A Dialogic Teaching Approach: Talk Moves to Deepen Students’ Understanding in the Geography Classroom, pp. 2 of 12

The question begets: How can a teacher create an environment that engages students in investigating, reasoning and promoting deep critical thinking? Through dialogic teaching, teachers are able to use strategic questioning to effectively engage students to think and form complex knowledge. Moreover, this topic of study is significant to Singapore because the foundation of geography is underpinned by an inquiry approach, where knowledge construction is anchored upon key and guiding questions.

Dialogic Teaching in Classrooms

Through dialogic teaching, the aim is to facilitate critical thinking and deep authentic learning. “Dialogic” is a form of classroom talk that builds students’ understanding over the course of the lesson in a process that exhibits evidence of ‘purposefulness’, ‘reciprocity’ and ‘cumulation’ (Alexander, 2008). As argued by Mercer & Hodgkinson (2008), one key element of classroom talk is teacher questions. The dialogic questioning approach has proven to be an effective means to promote deep student learning as it encourages active participation, where through the exploratory transactions, students improve upon their own understanding (Wells & Arauz, 2006).The distinction between discussion and dialogue is the inclusion of cumulation. Cumulation occurs when ‘teachers and students build on their own or others’ ideas and chain the claims into coherent lines of thinking and enquiry’ (Toh, 2012, pp. 33). Without cumulation, classroom talk becomes discussion only, not dialogue. Specific to geography, adopting the dialogic approach will potentially involve students in working together to apply a new geographical idea to construct an explanation.

Douglas Barnes (2008), a distinguished classroom discourse analyst, notes that “knowledge is too often presented as if it is beyond challenge and beyond the examination of alternatives’ (pp. 14). Over the years, he analysed teachers’ questioning in the classroom and his report showed the disproportionate number of questions asked that require a predetermined answer (closed-answer) as compared to open questions which are not seeking just one right answer. Closed teacher questions position teachers as the sole legitimate source of knowledge (ibid).

In contrast, dialogic approach finds it roots in the casual conversation of informal discussion (Alexander, 2006). In the UK, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA, 2000) strongly identifies “dialogic teaching” with effective whole-class instructional approaches as a basis for learning. In North America, there has been a shift towards students working collaboratively on open-ended activities and talking their way to solving problems (Kelly & Brown, 2003). Research done in understanding classroom talk in secondary schools in Singapore is predominantly focused on mathematics lessons. There has only been one piece of research done on geography (Ho, Rappa, Bong, Chin & Ng, 2017) in Singapore to date. Specific to geography, meaningful understanding of geographical knowledge must entail dialogic passages of interaction that contribute to students’ meaning making of geographical concepts. Do geography teachers do most of the talking and the students participate merely by responding to teacher questions and receiving evaluation of their responses? Or is there scope for students to be initiating more of the talk in the classroom?

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!