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A Dialogic Inquiry Approach to Working With Teachers in Developing Classroom Dialogue


by Sara Hennessy, Neil Mercer & Paul Warwick — 2011

Background/Context: This article describes how we refined an innovative methodology for equitable collaboration between university researchers and classroom practitioners building and refining theory together. The work builds on other coinquiry models in which complementary professional expertise is respected and deliberately exploited in order to question, understand, and improve practice. Drawing on research using digital video to help make explicit teachers’ pedagogical rationale, our approach involved intensive critical scrutiny of video recordings of teachers’ own and others’ practices.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The study explored and reformulated definitions of classroom dialogue—in which teachers and students exchange, evaluate, and build on ideas—in the context of interactive whiteboard (IWB) use. This article focuses on the collaborative theory-building process itself, whose aim was to exploit insights derived from research to stimulate and inform thinking, guide principled development of new classroom practices, and refine the theory.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Three university researchers and three (primary, middle and secondary school) United Kingdom teachers, along with their students aged 10–14, took part in the research. The teachers were all experienced, reflective practitioners with an established dialogic pedagogy. They taught personal education, English, and history.

Research Design: A case study design was used to collect qualitative observational data. A series of three in-depth workshops focused on the construct of dialogue and critiqued associated literature. Subsequent joint review of lesson videos and other data plus two further workshops served to characterize effective strategies for supporting dialogue.

Data Collection and Analysis: The three initial workshops prepared teachers to design and teach three consecutive lessons employing a dialogic approach supported by IWB use. Teacher and university researcher pairs jointly reviewed the lesson videos, along with unstructured teacher diaries, interviews (three per teacher), and other contextualizing data, and two further team workshops took place. Cross-case analysis of the data, including interview and workshop transcripts, follow-up questionnaires, and accreditation reports, characterized teacher perspectives on the reflexive—and itself dialogic—coinquiry process and its outcomes.

Conclusions: Preconditions, critical features, and scalable benefits of our evolving approach are identified for other research partnerships. The process additionally yielded negotiated, recontextualized understandings of dialogue and strategies for fostering dialogic pedagogy. These were framed in accessible language, spontaneously shared within the schools and adapted for wider use, thus forming a springboard for further critique and modification in new settings.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 9, 2011, p. 1906-1959
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16178, Date Accessed: 12/16/2017 3:38:30 PM

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About the Author
  • Sara Hennessy
    University of Cambridge
    E-mail Author
    SARA HENNESSY is lecturer in teacher development and pedagogical innovation in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. She has a background in psychology and previously worked at the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University. Her research focuses on pedagogy underlying the use of digital technology to support subject teaching and learning in schools, from a sociocultural perspective. Her work also concerns research partnerships and practitioner-led professional development in UK and African schools, aiming to bridge between theory, teacher thinking, and classroom practice. She has recently published in Teachers College Record, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, Learning Media and Technology, Studies in Science Education, Computers and Education, and The Curriculum Journal.
  • Neil Mercer
    University of Cambridge
    NEIL MERCER is professor of education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Previously he worked in the Faculty of Education and Language Studies at the Open University. He is a psychologist with a special interest in classroom dialogue and the development of children’s thinking, and he has also led several projects on science and mathematics education and the use of computing technology. He has been a consultant to the government nationally and locally throughout the United Kingdom. He is widely published, and his most recent books are Words and Minds: How We Use Language to Think Together and Dialogue and the Development of Children’s Thinking (with Karen Littleton).
  • Paul Warwick
    University of Cambridge
    PAUL WARWICK is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Paul is engaged in a range of research and teaching activities in the Faculty that link directly with his interests in primary science education, the uses of technology in teaching and learning, and the professional development of trainee and beginning teachers. His most recent research work and publications (in conjunction with Neil Mercer and other colleagues) have centered on collaborative use of the interactive whiteboard in science by groups of primary school students, and the mediating role of the teacher.
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