Supporting Student Learning with Discussion and Dialogue




Leva, Mariann

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Empirical research into classroom discourse over the last forty years, addresses common discursive patterns that occur between its participants. These patterns follow a stimulus-response model; referred to as Teacher-Initiated, Student-Response, Teacher-Follow Up or Evaluation (IRF/IRE). First identified in the 1970’s, IRF/IRE patterns remain a persistent feature in the discursive practices of educators. In a four decade review of the literature in classroom talk, Howe and Abedin (2013) report the high visibility of these patterns; asserting that a large proportion of the sample focused on characterizing classroom dialogue as it occurred. Their examination of 225 studies published between 1972 and 2011, underscore findings which show a 2/3s rule in regards to discursive practices. The propensity for teachers to command more than 60% of the groups’ verbal communication is part of the larger debate on classroom dialogue unfolding. Discussion and dialogue are two of the five talk types that students experience in their learning, and as Howe and Abedin contend, often give rise to a richness of student contributions. But with classroom dialogue seldom structured for such purpose, students are given few opportunities to participate in this form of exchange. The topic of dialogic teaching has emerged as a means of supporting thinking and learning with students. Despite limited empirical research into dialogic methods and models, its strong links to constructivist pedagogy afford it underlying merit. Particularly in terms of the benefits to critical thinking skills, collaboration, and communication it serves. In the end, taking a dialogic approach can engage students in those activities that support learning.