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What is Educational Dialogue?

Primary Classroom UK

What is educational dialogue?

Dialogue is a complex concept; it draws on many different traditions, beginning with Socrates and Plato, and including Dewey as well as more recent authors (Alexander, Mercer, Scott, Resnick, Rojas-Drummond, Wegerif, Wells, etc.). There is considerable variation in focus within the field, with some authors using the term synonymously with talk or discourse; however consensus has emerged concerning productive forms of dialogue in educational contexts, and it is on these that the group will focus primarily.

While our initial position is open to adaptation and debate by researchers in the group, we currently understand ‘dialogue’ as follows (building on sociocultural and dialogic theories, especially Bakhtin): Dialogue is a distinctive human achievement. It is intelligible both as a pedagogical tool for subject teaching and learning, and as an end in itself – linked to increasingly prevalent purposes of education concerned with critical and higher level thinking, creative problem solving, making relevant links between and within subject disciplines, active and democratic citizenship and living peacefully.

Dialogue is the continuous co-construction of new meanings that emerge through the gap between different incommensurable perspectives. It builds commitment to engagement across difference and equitable participation; learning to talk is linked to learning to think (Vygotsky 1962). Dialogue is internal/external, spans time and space – it is cumulative over time and makes links to previous/future events or wider context beyond the immediate interaction. Dialogicality is a quality of communication not limited to talk; it includes non-verbal human communication and multimodal forms of dialogue, including interaction with text (multimodal and traditional written forms), and within technology environments, especially with digital artefacts – during the flow of verbal dialogue.

Dialogue is characterised by: being open to new ideas and change of mind; listening and attunement to others; being responsive to and valuing others’ contributions; cumulatively building on / elaborating / synthesising / following up others’ ideas; exploring difference, comparing and evaluating alternative perspectives, working towards reconciliation, negotiating consensus; challenging and critically questioning others’ ideas; exploring possibilities collectively through creative thinking; direction towards specific, valued goals, including valuing the dialogic process itself and the dispositions thereby developed.

Dialogue is intrinsically challenging and logistically and ideologically constrained by the prevailing educational discourse, curriculum and assessment frameworks, together posing stimulating questions for researchers and practitioners.