Dialogic Talk

It’s a powerful statement about a book when while reading it, you implement a suggested strategy the next day in class.  That’s exactly what happened while I was reading Classroom Talk: Understanding dialogue, pedagogy and practice, by Edwards-Groves, Anstey and Bull (2014).  The premise- talk is the foundation to all learning- is not new, but the connections made to multiple theories (e.g. Theory of  Practice Architectures, Theory of Multimodality, Social Semiotic Theory) makes this book very current.


I particularly enjoyed the section on conversation vs dialogic talk.  I do believe in “vacating the floor” as is suggested in the book and letting the students discuss issues in small groups.  In one particular class I teach, I always allowed my students to select their own discussion groups, as these are university students and felt they needed to make their own choices.  However, many of the groups were not focused, they veered way off topic (or never addressed the topic at all) and some students were still not voicing their opinion (even after much community building).  The section on dialogic talk prompted me to reframe my concept of small group discussion.  It suggested conversation is an informal discourse where direction and end point of the talk are unclear.  This was pretty much where my students were with their discussions.  Dialogic talk, however, sought to engage all listeners and had more purpose.  Plus, dialogic talk was not as relaxed as conversation, it was driven.  I needed driven.  I wanted more engagement.

As a result, I immediately set up ‘Dialogue Groups’ with an assigned moderator, who ensured everyone’s opinion was invited and heard.  I decided who would go into each group (which I thought they might resent and discovered they preferred!).  For each discussion I provided prompt questions to get the talk started.  I also assigned a time keeper who kept the dialogue to the time limit and a recorder who kept general notes about what was discussed.  I honestly didn’t think this would be necessary at the university level, but the difference was incredible.  There was thoughtfulness in the answers.  The discussants were suddenly animated and energetic.  They were really listening to each other.   This was a small change, but it made a world of difference in how they were hearing and responding to each other.

Of course there are many other interesting and practical suggestions in the book.  The connections between theory and practice are very strong.  I highly recommend it.  This book was published by the Primary English Teaching Association of Australia (PETAA).  Check out their web site!


About Dr. Cathy Miyata

Cathy Miyata is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is also an acclaimed storyteller and writer. She has performed and lectured in Serbia, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Mexico, the United States, Egypt, and across Canada

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