The polyphonic classroom. Dialogic teaching and the empowerment of children as coordinators of educational interactions

Federico Farini, Angela Scollan, Shamea Mia

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperpeer-review


This presentation presents the results of a research undertaken on the use of dialogic teaching based on facilitation within learning activities in four English primary schools (age 9-11). The discussion focuses on the management of turn-taking, arguing that facilitation empowers children as coordinators of the interaction. The learning activities observed are part of the SHARMED (Shared Memories and Dialogue) project, funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. SHARMED provides opportunities for primary and secondary school children (16 classrooms in each country) to collect photographs connected to their memories, comparing dialogically memories of personal and cultural roots in the classrooms, in collaboration with an adult expert in the use of facilitation to enhance dialogic learning. The methodology of SHARMED is centred around Project-Based Workshops (PBWs), using dialogic teaching to engage children in extended processes of asking questions originating from their photographs. Dialogic teaching should coordinate different perspectives and support the developing of shared narratives. The epistemology of dialogic teaching is based on the acknowledgment that children are active participants in constructing meanings and social practices, influencing the cultural and social situations in which they are involved (James, Jenks and Prout, 1998; James, 2009; Baraldi and Iervese, 2014). Dialogic teaching requires facilitation of interaction, with the adult facilitator as organiser of participation and mutual learning (Holdsworth, 2005), creating conditions in which all participants can contribute, mutually encouraging each other to participate actively (Mercer and Littleton, 2007). As for all types of talk-in-interaction (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson, 1974), turn-taking is the basic mechanism for organizing social participation in SHARMED workshops. An established tradition of research in educational settings demonstrates that adults maintain control over the trajectory and the “agenda” of the interaction by distributing opportunities to talk and participate in the interaction implementing highly standardized practices (Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975; Mehan, 1979; Margutti, 2006). Forms of adult-centred management of turn-taking in educational interactions have been observed also in situations when the pedagogical premises of the interaction would emphasise child-initiated activities (Farini, 2011; 2012). In particular, research shows that educators manage the distribution of opportunities to talk selecting the next participant by calling his or her name (either before or after asking a question) or by establishing normative procedures for the transition of the role of speaker. These procedures are usually variations of a “raise your hand to speak” rule. The presentation aims to add a new dimension to the existing knowledge on the coordination of interaction in educational contexts, presenting evidence of children independently co-constructing and successfully managing highly sophisticated turn-taking systems. The discussion of data will illustrate a structural pattern emerging in SHARMED workshops, linking facilitation to children’s access to the role of coordinators of the turn-taking system. Each sequence discussed will present situations where facilitation upgrades children epistemic status (Raymond and Heritage, 2006; Heritage and Raymond, 2010; Baraldi, 2015) using active listening, questions and formulations (Heritage, 1985) to display attention for children’s contributions. The recognition and support of children as autonomous contributors through facilitation of participation, creates conditions for working trust (Kelman, 2005) that empowers children in taking an active role to coordinate the interaction. Data suggest a two-phased sequential pattern for children-led management of turn-taking. Children initially reproduce the features of normative turn-taking systems structuring classroom interaction. The child who presents his/her photograph acts as a gatekeeper, selecting the next-speaker among the children who raise their hand. However, such current-speaker-centred and managed system gradually evolves into finely grained systems articulated around the self-selection of the next speaker. The presentation will discuss some characteristics of initial turn-components enhancing the transition between turn taking systems. SHARMED aims to implement facilitation to promote storytelling of personal experiences and cultural backgrounds, and the discussion of these narratives in the classrooms. Facilitation is considered the most effective methodology to empower children as storytellers, towards the transformation of the classroom in a space of polyphony. This presentation suggests that facilitation may enhance children’s agency (Bjerke, 2011) in educational contexts, enabling then to autonomously coordinate, with the adult, active participation and relationships, therefore promoting their own (and adult’s) learning through dialogue
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2017
EventInternational Association for Dialogue Analysis (IADA) Conference 2017 - University of Bologna, Italy
Duration: 11 Oct 2017 → …


ConferenceInternational Association for Dialogue Analysis (IADA) Conference 2017
Period11/10/17 → …


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