2015 Project — Executive Summary. Researching dialogic pedagogies for literacy learning across the primary years
This executive summary provides a non-technical summary of findings from the year-long study. The study examined the practices of dialogic pedagogies as developed and enacted in classroom literacy lessons across the primary school grades. Through critical participatory action research, participating teachers were supported to investigate the taken-for-grantedness and intricacies of classroom talk and to change their patterns of interaction in their own classroom settings in response to the particular students and circumstances in their school communities. In particular, teacher participants examined their own talk and interaction practices as a foundation from which to build their own projects that focused on developing more dialogic approaches to pedagogical practice. Broadly, heightened attention to the talk and interaction practices became a core pedagogical resource aimed to support students in primary classrooms develop and use oral language through acquiring and communicating knowledge with clarity and a high degree of intellectual focus.
Funded by the PETAA, the study was supported by financial and in-kind contributions from Charles Sturt University (CSU), in particular the Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE) and the School of Education, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia; The Catholic Schools Office, Wagga Wagga Diocese, NSW, Australia; The Department of Education, NSW, Australia; and Charles Sturt University Media Division (CSU Media). Cross sectoral education jurisdictions in the Riverina and SW Sydney were asked to nominate experienced and/or interested teachers willing to participate in an eight-month exploration of their classroom interaction and pedagogical practices. Teachers were supported by In- School Project Team members from relevant jurisdictions over the period of the study.
Context of the study
Teachers and students from 12 classrooms in 11 primary schools across the Riverina and SW Sydney, NSW, Australia, participated in the full duration of the study (noting that three of these teachers entered the project at the beginning of 2016). The in-class teaching circumstances for two additional teachers, one from each site, changed as they took on leadership responsibilities in their own contexts; both participants remained in the project as critical friends. The distinct city and regional contexts were diverse geographic and demographic sites; teacher participants ranged in age (from 23 to 45 year of age) and teaching experience (from 1 to 26 years); and classes spanned the primary school spectrum (from Kindergarten to Year 6) forming a comprehensive coverage of primary education stages of learning. Permission to participate was sought from the relevant university and sector jurisdictions as well as the principals from each school; informed consent was sought and obtained from participating teachers along with the parents and students from the particular classrooms.
Main aspects of the project and key findings
To build their action research projects, teachers participated in an introductory seminar (in November 2015), two teacher dialogue conferences (in February/March and May 2016), researcher visits (April 2016) and local interim support meetings. A lesson and final interview were video recorded in each teacher’s classroom at the end of the external data gathering phase. At the Introductory Seminar participants were introduced to the project, to the processes of action research and to the nature and role of classroom talk. At this meeting, communication, ethics, information sharing and participant data gathering protocols were introduced and set up; informed consent forms signed. Participants were subsequently supported through the two Teacher Dialogue Conferences, the researcher visits and ongoing visits from in-school support teams or, in some cases, school-based supervisors. These research activities were designed for teachers to share, present and critique developing insights, key learnings and challenges experienced with the development of their own and other participant’s particular projects. Independently, teachers engaged in other research critiquing their own lessons. Data generated by participants were shared via Dropbox. All conferences, meetings and visits were audio-recorded. Data were generated from each of these teacher research activities. All recorded material was transcribed for analysis and detailed thematic analyses were conducted. Thematic analyses revealed four broad themes and several sub themes (presented in more detail in the main research report following); broad themes include teacher learning about talk and interaction through action research, developing a repertoire of teacher talk moves, accomplishing student-student talk in classrooms and dialogic pedagogies for literacy. In this preliminary phase, selected excerpts have been developed into more detailed transcripts for conversation analysis.
By the end of the eight-month experience of critical participatory action research, all 12 participating classroom-based teachers had changed their talk and interaction practices in lessons related to their project focus. Consequently, the students in those classrooms had variously experienced and changed their talk and interaction practices as they participated in lessons. Data analysis revealed nine key findings; these, along with descriptive points, are provided following.
1. Teacher learning about classroom talk and their articulation of it showed how critical participatory action research, and its methods, made the taken-for-grantedness of classroom talk visible to them.
- Classroom talk and interaction can be changed under particular conditions and methods afforded by critical participatory action research.
- The taken-for-grantedness of talk and classroom interaction was illuminated by turning the focus of critique back on teachers and their own talk and interaction practices.
- Teachers both developed and used a metalanguage for talking about talk, interaction and dialogic pedagogies.
- Talk and interaction and its role in classroom teaching and learning will remain hidden, under-theorised and taken-for granted unless processes for illuminating it are inaugurated.
2. Teacher designed projects were central to developing deep knowledge and changed action.
- Designing and developing individual local projects was attributed to teachers changed talk and interaction theories and practices.
- Teachers built and tailored their research projects to reflect and respond to their distinctive professional knowledge, experience and conditions.
- Developing ‘deep’ knowledge required working through the processes from the ground up; this was considered essential for long term sustainable change.
- To change talk and interaction practices in classrooms, there was a need to change the practice architectures that influenced doing talk and interaction differently.
3. Teacher-produced recordings and transcriptions were integral to individual’s identifying and changing particular features of their classroom talk and interaction.
- Recording and transcribing their own lessons generated the impetus, and focus, for developing the individual teacher-designed projects.
- Examining transcribed lessons was pivotal for teachers to learn about the nature and role of classroom talk — in particular the prevalence of the IRE in their own teaching.
- Subsequent classroom recordings and transcriptions provided teachers with data for refining and further developing their own practices.
