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What is Educational Dialogue?

There is a growing global movement of research focussing on the potential of dialogue in transforming education. Dialogue is a complex concept; it draws on many different traditions, beginning with Socrates and Plato, and including Dewey, Freire, Buber and Bakhtin 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 while others take a broader theoretical approach, using the term ‘dialogic’ to refer to holding different perspectives together in creative tension.

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 intelligible both as a pedagogical tool for subject teaching and learning, and as an end in itself – linked to a range of 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 dialogic space that opens up out of the gap between different perspectives. Dialogicality is a quality of communication not limited to talk; it can also be found in non-verbal human communication and multimodal forms of dialogue, interaction with text (multimodal and traditional written forms), and interaction with digital artefacts.

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.

The dialogic education movement is associated with Cambridge due to seminal work done by Robin Alexander, Neil Mercer, Christine Howe and others.