every student in every classroom across all content areas has the right to engage in Accountable Talk discussions. But growing and refining the pedagogical practice of facilitating Accountable Talk discussions does not occur overnight. Mastering the art of engaging a class in Accountable Talk discussions requires time, effort, and intention. According to Tharp and Gallimore (1988), facilitating talk that supports learning requires that the teacher has a deliberate and self-controlled agenda in mind with specific curricular, cognitive, and conceptual goals. To truly maximize the benefits of talk for all members of a learning community, there is also an obligation and responsibility to learn about and recognize the cultural and knowledge assets that individual members bring to the community.

Why do teachers need to have this multifaceted understanding of content to facilitate Accountable Talk discussions within their content area?

Teachers must have or be in the process of developing a deep understanding of the content being studied (at a connected and conceptual level), ways in which students come to understand that content and potential misconceptions, and actions that can be taken to support their growth of understanding.

Teachers create the norms and skills of academically productive talk in their classrooms by modeling appropriate forms of discussion and by questioning, probing, and leading conversations. Students are expected to carry out each of these conversational “moves” themselves in peer discussions, holding themselves and classmates accountable to the learning community as a whole.

While facilitating an Accountable Talk discussion, a teacher or student may press for clarification and explanations, require evidence for claims and arguments, recognize and challenge misconceptions, or interpret and “revoice” students’ statements. It is through these moves, that the discussion is accountable to accurate knowledge and to rigorous thinking, which are two of the three features of Accountable Talk discussions.

How can you tell there is accountability to precise knowledge during a discussion?

Indicators of accountability to Knowledge

  • Specific and accurate knowledge
  • Appropriate evidence for claims and arguments
  • Commitment to getting it right

In classrooms where Accountable Talk discussions are regularly practiced, a quest for and use of accurate knowledge is observed and felt. There are consistent signs that both students and teachers consider themselves responsible for the accuracy and truth of their claims. Whether in English language arts, mathematics, science, or social studies, students make reference to specific information that is used to support claims and to bolster argument or agreement and are open for verification by others. In classrooms that are accountable to knowledge, teachers and students question unsupported claims and ask for information, facts, or knowledge that could be used to strengthen those claims. Both students and teachers look for places where additional knowledge is necessary and seek to identify appropriate evidence to address a discrepancy. They frequently discuss how one might find the knowledge needed to make progress toward a shared understanding.

How can you tell there is accountability to rigorous thinking during a discussion?

Indicators of accountability to Rigorous Thinking

  • Synthesize several sources of information.
  • Construct explanations and test understanding of concepts.
  • Formulate conjectures and hypotheses.
  • Employ generally accepted standards of reasoning.
  • Challenge the quality of evidence and reasoning.


If accountability to accurate knowledge can be thought of as precise knowledge and evidence, accountability to rigorous thinking has to do with building a line of argument that weaves together those discrete pieces of knowledge and evidence. Talk that demonstrates rigorous thinking uses understandable and compelling arguments to link together claims and facts/evidence in a logical and coherent manner. When classroom talk is held to a high level of rigorous thinking, students and teachers consistently push for clear statements of claims, positions, explanations, or conclusions and expect sound reasoning in support.

Teachers and students examine evidence critically, knowing that just having accurate information or answers is not, in and of itself, enough. The evidence has to be sufficient, credible, relevant, and qualified.

How can teachers and students get better at being accountable for engaging in rigorous thinking?

It takes effort and time to teach students to adhere to a high level of rigorous thinking. In a classroom that is accountable to rigorous thinking, perfectly structured arguments and reasoning may not always be present but are always the goal. In seeking to build sound and rigorous arguments, students and teachers ask questions that test their own understanding of concepts, redefine or change explanations as needed, and identify their own biases. This means that discussions often feel quite messy before clarity is achieved.

In moving from messiness to clarity, the teacher and students may draw comparisons and contrasts among the ideas presented as evidence and indicate to what degree they accept the evidence and claims. Students and teachers assess and challenge the soundness of each other’s evidence and quality of reasoning, often posing counter examples and extreme case comparisons to illustrate a point. Hidden assumptions are uncovered and examined. This consistent press to ask one another to show why the evidence truly supports a claim is accountability to rigorous thinking.

How do Accountable Talk discussions grow from and impact the learning community and support the goal of creating more equitable learning opportunities for students?

Indicators of accountability to the Learning Community

  • Active participation in classroom talk.
  • Listen attentively.
  • Elaborate and build on each other’s ideas.
  • Work to clarify or expand a proposition.


In emphasizing accountability to rigorous thinking in classrooms, regardless of content area, one central purpose is to create a public arena where arguments can be explored and explained more fully and with contributions from everyone. And to be clear, everyone means everyone regardless of race, age, gender, sex, country of origin, language(s) spoken, IEP designation, etc. All students have the right to and need to be provided opportunities to dig deep, to question their underlying assumptions, to evaluate the adequacy of their evidence, and to see things from a variety of perspectives. Through this process students learn ways to expand and improve their reasoning by thinking alongside others, whether in collaboration or opposition. Students learn how to make their ideas clear and compelling to others, in part by making their contributions elaborated and explicit and supported with evidence.

To learn more about Accountable Talk discussions, use the following links to explore specific topics, search the “Accountable Talk” tag here in Bridges to Learning, or check out our new Accountable Talk publications for English Language Arts and Mathematics.

® Accountable Talk is a registered trademark of the University of Pittsburgh.

Tharp, R. G., & Gallimore, R. (1988). Rousing minds to life: Teaching, learning, and schooling in social context. Cambridge University Press.

Tagged with: Academic Rigor, Accountable Talk® Discussions, Early Childhood, Elementary, English Language Arts Teaching and Learning, Equitable Instruction, High School, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Instructional Leadership, Middle School, Principles of Learning