The intellectual background of dialogic education theory goes back at least as far as Socrates and includes thinkers as varied as Freire, who saw dialogic education as a means of liberation from oppression and Oakeshott, who understood education to be a process of engaging learners in their cultural inheritance described as ‘the conversation of mankind’. Bakhtin, an influential source for recent dialogic educational theory, argues that meaning requires the clash and interaction of multiple voices.
There is a range of approaches to implementing dialogic education varying in the extent to which each one focuses on teacher to student dialogue, small group dialogues and whole class dialogues. All approaches include some idea of
1) a dialogic orientation towards the other characterised by an openness to the possibility of learning and
2) social norms that support productive dialogue.
Published assessments of the impact of dialogic education in relation to general thinking skills, curriculum learning gains and conceptual understanding have been positive. However the assessment of dialogic education raises methodological issues and new methodologies are being developed that align better with dialogic theory and with the idea of measured increased dialogicity or expanded ‘dialogic space’.
Assuming that dialogic education works to promote educational goals, various hypothesises have been suggested as to how it works including some that focus on the co-construction of new meaning through explicit language use and others that focus more on changes in the identity of students and changes in the possibilities of engagement afforded by the culture of classrooms.
There are many issues and controversies raised by dialogic education. One issue is the extent to which dialogue as a goal is compatible with a curriculum which pre-specifies certain learning outcomes. Another is the extent to which teaching a set of social norms and practices promoting dialogue might be a form of cultural imperialism failing to recognise and value the culture of the students. These and other challenges to dialogic education are part of a lively and constructive debate in the field which values a multiplicity of voices within the broader context of convergence on the value of teaching through dialogue and teaching for dialogue.
Taken from: Rupert Wegerif. “Dialogic Education.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Ed. George Noblit. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming