Teacher journal archive (2008-2011)

Article Title

Talk and practice : the real story of dialogic teaching


C Scott


One good educational intention that is repeated often in English-speaking cultures is to provide for the needs of each individual child, by letting him or her find his or her own developmental path in the context of a supportive environment where the teacher is a guide rather than an authority figure. These admirable intentions unfortunately take no account of the realities of classroom teaching, the most inescapable of which is the ratio of teachers to students in the average classroom. There is some fascinating international research that explores the consequences for teaching of the ideals espoused by American, English and Australian teachers. Called the Five Nations Study, the research compares observations of day-to-day events in US and English classrooms with classrooms in India, Russia and France, countries that have quite different educational philosophies. In English-speaking countries, where students are working individually or in groups, teachers under pressure to share out their time equally give each individual very little of it. When students have to wait for the teacher's attention there is also a good deal of 'switching off,' leading frequently to misbehaviour. Significantly, misbehaviour requiring disciplinary intervention was nearly non-existent in the Russian and French classrooms the Five Nations team visited. In these cultures students regularly have the opportunity to participate in and witness dialogues of the sort that encourage the development of competence in academic knowledge. Far from being switched off by watching their classmates taking turns to be the class's representative in dialogue with the teacher, students in Russia and France were attentive and motivated to learn. The students were also notable for the high levels of verbal communication skills they possessed, a consequence of being expected to speak clearly and well for the benefit of their classmates. Trials of dialogic teaching methods are underway in Britain and there are promising signs that these will transfer well into English-speaking education systems. [Author abstract, ed]

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