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The Roles Of Dialogic And Exploratory Education Essay


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Communication, and therefore talk, is part of everyday life for humans (Alexander, 2008). Talk enables the speaker to express ideas or challenge existing ones; it is a way to workout complex problems by working together to come to an agreed conclusion. The ability to swap ideas means the speaker can develop conclusions quicker, through drawing on past experiences, challenging logic or the authenticity of other's claims. So talk can be a useful teaching tool. If pupils in the classroom do not get a chance to use talk they can lose out on the benefits of it (Grugeon and Hubbard, 2006). It is also important to note that not all kinds of talk are beneficial (Barnes, 2008). Didactic teaching has its place, and more convenient at times, as Lefstein (2010) argues that dialogue within the classroom is not a viable goal. However, it is important that the benefits of talk be weighed against the negatives, and this way an informed decision can be made. This essay will address; the use of dialogic and exploratory learning to enhance talk for learning within the classroom. Then following this the constructivist view of active learning and how the approaches enable this and then the historical overview into how this has become a topical issue among policy makers. Next a critical account of the core subjects and how the approaches could each enhance learning within different ways within the subjects.

The Cambridge Primary Review (Alexander, 2008) was an independent cross-method research that supported the Government commissioned Rose review (2008). Even though the Rose review (2008) was critiqued for its insufficient research base, both Rose (2008) and Alexander (2008) argue that the core subjects, in particular literacy and numeracy, have noticed that pupils' spoken communication has been neglected in recent years, and has been pushed aside in favour of written work. Although neither has been official implemented in schools, it has highlighted the problems of excluding talk in the classroom, and demonstrated how talk can be beneficial to children. The problems which have been occurring in the core subjects and ICT can be addressed through talk (Smith and Higgins, 2006). Myhill et al. (2005) suggest that talk can be categorised into dialogic learning and exploratory learning.

History of Dialogic:

Before analysing exactly what dialogic learning comprises of, it is important to take account of how dialogic teaching came to be focused on. The Government started to acknowledge the importance of dialogic learning because of the UK coming in at 25th in the literacy rankings compared with other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (Derrick, and Ecclestone, 2008). However, the Bullock report (DES, 1975) was one of the first to acknowledge talk and its benefits within the classroom, despite Froome (1975) arguing that talk had limited benefits. Barnes (1976) expanded upon Bullock's claims and argued that interactive teaching was the most beneficial and attempting to create the children's opinions was hindering their learning. Alexander (2000) researched classroom talk within England, the USA, Russia, France and India. The classroom reflects a society as a whole, and it was found that within classrooms all children need to adjust to the cultural norms to participate fully. Furthermore, it was found that Russian and French teachers used more dialogic methods of teaching, and encouraged pupils to express their opinions compared with the didactic approaches of the UK and USA (Alexander, 2000). From this Alexander argued that Russian and French societies are more democratic than in the UK and the USA. Certain features of dialogic talk are not easy to accomplish within the early year's classrooms, however, Mercer (2003) claims that all children need to participate in thoughtful and coherent dialogue to benefit. Larson and Peterson (2003) argued that the introduction of dialogic talk in an early years setting will aid them in as they progress through the education system. This will impact on the learning of the child, and as a practitioner it is important to realise that not all children will come to school with same abilities in speaking and listening, so this must be taking into account whilst planning. Through initiatives such as the Talk for Writing materials (Department for Children, Schools and Families [DCSF] 2008a) and Every Child a Talker (ECaT) programme (DCSF 2008b) developed following the Bercow Report (Bercow, 2008) it has showcased how talk is essential in the early years, which help them in.

The Government came under increasing pressure to deal with the lack of talk within the classroom, and this came from the National Oracy project (1989-1992). The New Labour Government introduced the National Literacy strategy (NLS) and the National Numeracy strategy (NNS) introduced in 1998 and 1999 respectively. This is the first time the Government have dictated teaching strategies, which demonstrates the importance of dialogic learning (Myhill, 2006). Reynolds and Farrell (1996) conducted an international research project, and they argued that together whole class teaching along with direct instruction was key for high educational attainment in Asian countries studied. This is distinct from research conducted by Barnes, (1969) and Galton and Simon (1980) who found that the majority of teachers dominated classroom talk and pupils input was minimally. In 2004 Alexander (2004) further criticised Reynolds and Farrell (1996) for lacking a sufficient evidence base and that the claims made that across the globe there were low educational standards were unfounded. English, Hargreaves, and Hislam (2003) used a range of empirical research methods including video recording to compare 30 primary teachers use of interactive approaches. Video recordings challenge the validity of the research as participants may act different in front of the camera. They found however, that through pushing interactive approaches to teaching did in fact reduce the opportunities for pupils to question and explore ideas. This was because the teacher was in control of the talk.

