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The Centrality of Exploratory Talk in Dialogic Teaching and Learning Open Access


Other title
Dialogic Teaching
Meaning Making
Exploratory Talk
Small Group Discussion
Classroom Discourse
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
McConaghy, Janet L
Supervisor and department
Bainbridge, Joyce (Elementary Education)
Wiltse, Lynne (Elementary Education)
Examining committee member and department
Leroy, Carol (Elementary Education)
Peck, Carla (Elementary Education)
Dunn, William (Secondary Education)
Department of Elementary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Abstract Every day, children and teachers at all levels of schooling engage in classroom talk for a variety of purposes as a natural and essential aspect of teaching and learning and in the development of social relationships. Over the years educators have come to see talk as not only a major means of communication or as an instructional strategy for effective teaching, but as a powerful tool for thinking, learning and understanding. We now know that when students are given the time and the opportunity to engage in informal conversations in an exploratory way to generate and sort out ideas, hypothesize, test and clarify new ways of thinking, talking together can play a vital role in their understanding and construction of meaning. Through the established and ongoing development of research in classroom discourse and meaning making, the interest in the centrality of talk as a mode of learning in pedagogical practices such as dialogic teaching and inquiry learning has rapidly increased. However, research also suggests that opportunities for exploratory talk to function as an inquiry based and dialogic process for students’ learning and meaning making in all subject areas are often left untapped. This study is an exploration into students’ use of exploratory talk as an interactive and dialogic process for thinking, learning and constructing meaning within the social setting of a small group discussion. This qualitative study took place with four students and one teacher in a Grade 6 classroom of 30 students over a period of 6 months. It was carried out during the usual class times when the students were provided with opportunities and sustained time to discuss curriculum related topics of interest. From a socio constructivist perspective I pursued an interpretive inquiry methodological approach, which is rooted in the study of experience and meaning. The primary source of data collection was audio-recorded episodes of student talk. Others data sources included interviews, researcher’s notes and journal entries. Analysis and interpretation of the data revealed three major interrelated features that influenced the effect of exploratory talk on the students’ construction of meaning: (1) the social context of the talk, (2) the verbal and cognitive strategies used by the students, and (3) the teacher’s role in mediating the talk through intervention. Insights and findings from this study show how the students’ engagement in exploratory talk played a crucial role in their finding their own voice, building their own knowledge and deepening their understanding of themselves, others and the world around them. This study brings together the notion of exploratory talk as a tool of inquiry and the pedagogical practice of dialogic teaching in the classroom. It demonstrates the interdependence and the interrelationship between exploratory talk and a pedagogy that is based on valuing students’ talk in learning interactively as they come to their own understandings. I offer this study as a contribution to the developing research in classroom discourse and to support a dialogic approach to curriculum and to teaching and learning practices in today’s diverse and socially changing classroom communities.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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