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Dialogic Pedagogy

Page history last edited by Ana Marjanovic-Shane 5 years, 10 months ago

Dialogic pedagogy

     Dialogic Pedagogy is defined as a self-reference –  whenever an educator claims that he or she desires or engages in “dialogue” in his/her teaching or learning or education, he or she is involved in “dialogic pedagogy.” Of course, what educators may mean by “dialogue”, by “pedagogy/education/learning/teaching”, and the relationship between these two concepts may vary from educational participant to educational participant. 



History of Dialogic Pedagogy 

     An interest in the concept of “dialogic pedagogy” has been also growing in education in the last 20 years. On November 24 2015, Google Search shows 50,300 combined entries on these terms. Google Ngame (https://books.google.com/ngrams) shows that the use of these terms in academic books in English emerged in 1965 and has grown since. Although modern interest in dialogic pedagogy seems to emerge only in the 1960s, it was a very old and probably widespread educational practice. Perhaps, one of the best known examples of dialogic pedagogy in the Ancient times is Socrates’ dialogic pedagogy practice described by his student Plato (1997). However, dialogic practices and dialogic pedagogy existed in Ancient Greece, before, during, and after Socrates’ time, although possibly in some other forms than those depicted by Plato (Apatow, 1998). There has been a long tradition of dialogic pedagogy, called Chavruta/Chavrusa/Havruta, in Jewish Yeshivas, involving dialogic studies of Talmudic texts, that goes back to the eras of the Tannaim (Rabbis of the Mishnaic period, 10-220 CE) (Hezser, 1997). A famous economist, Nobel prize winner, Amartya Sen argues that dialogic pedagogy has been well situated within the Indian religious and civic traditions and spread across Asia with the rise of Buddhism (Sen, 2005), however, I think that this claim has to be tested and studied systematically. Historic research of dialogic pedagogy practices and ideology in the ancient time is needed.


Kin terms

Dialogic Learning

     Learning that is based on dialogue, involves dialogue, through dialogue, and/or has the essential dialogic nature. Dialogic Learning is not necessary equal to Dialogic Pedagogy but it can be a part of it. It is because Dialogic Pedagogy is focused on intentional instruction, while Dialogic Learning may happen spontaneously outside of any kind of pedagogy. Also, by itself, learning is not involved in an inquiry about what constitutes "good learning", with which Dialogic Pedagogy is preoccupied.

Dialogic Teaching

     Teaching/guidance that is based on dialogue, involves dialogue, through dialogue, and/or has the essential dialogic nature. Dialogic Teaching is not necessary equal to Dialogic Pedagogy but it can be a part of it. It is because Dialogic Pedagogy is focused on intentional instruction, while Dialogic Guidance may happen spontaneously outside of any kind of pedagogy. Also, by itself, Dialogic Pedagogy may be involved in many aspects outside of Dialogic Teaching such as organization of an educational community, educational ecology, promoting self-initiated studies, considering what good education is about, considering whether education is good at all or not, considering the relationship of education and other spheres of human activity and their priorities, and so on.

Dialogic Education

     Education that is based on dialogue, involves dialogue, through dialogue, and/or has the essential dialogic nature. Dialogic Education is not necessary equal to Dialogic Pedagogy but it can be a part of it. It is because Dialogic Pedagogy is focused on intentional instruction, while Dialogic Education may happen outside of learning and any kind of pedagogy (i.e., changing once paradigm or vista). Also, by itself, Dialogic Pedagogy may be involved in, arguably, non-educational goals outside of Dialogic Education such as socialization into socially desired practices and values.


What is pedagogical dialogue?

     There are many diverse approaches to the notion of pedagogical dialogue that educators subscribe to. Ironically, Bakhtin (1999) used the notion of "pedagogical dialogue," used in conventional schools, as an example of excessive monologism (Skidmore, 2000). However, other educators use this term to describe instruction in dialogic pedagogy. Some of these approaches are compatible and some are incompatible with each other.