This research was focused on interaction between pupils during the Literacy Hour, Smith et al. (2004) further supports English et al. (2003) with research conducted into the NNS. They found that during the numeracy hour, initiation-response-feedback (IRF) recitation dominated the classroom dialogue. This thus closing down opportunities for cognitive growth with children simply responding with what the teacher wants to hear without exploring the possibilities (Fisher, 2011).

Exploratory learning-Bring in an example here. Science and magnet..

Exploratory learning, according to Arthur and Cremin (2010), is pupils working together to solve a problem, and it gives them a chance to share ideas whilst not being under adult supervision. It was Barnes (1976) who came up with the phrase, and it was later developed by Mercer (2000), it encourages learners to explore and experiment for themselves with a minimum input from the teacher. Exploratory learning differs from dialogical learning because children find their own methods for overcoming problems through the use of talk within groups. Bruner (1990) discovered that the more exploratory play the children experienced during the early years the more creative and confident they became in later years, and outperformed children that had been directly taught how to perform (Bruner, 1990). Despite the support towards exploratory learning it needs to be noted Bruner (1990) did not take into account the children's home life, which could have had an effect on their progress. Browne (2010) argues that children do not necessarily develop language through direct instructions; rather they learn it through social means. Children develop language and concepts of its uses through social interaction with others, but it is suffice to say that children need time to explore and use language to understand what it can be used for (Browne, 2010).


Science has its own vocabulary and Lemke (1990) suggest that learning science is learning to 'talk science' (Lemke 1990). Rose (2009) claims that teachers were using effective pedagogy in linking children's everyday language with that of scientific procedures, which Mcmahon (2009) claimed to be vital for primary science. Naylor et al. (2007) claims that within the English culture disagreement or debate suggest conflict, which is why dialogic talk and debate is left out of English classrooms. Conversely, Kuhn (1970) argues that science moves forward through disagreement unlike subjects such as maths. Science as a whole is pushed forward with people challenging one another's thoughts, so it is important to demonstrate this idea within the classroom. This is supported by McMahon (2009) who argues that dialogue within science should encourage challenges to pupils' common sense. A two-year in depth study by Mercer and Scott (2007) explored how talk with a teacher can support children in developing and understanding of science. It was found that dialogue was used as a 'tool' whereby teachers explain clarify and model scientific concepts in order for children to acquire scientific ways of describing the world (Mercer and Scott, 2007). Looking at this research suggests that dialogue in science is not only used differently from other subjects, but also has different aims from other curriculum areas (Lyle, 2008). So, there needs to be different pedagogic approaches to different subjects, Kuhn (1970) suggests that maths needs to encourage a shared agreement to reach an answer and science requires debate and disagreement.

Group work is important in promoting scientific debate and has been seen as beneficial from projects such as the Discussion in Primary Science (DIPS). For group work to be successful children need to participate (Barnes, 2008), equally Braund et al. argues that, through the DIPS, the more the children contributed the more they learnt during science activities. However, observational research conducted by the General Teaching Council (2006) found that the quiet group members will in fact learn the most, despite their lack of participation. It shows that dialogic learning is a much listening as it is speaking. Barnes (2008) suggest that group work is not without its fault, Rose (2009) suggest that drama is an effective as it involves the children taking turns, as opposed to children competing to get their voices heard and not listening or responding to others.

Dialogic learning

Influenced by Bruner (1986, 1990, 1996) and Barnes (1976), Alexander (2001, 2005, 2008) has had the greatest impact on talk in the classroom in recent years. Dialogic teaching is the opportunity for pupils to share their thinking to other pupils, express hypothetical ideas, admit to lack of knowledge and reflect on other's point of view (Arthur and Cremin 2010). Dialogic teaching creates opportunities for questions to lead to other questions, and it gives both the teacher and pupils to make contributions, instead of just the teacher asking questions, which is usually followed by a brief pupil response. The 'Talk for Learning Project' conducted by Alexander (2008), researched 42 schools that promoted the use dialogic talk in the classroom of years four to six. Generalisations cannot be made to the rest of the country as it was only conducted within North Yorkshire. Alexander (2008) reported findings that the pupils' motivation and participation dramatically increased through the promotion of dialogic teaching. Alexander (2008) defines dialogic talk as something that should be collective, reciprocal, supportive, cumulative and purposeful. Conversely, Fisher (2011) argues this 'package' that Alexander (2008) provides is not easy to manage in the classroom, however he does suggest if the first three principles are achieved then the last two could follow. Smith and Higgins (2006), suggest that pupils need to be in a supportive environment where they are free from criticism and encouraged to raise further questions. This supports Alexander's claim, and emphasises the importance of supporting children, which can come from teacher as well as other pupils. Alexander (2008) is further supported by Frijters, Dam and Rijlaarsdam (2008) who compared 300 pupils' test scores and found that dialogic teaching enhanced the current literacy standards, compared to the controlled group of non-dialogical taught pupils. Other factors could contribute to the increase in test scores and might not be exclusively down to dialogic teaching. Despite the narrow methodology used by Frijters, Dam, Rijlaarsdam dialogic teaching does have a positive impact on the learning outcomes for the pupils.


