Dialogic Teaching: A classroom guide for better thinking and talking across your school.
What is dialogic teaching?
Dialogic teaching, a transformative approach to education, can be likened to the dynamic ebb and flow of a lively river, where the exchange of ideas and perspectives is fluid, continuous, and rich with possibilities.
In essence, dialogic teaching emphasizes the importance of dialogue and conversation as vital components of the learning process. By fostering meaningful interactions between teachers and students, as well as among students themselves, this method enriches classroom practice and enhances learning outcomes in primary schools.
The work of Neil Mercer and Robin Alexander sheds light on the quality of classroom talk, providing valuable insights into the different kinds of classroom talk and their impact on students' learning.
Research conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation reveals that children in control schools, where dialogic teaching is implemented, demonstrate significant gains in both their understanding and instrumental learning when compared to their peers in traditional classrooms.
Embracing dialogic teaching requires a shift in classroom dynamics, where the teacher assumes the role of a facilitator, creating an environment that fosters effective classroom dialogue and offers abundant learning opportunities.
By incorporating this approach into their practice, educators can empower students to become active participants in their learning journey, cultivating critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that are essential for success in the 21st century.
What are the origins of dialogic teaching?
The term was first developed by Robin Alexander throughout the early 2000s, however the concept of dialogic talk can be traced back to Socrates. Socrates suggested that education practice should be centered on notions of dialogue and that question should elicit new thinking and not probe for set answers. A teacher and student participated in a question that neither of them knew the answer to, suggesting that the process is more important than the outcome.
Before Alexander began his research, Vygotsky was driven by a concern for language. He suggests that development has a social process because children learn through social interaction by communicating and interacting with more knowledgeable and more able people. They gain a better understanding of prior knowledge. This is better known as cognitive scaffolding. Vygotsky linked better language with better thinking or a stronger ability to express what they mean. Children need rich learning environments. In these settings, there needs to be opportunities for children to engage in meaningful conversations about topics which interest them.
These discussions help build relationships between peers and adults. In addition to building relationships, conversation allows children to share information and opinions. Through discussion, children become aware of themselves and each other. As well as developing friendships, children begin to understand the world around them. Conversation provides a safe environment where children feel comfortable sharing personal thoughts and feelings.
To exchange and experiment with meanings, Alexander explored Vygotsky’s theory further finding that this form of learning is vital in the development of communicative skills. Dialogic talk is a theory that has become increasingly popular in recent years as the discussion continues to grow. The theory discusses the value of talk in the classroom and how it helps develop learner autonomy. It is a teaching method where the teacher encourages and facilitates discussion in order to develop understanding.
Developing the theory derived from Socratic methods, it was thought that lecturing alone was not sufficient in encouraging the development of learners and that questioning should be used to extend thinking rather than assess it. Dialogic talk is seen as a vehicle for increasing people’s engagement at a deep level. However, it is an aspect of teaching that must be thoroughly planned for otherwise the discussion can lose focus.
The Power of Conversation: Fostering Critical Thinking through Dialogic Teaching
Dialogic teaching, much like a vibrant tapestry, weaves together a rich array of ideas, perspectives, and questions, creating a stimulating environment that nurtures critical thinking and intellectual growth. Inspired by Robin Alexander's research on the subject, this dynamic classroom strategy has been shown to foster deeper thinking and promote a positive impact on academic outcomes.
There are numerous benefits to incorporating dialogic teaching methods into classroom practice, including:
- Encouraging active student participation, which fosters a sense of ownership and engagement in their learning journey.
- Developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as students are challenged to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information.
- Facilitating the development of strong communication skills, as students learn to articulate their thoughts and ideas effectively.
- Creating a positive attitude towards learning, as students experience the joy of discovery and intellectual curiosity.
- Building a sense of community and collaboration in the classroom, as students learn from and support one another in their pursuit of knowledge.
The work of Robin Alexander and Barnes and Todd (1995) highlights the transformative potential of dialogic teaching in fostering critical thinking and enhancing academic outcomes. By embracing the power of conversation as a tool for learning, educators can create a dynamic and inclusive learning environment that empowers students to reach their full potential.
Dialogic Teaching Strategies: Encouraging Student Voice and Participation
Dialogic teaching strategies, as fertile soil nourishing the seeds of knowledge, provide a fertile ground for students to cultivate their voice and participate actively in the learning process.
These methods, rooted in educational theories such as Sociocultural theory and Child development theories, emphasize the transformative impact of dialogic education on students' intellectual and social growth. To foster a vibrant and engaging classroom environment, educators can implement the following actionable ideas:
- Encourage open-ended questioning, promoting deeper levels of thinking and stimulating rich, meaningful discussions.