Dialogic instructional formats

     Definition: Formats (i.e., communicational organization) of instruction, recognized as "dialogic" (as opposed to "monologic" formats of instruction)


     Dialogue involves high student-teacher talk ratio, short utterances/turns, interactive exchanges (Lefstein, & Snell, 2013);


     Dialogue involves either teacher asking students questions and eliciting answers from the students or students asking questions and eliciting answers from the teacher and/or the other students (and the self). One controversy here is that some dialogic educators prioritize students' questions over teacher's question. Another controversy is about the nature of the teacher's questions (or questions in general): answer-known questions vs. information seeking questions (Matusov, Bell, Rogoff, 2002);


     Instructional dialogue should be modeled after natural mundane everyday conversations (Echevarria, Silver, & Hayward, 1995). Arguably, Sidorkin (1999) has pioneered the description of this free-range mundane dialogue in his ecological theory of three drinks. Observing restrained and unrestrained social interactions among children in school, he extracted three types of dialogue that he compared with types of dialogue one can experienced in a party involving alcohol: a) monothematic, b) polythematic, and c) chaotic. In his book, Sidorkin argues that these three types of dialogue (and their dynamics) constitute the necessary fabric of overall dialogic ecology. Any attempt to temporarily extend one type of dialogue at expense of the others puts stress on the participants’ psychological well-being (the participants become extremely tiresome), the quality of their relation, and emergence of aggression, non-cooperation, and pedagogical violence. However, many conventional and even innovative pedagogies exactly prioritize the monothematic dialogues in their classroom and put a lot of efforts of suppressing any emergence of the chaotic dialogues with multiple and highly ill-defined themes (or better to say germs of the themes).  The latter can be crucial for the participants’ socializing, negotiation, and goal defining processes.  I see this interesting development in the literature on dialogue and dialogic pedagogy as a potential call for “free-range dialogic pedagogy.”

Without authority

     Dialogic guidance occurs among equal peers, any authority distorts dialogic processes. Probably, Piaget (1995) was the first scholar who articulated this position.

Dialogic pedagogical genres 

     Definition: Genres of pedagogy (i.e., the unity of the form and the content of a particular pedagogy) that is recognized as "dialogic".


     Learning through asking each other thought-provoking questions, challenging one's assumptions, beliefs, and ideas, that involves argumentation and disagreements (Adler, 1982). This notion comes from Socratic dialogues described and developed by Plato (1997);

Exploratory talk for learning

     Collective mindstorming and probing ideas. It is hesitant and incomplete because it enables the speaker to try out ideas, to hear how they sound, to see what others make of them, to arrange information and ideas into different patterns" (Barnes, 2008, p. 4);

Internally persuasive discourse

     Bakhtin’s (1991) notion of "internally persuasive discourse" (IPD) has become more and more influential in education in part because it helps us conceptualize learning. It is possible to abstract at least three approaches to how this notion is currently used in the literature on education:

    1. First, the most prevalent approach in education, IPD is understood as appropriation when somebody else’s words, ideas, approaches, knowledge, feelings, become one’s own (e.g., a student’s). In this approach, “internal” in IPD is understood as internal to the individual, as a psychological and personal deep conviction (Ball, & Freedman, 2004; Wertsch, 1991).
    2. Second, but less prevalent, approach in education is IPD understood as a student’s authorship recognized and accepted by a community of practice (i.e., strong voice), in which the student generates self-assignments and long-term projects (i.e, learning journeys) within the practice. In this approach, “internal” is understood as internal to the targeted discourse practice.
    3. Finally, in the third approach, IPD is understood as a dialogic regime of the participants’ testing ideas and searching for the boundaries of personally-vested truths. In this approach, “internal” in IPD is interpreted as internal to the dialogue itself in which everything is “dialogically tested and forever testable” (Morson, 2004, p. 319). It can be argued that although the first two approaches are grounded in Bakhtin’s quotes and can be descriptively important for IPD, they do not define IPD. This approach, rooted in Bakhtin’s central notion of dialogue, does describe IPD. People are surprised to find that searching for the bounds of personally-vested truths seem to be grounded in one’s ontological plane of existence. When tested yet again, as projected actions in future contexts, the truth ideas take on another set of boundaries and perspectives. Therefore, dialogic IPD has a surprising ontological component that links ideas with the past and the future that activates student’s professional discourse in the classrooms setting. Testing ideas within the bounds of a future imagined practice constitutes, in our view, a legitimate participation in professional discourse, as the evaluation of and setting a course for (future) ethical actions is an important part of any practice (Matusov & von Duyke, 2010). 