English lessons are where dialogic learning is perhaps most easily accessed, however it is still often ignored. The renewed Primary Framework for Literacy sought to address the problems concerning the lack of focus on speaking and listening in favour of reading and writing. The push for a greater focus on dialogic pedagogy comes from the UK coming in at 25th in the literacy rankings compared with other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (Derrick, and Ecclestone, 2008). Alexander (2000) discovered that the countries that placed higher in the literacy rankings made greater use of dialogic pedagogies compared with the UK. Drama is useful in promoting talk within the classroom, as it allows the children to act out what they have written; it enables them to write for a realistic purpose and not just an abstract teacher directed activity (Fisher, 2011). Literacy has been an issue for boys for many years, but Lee (2003) argues that both boys and girls benefit from using drama to promote dialogic talk in the classroom, which in turn promotes better writing. Fisher (2011) argues that these frameworks give children a greater voice within the classroom, which in turn will help children to develop a more authentic voice. The DCSF claim that in order for children to be able to write, children must speak first (DCSF 2008b). It was observed on placement that each child had a talk-partner; this was beneficial as they could test ideas to get feedback from their partners on a creative writing piece they were doing. By talking about it first they noticed any problems they had with their story before it was written down, this supports the DCSF claim.


Piaget (1962) and Vygotsky (1978) are two psychologists who both developed their theories of constructivism. A dialogical approach to learning is based upon constructivism (Myhill et al. 2005) and the works of these two Psychologists. Vygotsky argued that the learner constructs knowledge and understanding through experiences (Vygotsky 1978). Equally, Piaget argued that children learn through interacting with the world, and therefore learning is discovering the world; this is exploratory learning. Language came second to action for Piaget; he argued that language was a way to express understanding which was derived from experience. Therefore, Piaget would argue that exploratory learning comes before dialogic learning, he is criticised because he underestimates the importance of language (Matusov and Hayes, 2000). However, the validity of Piaget's work has been criticised because his research is based exclusively on his own children, and therefore shouldn't be generalised (Matusov and Hayes, 2000). Furthermore, Piaget was criticised for focusing too much on the child and viewed adults as a hindrance to the child's development. Conversely, Vygotsky acknowledged the importance of adults; he argued they enhanced the learning environment and guided the child in their learning. Vygotsky (1978) understood learning and development as happening in a social context because children learn through communication with others (Bornstein and Bruner, 1989). Vygotsky's main contention was that children make new concepts through the interaction with others who can feedback to them, and it is through language this is achieved. Vygotsky's research has had a considerable impact on developing the value on dialogic learning. The zone of proximal development (ZPD) coined by Vygotsky and later developed by Mercer (2008) is the area of learning which is just beyond the child's current level. Within the ZPD the required learning needs to be something that is achievable, yet challenging for the child. Furthermore, to help facilitate learning children are given guidance from a 'more knowledgeable other', whether this be a teacher or a peer. The 'more knowledgeable other' does not give them the answer, rather guides them towards the answer. During observation the teacher would regularly reassess the children to make sure the work was challenging enough without being too difficult, this effects the learning of the pupil greatly so it is important to take this into account for future planning.

As shown, Vygotsky's theory demonstrates how children can move forward with their learning through social interaction and dialogic learning. As previously mentioned through talk children express their own views, not only does this apply to academic subject, but it is extremely beneficial on a moral and ethical plane. In recent years a great deal of research has been done into Philosophy for Children. This has proved to be a beneficial tool to aid children in becoming part of a democratic society; it places the pupil in control of their on learning and encourages children to openly express their opinion (Lyle, 2008). Starting with a given stimulus, such as a picture, children do not debate answers, rather they critical reflect on their own opinion and the opinion of others (Pound and Lee, 2011). During observation of a year 4 class it was clear to see that the children were both sensitive and understanding to the picture provided but also other children's point of view. It was clear to see that they could approach an issue with a philosophical mind set, however the teacher provided excellent guidance, so it would be questionable if the children could approach issue philosophical without guidance. Piaget (1962) argued that children could not be philosophical until aged 10 or 11, his lack of focus on language could have contributed to that conclusion, as one cannot act philosophically it is through linguistic expression that it is achieved. Pound and Lee (2011) argued that it was evident that children engaged within abstract thought from as young as age 5. Furthermore, Trickey (2011) argued that children can develop critical reasoning from an early age.


