Earlier this month we published the book Dialogic Pedagogy edited by David Skidmore and Kyoko Murakami. The book explores teacher–student communication and examines the importance of dialogue in the teaching process. In this post, David outlines the background to the book and what inspired him to put it together.
My interest in the connection between dialogue and education began when I was a secondary teacher of English. I was keen on using group work, drama and discussion in my teaching and felt that these methods helped to engage students’ interest in the subject. It helped to give them a sense that their own views were important and provided a way in which the curriculum could be connected with their personal experience. At its best, it could stimulate some impressive creative work, including in writing.
I remember one occasion when I led a sequence of lessons on the idea of ‘suspense’ in telling a story. We used a mixture of drama workshop activities, clips from films and examples from short stories and fiction to help illustrate the concept, and I asked students to discuss events from their own experience when they felt a sense of uncertainty and perhaps anxiety about how something would turn out. I was surprised when I read the written work that I asked them to do after this.
One student, normally quiet in class, wrote a story about a family fleeing a war zone in a truck, leaving behind their home and possessions, and going through a series of obstacles, such as check points controlled by armed fighters, not knowing which side the soldiers were on, and encountering many dangers and tribulations before they crossed the border into another country where they were safe. I could not stop reading it – it certainly had narrative suspense – and I gave it a very high mark. When I gave the work back, I asked him where he got the idea for the story from. He said it was all true; it was what happened to him and his family when they had to leave their home country and travel as refugees through other African countries before they reached the UK, where they started a new life.
I was humbled and impressed by his resilience. After discussing it with him a bit more, I also felt that the lessons I had led gave him an opportunity to articulate and retell a painful part of his experience in what was still a young life and to begin to gain some perspective on it. I think that using drama, discussion and examples from fiction in an organised learning environment also helped to create an atmosphere of security where students felt safe to reflect on sometimes difficult memories and integrate them into imaginative writing. Spoken dialogue provided the conditions for strong, confident writing to be accomplished.
The aim of Dialogic Pedagogy is to explain and illustrate the importance of dialogue in teaching and learning. When the teacher enters into dialogue with students, it is possible for the two parties to build up a shared understanding of the educational activity in hand. Dialogue between students, when properly orchestrated, also enables them to explore and deepen their command of concepts and capabilities introduced in formal schooling and to bridge the gap between their existing knowledge and the goals of a particular sequence of instruction. The dialogic approach can be contrasted with monologic views of teaching, in which the teacher is seen as the possessor of knowledge of which students are ignorant, and which depend heavily on the teacher telling students what they are presumed not to know, then questioning them to see if they can remember what they have been told. We must enter into dialogue with students if we are to change their minds, or rather, support them in changing their own minds.