ERG SES F 06, Parallel Session F 06
In an increasingly diverse society, where competing cultures seek to maintain their identity whilst remaining open to difference and change, the ability to communicate conflicting views, in a critical but acceptably constructive way, is crucial to urban harmony. This paper draws together two small-scale, linked, research projects which examine how primary aged children (5-11), in English, urban, classrooms, deal with disagreement, challenge and conflict. In considering the use of socio-cultural approaches to talk in the primary classroom, it seeks to identify the factors necessary to promote dialogue which has the capacity both to extend thinking, and to enable children to manage social, and cognitive difference. It is posited that this is a current, and compelling, issue of relevance to all countries.
Drawing on international research on the nature of classroom dialogue (Alexander, 2001; Wegerif, Boero, Andriessen & Forman, 2009; Lefstein, 2010; Rojas-Drummond & Mercer, 2003; Mercer & Littleton, 2007), three research questions were framed; first, how far are children working collaboratively, without the teacher, able to use exploratory talk to develop their thinking? Second, how are children working with pre-service teachers encouraged to use the features of dialogic talk to extend their thinking? Third, do children deal with opposition and criticism more effectively when working with, or without, an adult?
Following an analysis of episodes of talk against the theoretical perspectives of Vygotsky and Piaget in terms of their potential for driving cognition, and Alexander’s (2008) principles of dialogic talk, the paper argues that the conduct of classroom talk is ripe for development. It suggests there are a number of factors to be addressed if we wish to develop a generation of children who are able to express a point of view; deal constructively with criticism, and build on opposing views to alter their horizons of meaning. First, that without explicit teacher modelling, children will be unable to move from ‘disputational’, to ‘exploratory’ talk (Mercer, Wegerif & Dawes 1999). Second, that the focus of classroom dialogue needs to be shifted from the teacher’s evaluative comments to a more dialogic (Alexander, 2001) culture where the answer, rather than the question, is the fulcrum. Finally, that the university has a key role to play in educating teachers of the future to manage ‘messy’ dialogue (Lefstein, 2010), rather than searching for an elusive, harmonious ideal.
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