          Bakhtin defined internally persuasive and authoritative discourses in the following way,

Internally persuasive discourse – as opposed to one that is externally authoritative — is, as it is affirmed through assimilation, tightly interwoven with ‘one’s own word’. In the everyday rounds of our consciousness, the internally persuasive word is half-ours and half-someone else’s. Its creativity and productiveness consist precisely in the fact that such a word awakens new and independent words, that it organizes masses of our words from within, and does not remain in an isolated and static condition… it enters into interanimating relationships with new contexts. More than that, it enters into an intense interaction, a struggle with other internally persuasive discourses. Our ideological [becoming] is just such an intense struggle within us for hegemony among various available verbal and ideological points of view, approaches, directions and values. The semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it is open; in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, this discourse is able to reveal ever new ways to mean (Bakhtin, 1991, p. 346).

     IPD and its opposition to the "Authoritative Discourse" (AD) helps educators move away from the conventional notion of learning as a transmission of knowledge from the teacher (and/or the official text) to the student. Application of Bakhtin’s notion of IPD allows us to develop a new overarching problematic in education. We have found three approaches to the application of IPD in education that each have their own problematics. We argue that each of the three existing IPD educational approaches is characterized by how “internal” in internally persuasive discourse is understood, what is “internal” here? “internal” to what?


Dialogic educational chronotopes

     Definition: The unity of time, space, axiology (i.e., values), discourse, relationship, participation, and agency where important educational events occur in dialogic pedagogy.

Dialogic Provocation Chronotope

     Promoting the student’s responsive critical authorship – revealing the students’ position, thinking, feeling, ideas, perception, creativity, collaboration, and “situational interest” (see, Hidi &Renninger, 2006) not fully known and predicted by the teacher or peers – provoked by the the teacher’s or the peers open-ended questions, a video, a demonstration, or the students’ reflection-provoking experiences.

Journey Chronotope

     Journey chronotope promotes the self-generated critical authorship characterized by the students’ (individual and collective) strategic goal-defining, self-determination, and their short- and/or long-term commitment to the learning practice through their self-initiated assignments — i.e., students’ short-term commitments to their self initiated interests, inquiries, and projects, — and the student’s curricular transformative self-initiated learning journeys — i.e., students’ long-term commitments to their self-initiated interests, inquiries, and projects (cf. Renshaw, 2007).


Dialogic critical authorship

     Definition: Person's particular transcendence and critical deconstruction of the culturally given, addressed to and recognized by other people and/or the self

Responsive critical authorship

     Student's dialogic critical authorship emerges mostly in response to the teacher's or other students' ontological provocations.

Self-generating critical authorship

     Student's dialogic critical authorship emerges mostly as a result of the student's initiation of his/her own long term assignments and educational journeys to address other people and him/herself.

     Some educators hypothesize that the responsive critical authorship is a precursor of the self-generating authorship but some other educators disagree (Matusov, 2015).


