Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon’s New Book Highlights Interpretive Discussion

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon’s New Book Highlights Interpretive Discussion


As educators seek to inspire their students to higher levels of thinking, professor Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon offers a valuable approach in her new book Interpretive Discussion: Engaging Students in Text-Based Conversations. Reviewers call the book, released on March 18 by Harvard Education Press, “indispensable for teachers of all subjects” and “affirming the best of what teaching and learning can be.”

Haroutunian-Gordon’s third book aims to help people transform learning by engaging others in text interpretation. The purpose of interpretive discussion, she says, is to form a question about meaning and make progress toward resolving this “shared point of doubt.”

Importantly, the book is designed for teachers of all subjects, ages and levels. Using specific case studies, Haroutunian-Gordon guides teachers in how to choose suitable texts, prepare good questions and lead effective discussions. Her book also shows how students’ skills grow through interpretive discussions.

Haroutunian-Gordon takes readers through the three phases of interpretive discussion — preparation, leading and reflection. Showing the approach at work in classrooms, she reveals how the preparation of clusters of questions, including a basic question and follow-up questions, position teachers to help their students clarify meaning by finding  their own questions and addressing them.

Interpretive discussion is intended for all types of educational environments because it grapples with the meaning of a text of any kind — including nonfiction, data, music, artwork, artifacts and mathematical problems, according to Haroutunian-Gordon. The only requirement is that the text have enough ambiguity to sustain conversation about its meaning.

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon

A professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, Haroutunian-Gordon directed the Master of Science in Education Program at SESP for 22 years. Her earlier books on interpretation include Turning the Soul: Teaching through Conversation in the High School and Learning to Teach through Discussion: The Art of Turning the Soul. She is also the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters, and is co-editor of special issues of Teachers College Record and Educational Theory on the topic of listening — an interest that grew out of her research. 

An educational philosopher by training, Haroutunian-Gordon is a past president of the Philosophy of Education Society. She has conducted research and written about topics related to philosophy of psychology, philosophy of mind, music education, teacher education, and the philosophy of education. Prior to her career at Northwestern, she taught sixth grade for five years, then earned a PhD at the University of Chicago and was a member of that faculty.

“Over a long and fruitful career, Haroutunian-Gordon has explored the philosophy and practice of interpretive discussion through a dynamic program of scholarship and teacher education,” writes Brandeis professor Sharon Feiman-Nemser in the foreword to Haroutunian-Gordon’s newest book. “She has conceptualized the intellectual foundations of interpretive discussion, elaborated its distinctive pedagogy, studied its patterns and impact on teachers and students, and designed unique systems for inducting others into this powerful educational practice.” 

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 4/16/14