- Utilize think-pair-share activities, allowing students to explore and exchange ideas with their peers before sharing with the whole class.
- Implement Socratic seminars, fostering critical thinking and collaborative inquiry through structured group discussions.
- Incorporate role-playing activities, enabling students to explore various perspectives and develop empathy.
- Create safe spaces for reflection and self-expression, empowering students to share their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment.
The work of Lyle (2008) and Resnick et al. (2015) emphasizes the significant correlation between oracy and student outcomes, underlining the potential social impact of dialogic teaching strategies. By offering ample opportunities for children to engage in meaningful dialogue, educators can inspire students in school to become confident communicators, critical thinkers, and compassionate members of society.
What are the five key principles of dialogic talk?
Dialogic teaching strategies create a rich and engaging learning experience that promotes student voice and participation. At the core of this approach is the use of dialogue during classroom teaching, which fosters an environment that nurtures the development of critical thinking and collaboration. Drawing upon evidence from classroom practice, we can distill five key principles of dialogic talk:
- Collective: Engaging students in a shared learning experience, where knowledge is co-constructed through dialogue and collaboration.
- Reciprocal: Encouraging the free exchange of ideas, where students listen to one another, question, and respond thoughtfully.
- Supportive: Creating a safe and inclusive environment, enabling students to express their thoughts and opinions without fear of judgment.
- Cumulative: Building on prior knowledge and understanding, allowing students to develop a deeper comprehension of the subject matter.
- Purposeful: Ensuring that classroom discussions are focused and meaningful, with clear learning objectives in mind.
The research conducted by Alexander (2006) and Mercer and Dawes (2014) highlights the significant impact of dialogic teaching strategies on oracy and student outcomes. By fostering learning practices that emphasize the value of dialogue and interaction, educators can create environments in which children thrive, developing the skills and confidence needed for success in today's interconnected world.
By adhering to these key principles in the classroom, students will not only increase understanding of their prior knowledge but also cultivate a sense of curiosity and ownership over their learning journey.
Jerome Bruner, a prominent theorist in the realm of dialogic talk, posits that culture, rather than biology, shapes human life and the human mind. Bruner builds on Vygotsky's notion that most learning in most settings is a communal activity, emphasizing the importance of social interactions in shaping our understanding of the world.
Bruner's research underscores the vital role of positive classroom cultures in fostering effective learning experiences (Bruner, 1996). He suggests that educators have often underestimated children's innate predispositions for particular kinds of interactions, and by understanding the types of interactions that resonate with children, teachers can create more engaging and meaningful learning environments.
To captivate students' interests and facilitate deeper learning, educators must provide context and purpose for the learning material, employing stories, images, metaphors, and analogies to make abstract concepts more accessible.
In addition, it is crucial to create opportunities for students to practice using language appropriately, as this fosters the development of effective communication skills and promotes a greater understanding of the subject matter. By integrating these principles into their teaching practices, educators can nurture a positive classroom culture that empowers students to thrive academically and socially.
What are the benefits of dialogic teaching?
The benefits of dialogic pedagogy can be seen in its other uses. In business, it enhances employee and customer communication, and in politics it builds constituency. As the science behind dialogic pedagogy has come to light, many schools and organisations have adopted it. We recommend that schools use it to further develop their students. Tata Power Group developed a school in Mumbai where dialogic pedagogy has been integrated into the curriculum.
They observe a daily 20 minute break and allow students to discuss in a group. What impact does dialogic pedagogy have on attainment?
The education endowment foundation (EEF),conducted a trial researching into the impact the cognitively challenging classroom talk can lead to gains for pupils. For English, Maths and Science, they found a positive impact in English for all children in year 5. It concluded the dialogic teaching made two additional months progress in English and science.
In another study conducted by EEF, they looked at how much time was spent talking about topics such as history, geography, maths and science. They compared three groups: one which had no formal instruction; one who received traditional teacher-led lessons; and one who received an interactive lesson plan. They found that those who were taught via the interactive method achieved higher levels than both the control group and the traditional group.
How should I implement Dialogic Teaching?
There are several ways you could introduce dialogic pedagogy into your class room. The best way would be to start with small steps. You may wish to try out some of the activities suggested below and use them as the basis of starting your own dialogic teaching project.
1) Start off by asking questions. Ask open ended questions. These help build up conversation. When you ask a question, wait for someone else to answer before moving onto the next topic.
2) Use visual aids. Visual aids can include pictures or diagrams.
3) Provide multiple choice options.
4) Allow students to take turns speaking.
5) Have students write down key points from each person’s contribution.
6) Encourage students to share opinions and experiences.
7) Give feedback after every turn.
8) Make sure there is enough silence between speakers.