Types of Dialogic Pedagogy


Instrumental Dialogic Pedagogy uses dialogue for achieving non-dialogic purposes, usually making students predictably and/or effectively arrive at certain preset curricular endpoints. Instrumental approaches to dialogic pedagogy seek how to achieve preset curricular endpoints through the means of dialogue. For example, Nicolas Burbules defines dialogue in teaching instrumentally facilitating new understanding, "Dialogue is an activity directed toward discovery and new understanding, which stands to improve the knowledge, insight, or sensitivity of its participants” (Burbules, 1993, p. xii). Matusov's (2009) analysis of the most famous example of instrumental approaches to dialogic pedagogy presented by Plato’s Socrates (Plato, 1997), Paulo Freire (1978, 1986) and Vivian Paley (1992) revealed a very interesting phenomenon. Although, one can find strong critique of preset curricular endpoints in Socrates, Freire, and Paley, in their own pedagogical practice described in their texts, they clearly set the curricular endpoints. So, their “theory-in-practice”, based on instrumental approach to dialogic pedagogy, contradicts to their “espoused theory”, based on non-instrumental approach to dialogic pedagogy (I'm using here the terms developed by Argyris & Schön, 1978). In a case of Freire and Paley, they seemed to be aware of this contradiction but do not address it, which allowed to label this phenomenon as “awareness without responsibility” (Matusov, 2009, see chps. 4 and 8).

Figure 1. Curricular space of conventional (monologically manipulative) education.


     The teacher presets the endpoint of the lesson, "At the end of the lesson, the students will be able to understand/master the following knowledge and skills…" The teacher’s instructional trajectories of leading the students to the endpoint can be individualized in a manipulative instruction and might take different time. Different students are curricularly located “closer” or further” from the preset endpoint and require different strategies to get them there. Thus, for Socrates to manipulate Meno to the preset endpoint (i.e., what is virtue is not known and problematic) is not the same to manipulate Anytus to the same endpoint. It takes different and individualized instructional strategies (Matusov, 2009, p. 86).

        Instrumental approaches to dialogic pedagogy differ from conventional pedagogy because 1) they more attune to the students’ subjectivities and 2) less reply on imposition and pedagogical violence. The use of dialogue allows the teacher switching from or supplementing the teacher’s imposition to the teacher’s manipulation as the major way of achieving the preset curricular endpoints. As I discussed above, the teacher’s manipulation of the students’ consciousnesses in a pedagogical dialogue is aimed at the development of an illusion in the student that the endpoint is the most convincing because it is logical the only possible, and non-problematic. This manipulation is achieved mainly through three means: 1) allowing genuine dialogue occur on a limited scale, 2) use of leading questions, and 3) providing fake choices that exploit the students’ ignorance of other possibilities. The goal of manipulation is two-folded: a) to lead the student to the preset curricular endpoint as the only possible, b) to give an impression to the student that the curricular endpoint was achieved through a genuine dialogue and the internally persuasive discourse.


Epistemological instrumental dialogic pedagogy (Epistemological I)

     The epistemological instrumental dialogic pedagogy is probably the first published account of dialogic pedagogy that still remains very influential and important for all scholars and practitioners of dialogic pedagogy field. It will remain an object of inspiration, analysis, and exciting discovers (Phillips, 2002). Like Bakhtin, some dialogic educators are rather ambivalent about it. They appreciate its focus on asking good questions, attendance to students’ subjectivity, focus on provocations and contradictions, disrupting familiar and often unreflected relations. But they also are concerned about the teacher’s manipulation of the student’s consciousness and its intellectualism.

Social justice instrumental dialogic pedagogy

     Sufferings generated by social injustice, unfairness, and oppression are symptoms of social untruth. In my view, uncovering, naming, revealing, analyzing, and addressing this social untruth is very legitimate goal of dialogue and dialogic pedagogy. Some dialogic pedagogies prioritize social justice (e.g., Ferrer Guardia, 1913; Freire, 1986; McLaren & Lankshear, 1994; Shor, 1987) and try to consider all other human phenomena through the prism of social (in)justice. This by itself does not make these dialogic pedagogies instrumental. However, in my contested analysis, some of them (Freire, 1978, 1986; Paley, 1992) indeed become instrumental (Facundo, 1984; Matusov, 2009). The basic premise of social justice is that at some point social action, social engineering, promoting the correct social justice is more important and more responsible than a dialogue.



