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Dialogue: an alternative educational theory of knowing and relating

This lecture examines the philosophical underpinnings and implications of dialogic theory in education.

Rupert Higham

on 1 February 2016

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Transcript of Dialogue: an alternative educational theory of knowing and relating

what exists?
how can we know about it?
What governs dialogic relationships?
Dialogue: an alternative theory of knowing and relating
Rupert Higham,
Feb 1st, 2016

When we talk, what are we referring to?
"No man ever steps in the same river twice."
Heraclitus, via Plato
“...meaning is like an electric spark that occurs only when two different terminals are hooked together.... In essence meaning belongs to a word in its position between speakers; that is, meaning is realised only in the process of active, responsive, understanding.”
Volosinov, 1986, p. 102
"When we think of dialogues we probably think of empirical dialogues that occur at a certain place and time between particular people. In doing this we are looking at dialogues as if from the outside. But dialogues also have an inside. On the inside of the dialogue we might be talking about people who are not present, distant places and past or future events... when lived from the inside dialogues establish their own space and time."
Wegerif 2011, p.180
Dialogism is not simply different perspectives on the same world. It involves the distribution of utterly incompatible elements within different perspectives of equal value. Bakhtin criticises the view that disagreement means at least one of the people must be wrong. Because many standpoints exist, truth requires many incommensurable voices. Hence, it involves a world which is fundamentally irreducible to unity...There is no single meaning to be found in the world, but a vast multitude of contesting meanings. Truth is established by addressivity, engagement and commitment in a particular context.
Robinson, 2001
in principio erat verbum /sermo
In the beginning was the Word
The fundamental principle is conversation
Language is itself at the heart of reality as we know and experience it; our world is constituted of meanings (which change).
(arche: original, foundation, source, principle) (Logos: reason, saying, discourse)
The community of those who have nothing in common
Lingis (1994)
Since the Enlightenment, philosophers and others have argued for “rational community” founded in objective truths which is “…formulated in universal categories, such that they are detached from the here-now index of the one who first formulated them”
(Lingis in Biesta 2006, p.56).
All statements then reinforce each other in reflecting a common understanding of the world; the identity of the speaker is thus irrelevant to the meaning of the statement - much like computer code (syntax rather than semantics).
Biesta argues that the traditional role of the school has been to induct the young into the rational discourse shared by adults, thereby negating students’ individual voices (ibid., p.57).
"Man is never coincident with himself. The equation of identity "A = A" is inapplicable to him."
Bakhtin 1973, p.48
Dialogue as polyphony
As suggested previously, Bakhtin emphasised process over substance in dialogue; the practice of dialogue, rather than its outcome, is meaningful.
Dialogic space opens up when two or more irreducibly different perspectives are held together in tension.
(Wegerif 2007)
Dialogic space
‘…the metaphor of space allows us to speak of the opening, closing, widening and deepening a space all of which moves prove to be useful in the classroom.’
(Wegerif 2011)
‘Dialogic space’ is misleading in that it suggests a thing rather than a process, but:
Dialogic philosophy focuses on actions, not objects, and on relationships, not persons.
Thus meanings emerge from dialogic space when people seek to view something from another perspective.
Doing, not being
Dialogue is not like other forms of communication (chatting, arguing, negotiating, and so on). Dialogue is an activity directed toward discovery and new understanding, which stands to improve the knowledge, insight, or sensitivity of its participants. This is true even when the roles of the participants do not break out neatly as “teacher” and “student” (or even when the dialogue is internal and imaginary, within thought). Dialogue represents a continuous, developmental communicative interchange through which we stand to gain a fuller apprehension of the world, ourselves, and one another.
(Dialogue in Teaching: Theory and Practice, Burbules 2003, p.8).
Why dialogue is different
Identification with the ‘space of dialogue’... was meant as an answer to the question: from what standpoint are children able to challenge their own thinking? How is it possible for them to change their minds because of what they hear in a discussion? If they are thinking then they are not simply identifying with their initial position or their self-interest, nor are they simply identifying with the other speaker’s position, although they may be listening carefully. If they are able to change their minds it must be because they are identifying in some way with the process of the dialogue itself and the ideal of truth that it generates. (Wegerif 2011, p.185)
Thinking as 'identifying with dialogue'
Evidence from other fields
‘the true direction of the development of thinking is not from the individual to some state of socialization, but from the social to the individual’ (Vygotsky 1987, p.76)
... evidence is conclusive that talk strongly promotes synaptogenesis – the creation of connections in the brain – especially in the period up to the age of 11 (Johnson 2004).
‘Thinking and discourse are the same thing, except that what we call thinking is, precisely, the inward dialogue carried on by the mind itself without a spoken sound’.
(Plato, Sophist, 263e)
As we saw last week, Biesta (2006) argues that genuine dialogue requires:

