Dialogic Teaching

The term ‘dialogic teaching’ is now in regular use but like all such terms means different things to different people. As developed by Robin Alexander since the early 2000s, dialogic teaching harnesses the power of talk to engage interest, stimulate thinking, advance understanding, expand ideas, and build and evaluate arguments, empowering students for lifelong learning and democratic engagement. Being collaborative and supportive, it confers social and emotional benefits too. It also helps teachers: by encouraging students to share their thinking it enables teachers to diagnose needs, devise learning tasks, enhance understanding, assess progress, and guide students through the challenges they encounter.  Yet as defined by Alexander – though not by some others in the field – dialogic teaching is both talk and more than talk, for it enacts a distinctively dialogic stance on knowledge, learning, social relations and education itself.

During the past two decades Robin Alexander has developed and progressively refined a framework for explicating dialogic teaching and supporting teachers who wish to enhance the quality and power of classroom talk – their own as well as their students’. The framework comprised justifications, principles, repertoires and indicators, and placed particular emphasis on teacher agency, or the need for teachers to develop and draw on a range of pedagogical techniques according to circumstance and need rather than use all-purpose teaching formulae.

Early iterations were applied and evaluated in school-based development projects in Barking and Dagenham, North Yorkshire and Bolton and formed the basis for Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk (1st edition 2004, 5th edition and 22nd imprint 2017). This was widely taken up in schools and teacher training courses across the UK and in several other countries. Then, from 2014-17 and with the support of the Education Endowment Foundation, a revised version of the framework was linked to a bespoke professional development programme and successfully trialled with 5000 students in schools in Birmingham Bradford and Leeds.

Now, building on all this work and on recent research in what is now a fast-expanding field, Robin Alexander’s dialogic teaching framework has been completely revised for his new book A Dialogic Teaching Companion, to be published by Routledge early in 2020. The book also includes a suggested professional development programme for implementing dialogic teaching, and it explores recent developments that have expanded and enriched the evidence and debate about classroom talk in relation to oracy, literacy, argumentation, student voice and philosophy for children as well as dialogic teaching itself.

This annotated bibliography puts in more or less chronological order Robin Alexander’s publications to date on spoken language and dialogue in learning, teaching and education. It starts with observational and discourse studies undertaken in the UK during the 1980s and early 1990s. Then follows the Culture and Pedagogy international study out of which Alexander’s approach to dialogic teaching partly developed. Towards Dialogic Teaching presents this approach in detail, and Essays on Pedagogy extends the dialogic principle into wider aspects of education while reasserting the importance of an international perspective. Next come miscellaneous papers; evaluation reports from dialogic teaching development projects in UK schools during the early 2000s; the 2010 final report of the Cambridge Primary Review, which like Essays on Pedagogy gives dialogue prominence not only in pedagogy but also among education’s guiding aims; and the 2012 paper for the Department for Education (DfE) that persuaded the UK government to take spoken language more seriously in its framework for the 2014 revised national curriculum for England. The bibliography’s later entries relate to the 2014-17 randomised control trial sponsored by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) that demonstrated the efficacy of Alexander’s approach to dialogic teaching; a paper re-positioning dialogue and argumentation for the era of ‘post-truth’ politics; Alexander’s evidence to the 2020 Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group; and A Dialogic Teaching Companion (2020), his summation of nearly three decades of research and development in this area together with a completely revised version of his frameworks for dialogic teaching and professional development.

Download Dialogic teaching and the study of classroom talk: a developmental bibliography.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) identifies school and classroom strategies that offer the potential to tackle educational disadvantage, and subjects them to independent randomised control trial. Since 2011 EEF has funded 190 such programmes, but only 17 of them have emerged from their trials to be listed as ‘promising interventions’; that is to say, approaches that under normal working conditions have a significant impact on pupils’ learning outcomes and for which the trial evidence is strong and secure. 

One of this select group is the Cambridge Primary Review Trust/University of York Dialogic Teaching Project. This ran from 2014-17, and was co-directed by Robin Alexander and Frank Hardman and based at the University of York. The classroom programme, which was constructed round Robin Alexander’s dialogic teaching framework, was piloted in London and trialled with nearly 5000 pupils in 78 schools in Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds. Reporting in July 2017, the independent evaluation from Sheffield Hallam University calculated that after only 20 weeks pupils in the intervention group were up to two months ahead of their control group peers in standardised tests of English, mathematics and science; and that while some of the teachers found the programme challenging, they fully endorsed its purposes and strategy. Meanwhile, the York team’s coded videodata tracked striking changes in the character and quality of interaction in the intervention classrooms, and confirmed the effectiveness of the project’s strategy for professional development and support.

Robin Alexander’s latest book, A Dialogic Teaching Companion, builds on this work and on international research to provide much revised and expanded versions of both the dialogic teaching framework and the strategy for professional development alongside a full discussion of the field of classroom dialogue as a whole.

Further information

See Robin Alexander’s A Dialogic Teaching Companion, Appendix 2, for texts, lesson transcripts and video extracts from various authors and sources which are recommended for further study and professional development. Links are provided where appropriate, including to these from two of Robin Alexander’s own projects:

Towards Dialogic Teaching. A collection of 24 video clips from a 2002-7 dialogic teaching development project involving 40 primary schools in the north of England. The clips, indexed and annotated, exemplify different kinds of classroom talk and were collected to encourage professional study, discussion and analysis, not as examples of so-called ‘best practice’. Access these video clips via the link near the top of p209.

Talk Transcribed. 13 transcribed lesson episodes, some of them from the collection above. The intention is the same: discussion and analysis, not modelling. These extracts were used to support professional development in the 2014-17 Education Endowment Foundation Dialogic Teaching Project, which entailed a randomised control trial of Robin Alexander’s dialogic teaching framework with 5000 students in 78 schools. Access these transcripts via the link near the top of p209.