In contrast to the instrumental approaches to dialogic pedagogy, the non-instrumental approaches to dialogic pedagogy view dialogue not as a mean or a pathway or a strategy for achieving meaning, truth, knowledge, justice and so on but the medium in which meaning, truth, knowledge, justice and so on live (Matusov, 2009; Morson & Emerson, 1989; Sidorkin, 1999). As Bakhtin (1986) pointed out, meaning lives in the relationship between a genuine question seeking for information and a sincere answer aiming at honest addressing this question. Any statement by itself makes sense only because it is embedded in dialogic relationships of the address and the response. This dialogic relationship is often invisible and taken for granted, which creates an illusion in people that statements make sense by themselves rather than being tokens and knots of the dialogic relationships. This illusion often leads to the conventional, monologic goal of education as promoting preset curricular endpoints – self-contained statements, skills, values, and dispositions – to the students. But if preset curricular endpoints – knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and dispositions are NOT the goal of the education in the non-instrumental approaches to dialogic pedagogy, what is it?


Ontological dialogic pedagogy

     According to Alexander Sidorkin (1999), ontological dialogic pedagogy priorities human ontology in pedagogical dialogue:

     Notion of dialogue is treated [in an ontological understanding of dialogue] as central for defining human existence, not merely a form of communication. To experience what it means to be human, one needs to engage in dialogical relations. We are human in the fullest sense when we engage in dialogue. This ontological understanding of dialogue has its implications for education. I argue that schools should focus on helping children experience and learn what it means to be human. Therefore, the entire social arrangement called "school" should be designed around this purpose of introducing children to the life of dialogue (Sidorkin, 1999, p. 4).

       The word ontological does not refer to just any kind of being, neither does it deal with the existence of dialogue; it refers specifically to human existence (Buber, 2000; Wegerif, 2007). This may not be the most conventional use of the term, but from my point of view, it is the most accurate one. The ontological concept of dialogue explores the place of dialogue in the human way of being. One of the reasons for using the adjective ontological is a need to distinguish between what I propose and a number of non-ontological concepts of dialogue. In the context of this book, the very existence of a human being in his or her human quality is a result of dialogue. In the non-ontological conception of dialogue, this relation between dialogue and human existence is reversed: dialogue is treated as secondary to human existence, mainly as a form of communication (Sidorkin, 1999, p. 7).

Ecological dialogic pedagogy

It is not clear whether the non-instrumental ecological dialogic pedagogy exists in some clear full-blown scale of pedagogical practice. But it may exist in practice that has not been described and/or published yet.  It is possible to get a gist and inspiration of this approach by reading sociolinguist Per Linell’s book (1998) and educational philosopher Alexander Sidorkin’s book (1999). The non-instrumental ecological approach to dialogic pedagogy focuses on:

  1. the dialogicity (Bakhtin, 1999; Matusov, 2009, ch. 5) of the mundane everyday social interaction,
  2. non-constrained nature of this interactional regime, in which the participants can have freedom to move in and out of the interaction, remain silent, change and modify the themes, and engage simultaneously in several  activities and agendas,
  3. absence or minimum of pedagogical violence.

Using the agricultural metaphor of “free-range chicken” (cf. "free-range kids", Skenazy, 2009) , it is possible to define the participants in this ecological dialogue as free-range dialogic participants.


Journal publications on dialogic pedagogy



Adler, M. J. (1982). The Paideia proposal: An educational manifesto (1st Macmillan paperbacks ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Apatow, R. (1998). The spiritual art of dialogue: Mastering communication for personal growth, relationships, and the workplace. Rochester, VT : Inner Traditions.

