Think about the most recent conversations you’ve had. Have some been one-sided conversations with someone who did all the talking, providing you with little or no opportunity to engage in the topic? Have some been more engaging conversations with someone who was both an active listener, as well as a conversationalist? Chances are, you’ve experienced both.
The kinds of conversations described above can be academically termed monologic – the one-sided, closed conversation where one person typically does all of the talking, and dialogic – the conversation where all parties have the opportunity to be active speakers and listeners.
Now, think about monologic and dialogic talk in the classroom setting. In some classrooms, teaching has traditionally been, and continues to be monologic, either in the form of a lecture or teachers asking all of the questions, in which there are “right” answers, or the answers are already known. As Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst explain in their book, Notice and Note, monologic dialogue means teachers act as the experts who deliver content and ask most of the questions. In this model, students passively receive information and look to the teacher, to know whether their answers are correct.
Dialogic discussion, on the other hand, makes speakers and listeners of everyone, opening up the possibility of co-constructed learning with teachers as facilitators. Beers and Probst, like most literacy experts, including the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning (CTL), advocate for less monologic and more dialogic interaction in classrooms, creating the type of authentic engagement that instills confidence in students by making them an integral part of the learning. Inside this type of learning climate, students do not have to look solely at teachers to know if their answers are correct; they are taught that they can discern the answers, both individually and with peers, by looking at evidence, facts, and by doing their own investigations.
A significant shift for teachers who want better conversations in their classrooms is that they must give up the sage on the stage mindset and embrace the thinking of their students on a level that conveys mutual respect. One way to make this shift is through the intentional use of CTL’s Academic Dialogue strategies, as well as their Thinking and Learning Framework, both part of the Adolescent Literacy Model.
While student engagement in speaking and listening activities in the classroom is not new, there seems to finally be a wider acceptance and understanding now that Academic Dialogue is an integral part of any content learning. But the shift is not always an easy one for teachers to make because more student talk does not necessarily mean that the discussion is rigorous. The following considerations can help teachers implement Academic Dialogue and a dialogic environment.
- Build a culture of dialogue. It is important that teachers and students address learning together by listening to each other, sharing ideas, and considering multiple perspectives. Students must feel safe in sharing ideas without fear of embarrassment for being wrong. Celebrating multiple approaches to content, rather than just sharing out correct answers, contributes to finding value in the thinking process. If you are a school implementing ALM, revisit and reflect on the domains and practices of the Thinking and Learning Framework.
- Value students’ questions and make them a prominent part of your instruction. Questioning in the classroom, by both the teacher and students, creates an environment for inquiry and promotes thinking from everyone, not just the teacher. Consider asking open-ended questions that have multiple answers and establishing the expectation that all students ask probing questions. If you are a school implementing ALM, revisit the Conditions for Success – Questioning.
- Intentionally select (and pair) strategies that will serve the purpose of learning the content. Having students talk or work in groups just for the sake of doing so does not bring intentionality to the lesson. Know which strategies will work in the context of the learning. If you are a school implementing ALM, revisit the Academic Dialogue chapter and Academic Dialogue strategies in your ALM Guidebook or online.
- Circulate among, and interact with students during class discussion, providing feedback on both the content of their discussion and the behaviors they bring to the process. Your feedback and guidance can be a valuable part helping students better understand what Academic Dialogue looks like and sounds like.
Whether your classroom is mostly monologic or dialogic, the shift toward a classroom where students regularly engage in learning through Academic Dialogue is a natural way to create community, helping students think and learn. For more information on the Adolescent Literacy Model (ALM) visit www.ctlonline.org.