Dialogue isn’t just talking. It’s an ethical relationship in which everyone is open to others’ ideas, beliefs and values, and looks to understand and learn from them. As a theory of teaching and learning, dialogic education argues that knowledge isn’t transmitted from teacher to student; instead, knowledge is co-constructed between learners through engaging in dialogues with peers, teachers, subject material and relevant situations. Knowledge is powerful, meaningful and memorable when made relevant to students’ lives, and when they have the opportunity to act on it.
The tradition of teaching through dialogue goes back to Socrates – it got him executed for ‘corrupting the youth’! In modern times it has been developed (among many others) by:
- Paolo Freire, who developed a dialogic pedagogy in the 1960s to teach illiterate farmers in Brazil to read and write in six weeks (he was arrested and exiled for it!).
- Douglas Barnes, whose work in schools in the 1960s and '70s showed that talking wasn’t just about communicating information, but was vital to cognitive development.
- Robin Alexander, Neil Mercer and Rupert Wegerif, whose research in the 1990s and 2000s with schools and Local Authorities in the UK has shown that dialogue can work in classrooms to increase engagement and enhance learning.
There are many international studies that now give evidence for the power of dialogic education in developing children’s learning. However, these approaches remain profoundly counter-cultural. Controlling talk in the classroom remains a powerful way of maintaining control over students. It also reinforces the traditional view of learning: as the unquestioning handing down of knowledge; as memorisation and recitation by rote; and as a process in which the learner remains passive and voiceless. If dialogic education is about learners negotiating meanings, then it inevitably has implications for the structures and approaches of educational institutions.
Dialogic education, therefore, shares the Index for Inclusion’s value of ‘participation’: of allowing the voices of all stakeholders in education to be heard and valued in their own right. The Index promotes open dialogue within school communities as the basis for action on school development.
For further information, please contact Rupert Wegerif: firstname.lastname@example.org