At the nexus of learning and innovation

The power of dialogic learning: let's talk about...

In the current political climate, there is an increasing emphasis placed on the assessment of pre-service teachers’ ‘classroom readiness’...

Three pre-service teachers exploring a shared text called Mahtab’s Story in a Literature Circle – the artefact both prompts and records their collaborative knowledge co-creation.

How do we ensure such assessment is meaningful? We propose that the notion of dialogic learning offers a useful approach to provide evidence of teachers’ intellectual work as well as  simultaneously supporting their learning. Dialogic learning can be summarised as the systematic use of talk to “engage, […] stimulate and extend thinking […] [and] advance learning and understanding” (Alexander 2004: 37). For example, pre-service teachers may collectively provide critical commentary on a piece of student work accompanied by discursive prompts to support productive conversation like ‘what evidence is there of learning?’ Paying attention to talk ensures that a key form of learning is valued instead of ignored through methodological focus on easier to capture processes, such as reading and writing.

Paying attention to talk ensures that a key form of learning is valued

As part of the larger Knowledge Co-Creation project project, our theme ‘Learning for the workplace through innovation and knowledge co-creation’ is trialling the use of dialogic learning to support knowledge co-creation among teachers and students. Specifically, this takes the form of a small-group discussion activity called ‘literature circles’. Pre-service teachers, in such literature circles, are encouraged to affirm, question, challenge and extend shared opinions of a book they have all read using discursive prompts such as visualisations or sociogram posters for interaction. More generally, this activity draws learner attention to different forms of knowing that are embodied as well as linguistic, and helps learners develop a more critical stance towards their learning and teaching practices.

From a research angle, we examine how pre-service teacher meta-awareness of knowledge co-creation can be facilitated through such a learning design. That is, how pre-service teachers’ participation in and critique of dialogic learning impacts on their professional decision-making processes, where learning is framed as the “interaction and co-construction of knowledge objects”  (Damşa & Ludvigsen 2016:1). Here, pre-service teachers can be challenged to cooperate in social interactions and create artefacts that support knowledgeable action through the lived experience of participating in literature circles.

an effective strategy to improve knowledge transfer and the creation of actionable knowledge

This study builds on a previous research project conducted by Alyson Simpson on the benefits and challenges of dialogic learning in primary schools and higher education (Simpson, 2016). In this earlier project, Alyson trialled a methodology affording close interrogation of the linguistic interactions of sets of participants through discourse analysis. She found that the concept of dialogic learning, as championed by Alexander (2004), to be an effective strategy to improve knowledge transfer and the creation of actionable knowledge. In that project, pre-service teachers realised that deliberative instructional design supported shifts in interaction patterns that enabled more collegial interpersonal relationships, greater student engagement and deeper levels of comprehension. Findings revealed that dialogic learning provided “opportunities for teachers, students and pre-service teachers to reclaim the potential of learning through active collaboration and interaction” (Simpson 2016:102). These results established a base line of concepts that have informed ‘phase one’ of this new study.

During this first phase, in semester 1 of 2017, data were collected from a cohort of approximately 100 final year BEd Primary degree students from an urban Australian university. The students were enrolled in a unit of study about reading and critical literacy using the pedagogic strategy of literature circles. The assessment of this task deliberately positioned pre-service teachers to take up and reflect on the dual perspectives of their experience as reader and teacher of reading. Participants in the study were videoed running their literature circle discussion using the artefacts they had constructed to prompt dialogue. They were also interviewed in focus groups and required to submit a final reflective essay. These three sources of data will now be analysed for evidence of the impact of dialogic learning on facilitating knowledge co-creation. That is, how this helps these emerging teachers to productively work with other teachers to create actionable teaching-knowledge. This skill for collective improvement of practice (knowledge co-creation) is increasingly seen as crucial for future education leaders, yet, too often neglected. Our study hopes to show how dialogic learning may be a missing piece in the puzzle in supporting teachers in this knowledge co-creation. The findings will inform the design of phase two which will explore how epistemic interactions support pre-service teachers’ emerging professional practice.

Our study hopes to show how dialogic learning may be a missing piece in the puzzle in supporting teachers in this knowledge co-creation

Phase two will follow participants into the second half of 2017 as they take on their final internship placements in schools. The aim of this second phase is to collect data beyond the one unit of study and track the impact of the experience of using dialogic learning into professional practice.


  • Dialogic learning is a collaborative activity that supports learning through the use of shared artefacts that prompt and shape discussions.
  • We are conducting research on how dialogic learning can support preservice teachers in co-creating their disciplinary knowledge.



Alexander, R. J. (2004). Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom Talk. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Dialogos.

Damşa, C. and Ludvigsen, S. (2016). Learning through interaction and co-construction of knowledge objects in teacher education. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction 11 (2016) 1–18.

Simpson, A. (2016). Dialogic teaching in the initial teacher education classroom: Everyone's Voice will be Heard, Research Papers in Education, 31:1, 89-106,

Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). (2014). Action Now: Classroom ready teachers. Canberra: Australian Government.

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