1. trust without ground
2. responsibility without limit
3. 'transcendental violence'

Following Levinas, he argues that we enter into relationships before we are even conscious - they are thus not based on knowledge but on ethics, where the self is 'a point already identified from the outside' (ibid., p.51), and is unique not generic.
Society is not formed by proximity but by social influence, which is the recognition of communicated common aims.

‘We are thus compelled to recognize that within even the most social group there are many relations which are not as yet social’. (Dewey 1966, p.5)

Giving and receiving orders isn't social – it's like the
‘parts of a machine’

‘Not only is social life identical with communication, but all communication… is educative’.
To communicate one must reformulate one’s idea in accordance with another’s understanding:
‘seeing it as another would see it… [so] that he can appreciate its meaning’

Dewey on education, society and ethics
Implications for classrooms
Dialogic education means
'talking to others as if they mattered'

Alexander's Dialogic Teaching (2008) posits 5 principles of dialogue:
collective, reciprocal, supportive, cumulative, purposeful

Mercer (2007) posits 3 types of classroom talk:
Disputational (focus on disagreement, fighting one's corner)
Cumulative (focus on agreement, not criticality)
Exploratory (trust, participation, challenge, shared purpose)

Wegerif differs from them in arguing for dialogue as an educational 'end in itself', rather than as an approach to education. Do you agree?
Dialogue as 'coming into being'
One radical but logical conclusion of dialogic ontology is that individuals have no meaning outside of our relationships with others; it is the
'creation of situations in which learners are able and allowed to respond’ that allows them, within that ethical relationship, to 'come into being'
(Biesta 2006, p.28)

It also implies that dialogic education cannot be passive: one's responses must be backed up by action as well as words., which demands what I call 'responsible leadership':

... There is no fixed underlying ‘self’ which is revealed through good action, since responses are always embedded in context... In common language [responsible leadership] is not about people doing what they want to do, but about them doing what’s there to be done in a way that is uniquely their own.
(Higham et al. 2010, p.422)
Arendt, H. (1958). The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Alexander, R. (2008). Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk (4th ed.). York: Dialogos.
Bakhtin, M. (1973). Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics (R. Rotsel, Trans.). New York: Ardis.
Biesta, G. (2006). Beyond learning: Democratic education for a human future. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Burbules, N. (1993). Dialogue in Teaching: Theory and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and Education. New York: The Free Press.
Higham, R., Wegerif, R., & Freathy, R. (2010). Developing responsible leadership through a ‘pedagogy of challenge’: an investigation into leadership education for teenagers. School Leadership & Management, 30(5), 419-433.
Johnson, M. (2004). Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (2nd Edition ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Lingis, A. (1994). The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common. Bloomington and Indianapolis:
Indiana University Press.
Mercer, N., & Littleton, K. (2007). Dialogue and the development of children's thinking: a sociocultural approach. London: Routledge.
Robinson, A. (2011). Bakhtin: Dialogism, Polyphony and Heteroglossia. Ceasefire.
Volosinov, V. (1986). Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky (Vol. 1). New York: Springer.
Wegerif, R. (2007). Dialogic Education and Technology. New York: Springer.
Wegerif, R. (2011). Towards a dialogic theory of how children learn to think. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 6(3), 179-190.
In pairs, choose one one quote. How does it trouble your sense of 'reality'?
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