was a

big year.

Black Downwards Arrow
Three Line Scribble Quote Decoration

2023 Annual Report

Scribble Line Quote Decoration

Dear Friends,

Remember Computer Labs? When I was growing up, schools had Computer Labs: structured programs where students learned future-focused skills like typing and eye-mouse coordination (yes, that was a thing). Today’s schools don’t need Computer Labs, but at R.E.A.L.® we believe they need Conversation Labs: programs that explicitly teach discussion skills to kids growing up and into a tech-centric, polarized, world.

I am excited to share that in 2023, we brought this "Conversation Lab" vision to life in partnership with 40+ visionary schools. This Annual Report tells the full story.

Highlights from the year? Teachers loved our PD, finding purpose, tools, and community in a world where teaching as we know it is questioned daily. Student growth data was equally positive: across thousands of 5th-10th graders, we saw R.E.A.L.® decrease anxiety, increase trust, improve listening skills, and build confidence disagreeing with “ideas not identities.”

Every day, our growing team serves school partners oriented by our North Star: conversation skills are teachable -- but, in a world where it’s easier to text than talk, they must be taught. Our role is to help schools teach, measure, and celebrate the discussion skills students need to navigate the best, and messiest, parts of the human experience: inquiry, friendship, citizenship, spirituality, love, professional success -- the list goes on! We know that in aggregate, discussions define history -- and, amidst AI, discussions will define humanity. The stakes are high, but our team is always, always here to help.

As we look to 2024, we are excited for what’s ahead, including the launch of R.E.A.L.® Basics (for Grades 2-5) and R.E.A.L.® Family (for Parents), fresh PD offerings, and new partnerships with International Coalition of Girls’ Schools, One Schoolhouse, and The Grauer Institute (to name a few).

One thing that will never change? Our gratitude for your vision, trust, and belief in student voice. Thank you!

Liza Garonzik

Founder, R.E.A.L. Discussion

By the numbers

Student Growth


of students agree with the statement “I feel like my classmates listen to me when I speak in discussion”

after 9 R.E.A.L.® discussions


of students agree with the statement “I use my notes or ideas from discussion in my writing”

after 6 R.E.A.L.® discussions


of students agree with the statement “I can get my voice in if I have something to say ”

after 6 R.E.A.L.® discussions


Screen-Free: To Be or Not to Be?

At R.E.A.L., we love a compromise. When it comes to screens in classrooms, we know two things are true: students need screen-free environments to be their most human selves AND teachers deserve tech tools to run their classrooms.

Our new system meets both needs.

R.E.A.L.® Portfolios Enable Screen-Free Discussion ... and Focused, Active Listening!

Handmade Underline Doodle

With R.E.A.L.®, students build a physical, school-branded Discussion Portfolio where they learn discussion skills, prepare, track, note-take, and reflect on discussion all year long.

This approach is based on research – it makes growth visible, provides cognitive scaffolding, supports deep focus, and facilitates evidence-based assessment.

The lived experience matches up: kids say they love “getting out of Google Docs.” And, in an AI world, teachers are relieved to have an easy way to document live engagement and the human thinking process!

R.E.A.L.® Portal Gives Teachers Unique Discussion Data ... and Professional Community!

Handmade Underline Doodle

Launched in 2023, the R.E.A.L.® Portal is the online hub for R.E.A.L.® Network teachers. It’s the spot to RSVP to PLC events, book coaching, and peruse resources. For a full tour, click here!

Everyone’s favorite part? The R.E.A.L.® Dashboard: visualizations of student growth in discussion skills, belonging and purpose – plus, anonymized qualitative reflections from students.

According to teachers, this feedback offers an “endorphin hit,” a “reminder of WHY I do what I do every day,” and “a roadmap for what we need to work on next as a class.”

For admin: it’s mission-aligned data worth celebrating!

Amanda Lombardo

Department Chair

The Bullis School (MD)

“As a Department Chair, I am thrilled to have a tool like R.E.A.L.® to equip my team to explicitly teach face-to-face communication skills in a tech-centered world. For students, R.E.A.L.® Portfolios build confidence - they know exactly where to turn to find evidence as they begin writing, and they feel less inclined to consult online sources, relying on the record of their own authentic critical thinking instead.

For Teachers, the R.E.A.L.® PD is amazing - it balances alignment and autonomy perfectly! - and the Portal supports reflection with meaningful data about the discussion experience. I already have reports of students employing R.E.A.L.® skills in courses beyond my Department, too.”


Breaking Conversation into Teachable Skills

Nativity Preparatory School (MA)

A faith-based, tuition-free boys’ school in Boston uses R.E.A.L. ® to break the art of discussion into teachable, practicable skills for its youngest students.

Read more about our partnership and its impact.

“At Nativity, we are called not to take the easy path. We believe that just as you work hard on the sports field to practice each element of a winning play, so too do you need to work hard to develop the communication skills you need to get through moments of disagreement. That’s why this year, we are teaching R.E.A.L.®.”


Building Confidence and Conversation Culture

Girls Preparatory School (TN)

A southern girls’ day school in a politically purple community uses R.E.A.L.® to live into long-held values in today’s world: student voice, civil discourse, and belonging for all.

“A partnership with R.E.A.L.® has become the clear path forward for our school community as we continue to create an environment where all voices are heard and all perspectives are valued.