9) Don't interrupt when people speak.
10) Be prepared to listen carefully.
11) Let everyone finish speaking.
Embracing a dialogic learning environment
There are numerous guidelines relating to this pedagogical approach but they shouldn't be seen as straitjackets. Provide teaching staff with the principles and some underlying resources such as a dialogic teaching framework. Afford teachers the opportunity to take educational theory and use it in their own classroom practice. If the concept becomes a tick box exercise implemented by a well-meaning management team then the classroom teacher can easily become demotivated.
Maintaining professional integrity in the teaching profession requires us to trust the classroom practitioner to make decisions about their own scaffolding approach. They may facilitate collaborative learning differently from you or me. As long as the concept has been embraced and the learning process has been enhanced particularly for low-achieving students, we should trust classroom teachers to make their own decisions. Dialogic discourse comes in all sorts of form, if it is announcing student interaction and critical thinking then it's probably working.
We have been trying to systematically increase levels of thinking by increasing the complexity of student thinking. Using the Universal Thinking Framework, we can carefully guide dialogic discourse along with the critical thinking that accompanies it. By carefully taking a student through a certain cognitive route we can positively effect their discourse about the content. The collaborative learning that entails has a positive impact on both the classroom talk and the cognitive development of the student.
Creating dialogic teaching guidelines
The following principles outline what makes up an effective dialogue between teachers and students. They have been developed from research into successful schools where there was a high degree of student participation in learning activities. The principles also reflect the views of many practitioners working with young people today.
1) Students' voices matter - they must be heard by everyone involved in the lesson. This means not only listening to them but actively engaging with their ideas and opinions. Teachers need to make it clear that they value this input. The levels of engagement need to be strong even among self-declared introverts.
2) Everyone's voice counts - if we want our learners to feel valued then we must ensure that everyone gets a chance to contribute. We cannot assume that just because somebody speaks first that they will get more airtime. If we do so, we risk creating hierarchies within classrooms based upon power rather than ability.
3) All contributions count equally - even though some might seem less important than others, all contributions still add something valuable to the discussion. This type of democratic engagement builds the foundations of a truly dialogic classroom.
4) Every idea has its place - don't let anyone dominate the debate. There needs to be space for different perspectives on any given issue. Classroom interactions can harvest some new and interesting perspectives.
5) No one knows everything - nobody has all the answers. Instead, we should encourage pupils to think critically about issues and challenge assumptions. This will help raise the quality of classroom talk and raise the levels of thinking.
Coming to a conclusion about dialogic pedagogy
Before we move on to criticisms of dialogic talk, let's briefly touch on how you can assess a structured classroom discussion as it may be difficult to grasp exactly what the students understand from the questions. The first way to assess understanding is through active participation. If a student is participating more than others, you can assume they have a better understanding although this is not always the case. Let's move on to the criticisms of dialogic talk.
Another problem with the theory is that the teachers voice is the guiding source in the lesson however, many teachers lack the tools necessary for planning effective whole class dialogues. Dialogic talk must be structured and implemented effectively to have an impact.
It requires time and effort which are often lacking in teacher education programs. In addition, it takes practice and experience to become proficient at using these techniques. Finally, it is very easy to fall back onto old habits when teaching. As such, I would suggest that teachers who wish to use dialogic methods should start small and work towards implementing larger scale lessons.
To conclude, when students are given the opportunity to form their own opinions and share their thoughts about a topic, they will have a better understanding of the subject. The power of classroom talk also extends to the development of good language skills as they engage in spoken and written discussion. By developing vocabulary and engaging in effective conversations, students will become more able to use their minds to comprehend and recall information.
Robin Alexander is Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge and Professor of Education Emeritus at the University of Warwick. He has published widely including books , articles and chapters in edited volumes. His research interests include critical pedagogy, social justice issues in schools, literacy and writing instruction, and curriculum design.
Philosophy for Children (p4c) is a wonderful way of bringing teachers and children together to discuss things that matter. It has many benefits for both groups. He has published widely including books, articles and chapters in edited volumes. For example, it helps develop empathy by encouraging participants to consider other people’s points of view. It encourages children to express themselves freely without fear of being judged or ridiculed. And finally, it provides opportunities for children to learn new words and phrases.
A new classroom tool for classroom talk
At structural learning, we have developed a new collaborative pedagogy that helps children talk and think about their learning. Using specially designed building blocks, children can construct sentences, timelines along with all types of curriculum content. The key to the pedagogy is children articulating their ideas to one another. As groups of learners build with the blocks, they nearly always justify and reason verbally. This natural way of problem-solving promotes deeper thinking and better conversations. You can find out more about this pedagogy on our block building page.