In maths there is a right or a wrong answer and this leaves little scope for discussion in the classroom, and is often consider by teachers in this way, so there is no open questions or chance to critically reflect (Pound and Lee, 2011). Exploratory learning and a chance to discuss are a missed opportunity to advance children's learning, looking at from Vygotsky's (1978) theory; maths understanding is reduced through lack of talk. It is easy to generalise maths as having little talk purely because of the context of the subject, but it certainly does not mean it is applied throughout all schools. I observed a year 6 class tackling complex maths problems in groups. The problems were differentiated to challenge each group, and they explored various methods to get to the answer. Once finished everyone reflected on what they did and discussed others methods for achieving the answer, there were opportunities to ask questions, which were answered by the teacher and pupils. As has been observed talk is utilised in maths, however it has very little opportunities to talk compared with other subjects such as in English and Science lessons (Boaler, 2009). During observation it was noticeable that maths suffers more than any other subject. At a different school to the one described above, the year 3 teacher would ask the children to work in silence during their main activity, and although they completed their work it wasn't clear if they showed understanding. With the year 6 teacher's approach it allowed misconceptions to be addressed at the end, so the children were not leaving the classroom with misunderstandings, which would then need to be rectified next lesson. In particular maths vocabulary must be correct to secure good understanding; a dialogic approach such as this would be beneficial. This method will be useful for planning math lessons in the future, it allows knowledge to be reinforced, and any misconceptions are corrected and it is a simple way of assessment.

Furthermore the potential in dramatic play in supporting mathematical learning inspired projects including 'Dramatic Mathematics' (Lee, 2003) for children within KS1. Lee (2003) asserts that this project significantly increased children's ability to explore the meanings of mathematical language in an inspiring and creative way.


ICT is very useful at providing opportunities to carry out exploratory learning activities for children. The use of technology within the classroom can encourage children to interact with others focusing on exploratory dialogue. This claim is supported by Wegerif and Dawes (2004), they argue that combining talk with use of computers can increase attainment in Maths. This also holds true right across the curriculum; ICT can be implemented in any subject, which was also observed on placement. Interactive whiteboards (IWB) are the most accessible and easily integrated piece of technology in the classroom. It was expected that incorporating IWBs into the classroom pupils would take the lead in their learning and move away from teacher control (Wegerif and Dawes, 2004). IWBs supported teachers in assessing children's knowledge too (Kennewell, Tanner, Jones, and Beauchamp 2007). Despite the positives claims that IWBs are beneficial, Smith et al. (2006) found that lessons that incorporated IWBs in fact reduced the length of pupil responses and the amount of group work which took place. Kennellwell et al. (2007) thus claimed the use of IWBs has been a step back to teacher-centred approaches, despite the expectations of ICT to transform pedagogy. This is something to consider when planning lessons not to rely too heavily on IWBs, as it diminishes the children's chance of dialogic interaction. However, as was observed, computer software which actually encourages whole class discussion can be used. It is a more balanced answer to suggest that IWBs are useful for dialogic teaching if used for that purpose, and are not just used for presentation to support didactic teaching.


Incorporating talk within the classroom can prove difficult, and has some strong challenges. The 'package' that Alexander (2008) proposed is difficult within the many factors of the classroom as Fisher (2011) argues. Under a culture of tests and target setting 'real' dialogue is not able to happen (Boaloer 2009). Furthermore, Boaloer (2009) claims that there is are teachers not making it clear the targets for the children within the classrooms and children do not understand why they are set tasks or asked to work within groups thinking that they thus require no thought. The way teachers see their role is critical to success, Alexander (2008) argues that teacher must not take over and lead the talk using closed questions to direct answers (Alexander, 2008). Lefstein (2006) however, critiques advocates of dialogic approaches including (Alexander, 2008) as ideas are too unrealistic as he highlights the need for the authoritarian role of teacher in leading the interaction. Later, Lefstein (2010) suggests that dialogue within the classroom is not a viable goal.

In conclusion it is clear that dialogic and exploratory learning can effectively enhance the core subjects and ICT throughout teaching and planning for learning. Despite the programme of study for English containing speaking and listening Alexander (2008) suggests that dialogic methods are embedded across the curriculum to benefit children. For dialogic talk within the classroom to be effective children must be involved in a process of joint inquiry and opportunity to explore various answers and methods, and construct meanings based on their own findings (Pound and Lee, 2011). Incorporating a list of open ended questions in the lessons plans will help ensure that children have the opportunity to engage within dialogue during whole class sessions across the subjects. Introduction to the ground rules of discussion and the importance of talk are needed to ensure collaboration is effective when children are working in groups, taking the opportunities to engage within exploratory learning are important.

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