- Critiquing lesson videos and transcriptions brought about the identification by teachers that pedagogy itself was about the talk and interaction that constituted lessons.
4. Through systematic practice, teachers can develop a flexible repertoire of talk moves responsive to their local classroom conditions.
- Practicing new interactional routines was critical for the development of a repertoire of talk moves.
- Systematic practice enabled the flexible and responsive implementation of a range of talk moves.
- Close and systematic examination of the talk and interaction patterns and routines in lessons enabled teachers to develop a meta-awareness of how classroom talk is constituted by sequences of turns (in interactions) and that it is mutually produced interactive courses-of-action.
- Teachers recognised and articulated the consequences of how particular turns — and indeed talk moves — influenced subsequent turns.
- To develop a repertoire of talk moves teachers progressed through phases of development (from a technical or deliberative phase to transference then transformation).
- To be dialogic, discernment in the purposive selection of particular talk moves was necessary.
5. The sequential co-production of classroom talk moves disrupts the predominance of the IRF structure in literacy lessons.
- Particular talk moves prompted significant changes to the sequential organisation of students and teachers turns.
- With particular talk moves, the dominance and prevalence of the IRF had diminished to the extent that new turn structures were observed.
- Talk moves led to the increasing presence of student-to-student exchanges, without the teacher consistently taking every second turn or mediating student’s responses in lesson talk.
- Particular talk moves enabled students to take more extended turns, initiate turns, take multiple turns, contribute multi-part turns, and build on the turns of other students.
6. Students across the primary years can accomplish more complex interactions and assume greater responsibility for the interactional conduct of lessons when not restricted by the IRF.
- In a dialogic classroom, students had to do more than learn to do classroom turn-taking differently from the IRF routine and structure that they were used to.
- Students from Kindergarten to Year 6 demonstrated a range of new ways to initiate and close turns, manage and monitor turns, agree and disagree with others, extend turns by providing evidentiary information, and build on the turns of others.
7. The recognition of, and teacher responsivity to, students’ existing interactional competencies undergirds the development of highly productive interactions in classroom literacy lessons.
- Teachers recognised student’s individual and collective interactional competencies.
- Teachers reconsidered (and then adjusted) the role and organisation of student’s contributions in classroom literacy lessons.
- Teachers began to account for what the students know about, can do, and need to be able to do, interactively by differentiating talk and change student expectations.
8. Metatalk is a necessary resource in the development of dialogic pedagogies and literacy learning.
- Talk about talk and interaction is a central component of the sequential flow of instructional talk in literacy lessons.
- Teachers and students developed and used a specific metalanguage to describe how talk and interaction would function in the lesson, or phase of the lesson.
- Metatalk formed a key part of the organisational machinery for the interactional conduct of lessons.
- Dialogic pedagogies require explicit teaching and the development of appropriate (site-based) strategies that respond to particular cohort.
9. Dialogic pedagogies in literacy lessons emphasise student meaning making, not just the oral language development of individuals.
- Dialogic pedagogies require a participatory stance.
- Participating dialogically changes teacher-student and student-student exchanges.
- In dialogic exchanges students (hearably) take on roles of co-producers of classroom dialogues and of extended sequences of literacy talk, orienting to the meanings of what is said, what is heard, what is read and what is written.
- A dialogic approach allows students to take more responsibility for their meaning making.
- Dialogic pedagogies enabled students to extend and justify meanings, build on the facts, ideas or opinions of others, agree and disagree with one another, clarify meanings and question the meanings of others.
- A dialogic approach to pedagogy affords students more time for talking, listening and interacting with others, thereby student’s oral language was put to work in different ways that are central to participating and making meaning.
Implications and conclusions
To conclude, findings demonstrated that when teachers are supported to focus on classroom talk and interaction in their own settings, distinct shifts can be made in their understandings about the role of talk as a pedagogical resource and its influence on student’s meaning making (about talk and text) in lessons. Shifts in understanding and personal theories-of-action brought about the development of a range of interactive talk moves described as dialogic pedagogies. The results and findings of this study have important implications for theory, education curriculum and policy, methodologies for teacher-led research through action research and for teaching practice, in particular teaching dialogically. These are summarised below.
There are two broad theoretical outcomes. First, results inform theories about childhood language use in classrooms in relation to children’s interactional competencies and abilities. Second, results contribute to the body of literature theorising dialogic pedagogies by suggesting that dialogic pedagogies are not simply about talk and the particular talk moves that teachers make, but that it is about: i) talk and interaction, and ii) the talk moves that students make. Results have strong implications for policies and related education documentation that overlook the overt development of teacher knowledge about what constitutes listening and speaking in classrooms across the primary school.
Results have implications for teacher education practices in two distinct realms: i) teacher professional learning and development; and ii) pre-service teacher education. First, teacher professional learning about classroom talk and interaction and dialogic pedagogies requires sitebased approaches, like critical participatory action research and its methods, which provide teachers opportunities to design and build their own professional learning projects that respond to particular local conditions. Results imply the need for the development of a distinctive professional metalanguage for describing and discussing talk and interaction and the repertoire of talk moves required for teaching in a dialogic classroom. Results also have implications for professional development of teachers that supports teachers to recognise and respond to the interactional competencies of their students as oral language users. In the second realm, results have strong implications for the explicit teaching about dialogic pedagogies in teacher education courses; suggesting specifically that to develop a dialogic stance in teaching requires and developing alternatives to the default IRE pattern of talk that prevails in classrooms.