Dialogic thinking and learning – the importance of learning to have conversations

Today at the second professional learning day for the “Designing Learning for Vocabulary’ project, it was reinforced for me that as an EAL/D teacher I am part of a team of teachers working with our students. If I work alone, making decisions on my own, planning for students on my own I am not using the accumulative knowledge and skills of those around me which is to the detriment of my teaching and the students’ learning.

Our trusty Refugee Support Leader, mentor and designer of this project, Cindy Valdez-Adams ( @TESOLoz), organised this professional learning for us, the project teams, to learn to be better mentors and mentees. She reminded us that if we are mentors we need to build relationships with our colleagues; relationships built on trust and respect. Cindy pointed out that each of our schools has its own culture and what we decide to teach and how to teach it must be applicable to our particular culture. It’s not enough to merely hand out readings, we need to have discussions. Learning to have effective and productive dialogic conversations was the focus of this meeting and we were given many opportunities to practise throughout the day.

As part of the our professional learning for ‘Designing Learning for Vocabulary Project’ for 2019, Cindy organised for the experienced and knowledgeable duo, Gill Pennington and Margaret Turnbull, to come and guide us through how to employ dialogic thinking and learning. We explored how to use ‘talk’, not only in our teaching practices but in our collaborative relationships with other teachers. (If you are a PETAA member you will be able to read their PETAA paper 211 on this topic below)

The Power of Teacher Talk: Developing quality mentoring relationshipshttp://The Power of Teacher Talk: Developing quality mentoring relationships

An effective project requires a team of people to be working on it and ideally for sustainability, the whole school. When two or more people are working together they need time and space to collaborate respectfully and comfortably face to face. They need time for dialogic talk; talk that is collaborative, challenging and supportive in order to deepen thinking.

This summary of dialogic teaching by Robin Alexander from the Bradford Teachers’ Project summarises the ideas behind dialogic teaching.

Margaret and Gill encouraged us to practise ‘Dialogic Conversations’ with each other as we plan for, take action and reflect on our students’ learning and the effectiveness of our lessons. Collaboratively and through ‘talk’ using the evidence before them, teachers as researchers, should work out a shared goal for each project and use this as their focus, returning to it time and time again.

Margaret Turnbull encouraged us to look at the ‘Spirals of Inquiry Approach’ – Timperley, Kaser and Halbert, 2012.


With our vocabulary projects, our ‘hunch’, that we are exploring, based on research, is that if we teach vocabulary and specifically, tier 2 vocabulary, using communicative activities that involve substantial conversations our students’ ability to communicate across all areas of literacy will improve.

This was our rationale for participating in the ‘Designing Learning for Vocabulary Project’ again this year.

From the Project Plan for Participating Schools as set out by Cindy Valdez-Adams

As we progress through this project this year, our team from Mount Pritchard East Public School will continually be looking to see if our EAL/D and other students’ literacy outcomes are improving. How will we do this? Ideally it will be through dialogic conversations before and after lesson studies. What will we be using? Our combined teacher knowledge of the students, our pedagogy, the different syllabuses, the Learning Progressions and the ESL Scales. We need to be clear about what evidence we want to see and then collect the evidence either by using technology or note taking. We must then use our evidence as the scaffold for our dialogic conversations as we reflect and plan in light of our focus – the research question.

My ‘to dos’ after this session are:

  • to have conversations with our team about how we are going to make time and space to talk together and collaborate more effectively face to face.
  • to decide together which students we are going to target to see evidence of learning.
  • to decide together what we want the research to show us – which aspects of literacy are we going to particularly target and use as evidence of explicit teaching of vocabulary having an impact.
  • to practise using the tools (Learning Progressions and ESL Scales) together to analyse the evidence and interpret it to inform our teaching and learning.

I am very thankful to have been a part of this learning experience. The discussions that were had at all the tables were substantive and productive. I am feeling empowered and enlightened.

Using the Teaching and Learning Cycle with the different learning progressions – Margaret Turnbull

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