Fostering learning through dialogue (Part 1)

This year my SPELTAC inquiry is to create and deepen more structured oral language strategies to engage all learners in an equitable classroom.

We got feedback on our goals and one of the questions that arose often was: does the use of oral language have to be equitable?

I don’t know the answer to this but I’m starting to read up on the power of oral language in learning.  My bias is to say ‘yes’ as without my thoughtful conversations with my colleagues, I’m not sure I would have gravitated towards this inquiry.   And, upon some pre-reflection, this inquiry is necessary – my bag of teaching tools is relatively empty!

Acquiring knowledge is not a linear process.  However, sometimes the flow of information often travels in that direction:  From source to recipient.  If we are to deepen our understanding, we need to expose ourselves to multiple points of view.  This involves reflecting, asking questions, and acquiring more information from a variety of sources.  And repeat.

Senge and Brohm argue that dialogue is an important tool for doing so.  Keeping in mind that dialogue is different from discussion where participants explore issues and share multiple perspectives ultimately coming to a shared understanding of the issue itself.

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So, what better topic to engage in dialogue than climate change?  We need to acknowledge the worldviews that surround this topic and we need to evaluate them by asking the right questions and engaging deeply in the scientific evidence while being respectful of social systems.

In my first lesson, I presented students with statements made by individuals about climate change.  A favourite:

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I started the discussion off by utilizing the QFocus strategy from the orientation course. Small group were assign claims and worked on step 2 – developing question using ground rules.  Groups then switched claims and questions and the process continued.

After this process, students chose a claim that they were most interested in.  They then worked on steps 3 & 4 of the QFocus strategy – refining and prioritizing their questions.


Using their questions as a guide, student then navigated the evidence to support or refute their claims.  Here, I provided some excellent websites such as NASA and the NOAA for them to do some fact checking.  In this step students will have an opportunity to develop their own understanding about the issues and reflect.

Next lesson, students developed a shared understanding of what we know about climate change using a technique called the Spiderweb Discussion.  I have tried this strategy with two very different groups of students and so I will share the process and my reflections in a separate blog post.