Argyris, C., & Schön, D. A. (1978). Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

Ball, A. F., & Freedman, S. W. (2004). Bakhtinian perspectives on language, literacy, and learning. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1991). Dialogic imagination: Four essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1999). Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Barnes, D. (2008). Exploratory talk for learning. In. N. Mercer & S. Hodgkinson (Eds.), Exploring talk in schools: Inspired by the work of Douglas Barnes (pp. 1-16): Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Buber, M. (2000). I and Thou. New York: Scribner.

Burbules, N. C. (1993). Dialogue in teaching: Theory and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Echevarria, J., Silver, J., & Hayward, D. (1995). Instructional conversations: Understanding through discussion (video). Santa Cruz, CA: Regents of the University of California.

Facundo, B. (1984). Issues for an evaluation of Freire-inspired programs in the United States and Puerto Rico. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Facundo.

Ferrer Guardia, F. (1913). The origin and ideals of the modern school. New York: Putnam.

Freire, P. (1978). Pedagogy in process: The letters to Guinea-Bissau. New York: Seabury Press.

Freire, P. (1986). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Hezser, C. (1997). The social structure of the rabbinic movement in Roman Palestine. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Hidi, S., & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41 (2), 111-127.

Lefstein, A., & Snell, J. (2013). Better than best practice: Developing teaching and learning through dialogic pedagogy. New York: Routledge.

Matusov, E. (2009). Journey into dialogic pedagogy. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Matusov, E. (2015). Chronotopes in education: Conventional and dialogic. Dialogic Pedagogy: An International Online Journal, 3, A65-A97. doi: 10.5195/dpj.2015.107

Matusov, E., Bell, N., & Rogoff, B. (2002). Schooling as cultural process: Shared thinking and guidance by children from schools differing in collaborative practices. In R. Kail & H. W. Reese (Eds.), Advances in Child Development and Behavior (Vol. 29, pp. 129-160). New York: New York: Academic Press.

Matusov, E., & von Duyke, K. (2010). Bakhtin’s notion of the Internally Persuasive Discourse in education: Internal to what? (A case of discussion of issues of foul language in teacher education). In K. Junefelt & P. Nordin (Eds.), Proceedings from the Second International Interdisciplinary Conference on perspectives and limits of dialogism in Mikhail Bakhtin Stockholm University, Sweden June 3-5, 2009 (pp. 174-199). Stockholm: Stockholm University.

McLaren, P., & Lankshear, C. (1994). Politics of liberation: Paths from Freire. New York: Routledge.

Morson, G. S. (2004). The process of ideological becoming. In A. F. Ball & S. W. Freedman (Eds.), Bakhtinian perspectives on language, literacy, and learning (pp. 317-331). Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Morson, G. S., & Emerson, C. (1989). Rethinking Bakhtin: Extensions and challenges. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.

Paley, V. G. (1992). You can't say you can't play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Phillips, C. (2002). Socrates café: A fresh taste of philosophy. New York: W.W. Norton.

Piaget, J., & Smith, L. (1995). Sociological studies. London: Routledge.

Plato. (1997). Complete works (J. M. Cooper & D. S. Hutchinson, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub.

Renshaw, P. D. (2007). A commentary on the chronotopes of different `cultures of learning': Transforming classrooms from trading-places into relational-places of learning. International Journal of Educational Research, 46(3-4), 240–245.

Sen, A. K. (2005). The argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian history, culture, and identity (1st American ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Shor, I. (1987). Critical teaching and everyday life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sidorkin, A. M. (1999). Beyond discourse: Education, the self, and dialogue. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Skenazy, L. (2009). Free-range kids: Giving our children the freedom we had without going nuts with worry. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wegerif, R. (2007). Dialogic, educational and technology: Expanding the space of learning. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Wertsch, J. V. (1991). Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Press.





Comments (1)

Tina Kullenberg said

at 7:55 am on Jan 7, 2019

This is a valuable introduction of the topic!

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