Blair Academy (NJ)

A mid-Atlantic boarding school with a global student body and public speaking tradition uses R.E.A.L.® to explicitly teach and assess human communication skills in an AI world.

“In a ChatGPT world, R.E.A.L.® gives us a framework to document and celebrate the deeply human processes of idea generation, oral engagement, and writing that builds directly on class discussion. This is, of course, where we have always wanted to be: at the opening of young minds.”

Teaching the Art of Effective Communication

Teachers can’t stop talking about R.E.A.L.®!

Faculty find purpose, IMPACT, and “The BeST PD OF MY CAREER” in R.E.A.L.®

Robby Uhrman

English Department Chair

Hutchison School (TN)

Quote Icon. Quote Symbol and Mark Quote. Quote Marks Outline Vector.

In one R.E.AL.® Discussion, a vocal student stated her position on an issue with clear evidence from the graphic novel. Then, several students shared different interpretations of that same page. Ten minutes later, the original student shared how the discussion changed her perspective.

Her concession made an impact on the class, modeling that it’s okay to change your mind when presented with new information.

This was a powerful moment – one that would not have happened in my old discussion formats. With R.E.A.L.®, everyone has a voice, and mind-changing is part of learning.

Handmade Underline Doodle

Erika Drezner

Upper School Department Chair

Berkeley Carroll School (NY)

Quote Icon. Quote Symbol and Mark Quote. Quote Marks Outline Vector.
Quote Icon. Quote Symbol and Mark Quote. Quote Marks Outline Vector.

I first tried R.E.A.L.® with 10th graders, some of whom were already very fluent discussion participants; I worried that they would think it was hokey. But the other half of the class was routinely silent.

I remember my amazement and joy during our first R.E.A.L® discussion, as I walked around listening and every student was talking. Every student.

And all quoting from the text. And all connecting their ideas to things their classmates had said. And pausing to write. All while I said nothing. I was hooked.

Three Line Scribble Quote Decoration

Kennia Reddrick

Middle School Teacher,

Dexter Southfield (MA)

Quote Icon. Quote Symbol and Mark Quote. Quote Marks Outline Vector.

In a R.E.A.L.® Discussion, we were talking about being bullied and seeking vengeance. There was one student who actually had dealt with some bullying earlier in the year. He used R is for Relate to relate the character’s experience to his own – and said that rather than seeking vengeance against my bully, I’d rather they learn from what they did. [...]

He hadn’t talked about his experience before, and his peers were able to be supportive in the moment, verbally and non-verbally. This was a mature and powerful moment.

Handdrawn Doodle Line

Brendan Flanagan

High School Teacher, Gill St. Bernard’s School (NJ)

Quote Icon. Quote Symbol and Mark Quote. Quote Marks Outline Vector.

For years, I ran a discussion-based class and thought that discussions were something not every student was going to be “good at,” but R.E.A.L.® makes space for all ideas from all students

– introverts and extroverts alike.

And I love the combo of analog portfolio and digital dashboard. As a tech-aware teacher, I love having the data provided through the dashboard, but being able to keep screens out of the actual discussion has been a huge boon to my students' development of interpersonal skills.”

Black Downwards Arrow

R.E.A.L.® Student Voices


Speech Bubble Icon
Speech Bubble Icon

“My class has grown because at first, everyone was ONLY calling on their friends, but now two people that AREN’T friends will call on each other based off of how many times they’ve spoken when they put their fingers up.” - 6th Grade Student

Comic speech bubble
Comic speech bubble

“It has made me feel more confident in my social skills... I have social anxiety, but now I can feel safe when I have something to say to my class.” - 6th Grade Student

Speech Bubble Illustration
Speech Bubble Illustration

“Now that I have R.E.A.L.® skills, if I go into politics I might be the first politician to listen to others and ask questions and value other opinions." - 8th Grade Student

Speech Bubble Vector
Speech Bubble Vector

“I have grown in the discussion process because in the beginning of the year I was scared to talk and thought I would be wrong. Now I know that my peers won’t judge me for what I say." - 7th Grade Student

Cartoon Doodle Speech Bubble
Cartoon Doodle Speech Bubble

“I think I started off thinking I had to say something to get a good grade. Now I actually have things I want to say and don't just say them to get a good grade." - 9th Grade Student

Speech Bubble Illustration

“I've listened a lot more, adding on to others ideas while discussing my own opinions. I've also been using more non verbal cues to let my classmates know that they are being heard and understood by me." - 9th Grade Student

Speech Bubble Illustration
Speech Bubble Icon

“I think that learning discussion skills help me respect other peoples' opinions more in the 'real world'. Doing discussions help me learn how to listen and respectfully agree/disagree with my peers." - 10th Grade Student

Speech Bubble Icon
Cartoon Doodle Speech Bubble

“I think I have gotten better at connecting evidence to arguments and being specific...I think I have also become a more attentive listener. It feels that way.” - 9th Grade Student

Cartoon Doodle Speech Bubble

Thank you to our ’22-’23 school and association partners! We couldn't do it without you.


Thank you for a


big year.

Scribble underline illustration

Join the convo at www.REALdiscussion.org -- we'd love to hear your voice!

Modern Scribble Oblong