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From Dialogic Tools to a Dialogic Stance

By Mary M. Juzwik, Mandie Dunn, and Ashley Johnson
 | Apr 14, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-103582643_x300We did take a more exploratory, student-driven discussion during class where I was just sparking an idea that the students would run with. At one point, they literally turned in their seats toward each other, and that’s when I knew they were super engaged not only with me, but with each other. It was AWESOME.

So reflected a preservice teacher we work with, following a lively discussion about Black Lives Matter in an urban 11th-grade English classroom. We are struck by this moment and by the teacher’s excitement.  For her, this moment is unusual and exemplary. Our work focuses around the question: How can such moments of dialogic teaching become more typical, rather than remarkable, in literacy classrooms?  Mary and her colleagues defined dialogic teaching as “the instructional designs and practices that provide students with frequent and sustained opportunities to engage in learning talk” (Juzwik, Borsheim-Black, Caughlan, & Heintz, 2013, p. 5). When teachers create space for such talk, students have an opportunity to build on their own and each other’s ideas and connect them into coherent lines of thinking and inquiry over time (Alexander, 2008; Boyd, 2016). When teachers purposefully nurture and sustain such a stance, they make a dialogic classroom environment possible. Dialogic classroom environments bolster student literacy achievement growth (e.g., Murphy, Wilkinson, Soter, Hennessy, & Alexander, 2009), prepare students for participation in democratic life (Juzwik et al., 2013), foster student engagement (Kelly, 2008), and create more humane and sustainable workplaces for teachers.

Dialogic tools

Mary’s research team identified dialogic tools as a key component of literacy teaching that successfully provided students with opportunities for learning talk (Juzwik et al., 2013). They identified both teacher- and student-centered tools such as anticipation guides, teacher-scripted questions, four corners, fishbowls, and literature circles. Teachers and students collaboratively use these tools in planning and classroom practice to scaffold learning talk (Alexander, 2008; Juzwik et al., 2013). We and the teachers we work with find these tools helpful for instructional planning, both short-term (lesson) planning and long-term (unit or yearlong) planning. For example, English teacher Liz Krause puts up a word chart of dialogic tools behind her desk to provide a reminder as she plans. Others provide students with sentence stems or discussion phrases or rubrics to focus students’ attention on dialogic moves.  
Dialogic tools embedded in dialogic stance

Talking to learn is more than just increasing student talk or implementing particular tools. Using dialogic tools is more effective when embedded in a broader dialogic stance over time: “A teacher adopting a dialogic stance listens, leads and follows, responds and directs” (Boyd & Markarian, 2015, p. 273). A dialogic stance involves more than successfully enacting some dialogic tool. It further entails a sustained focus on the potential of student and teacher ideas to promote learning and inquiry. For example, a fishbowl tool should focus on the students and teacher building ideas together, not on students performing the elements of a good discussion. At the end of a fish bowl, instead of evaluating how the discussion went, students can instead consider questions about which ideas challenged them most or supported their thinking about a text. These questions emphasize listening, learning, and talking with each other. When teachers orient their classroom practices toward learning talk over the long term, a dialogic classroom environment where students and teachers learn together becomes possible.

Mary JuzwikMandie DunnAshley JohnsonMary M. Juzwik is a professor at Michigan State University. She is also the coeditor of Research in the Teaching of English and coauthor of Inspiring Dialogue: Talking to Learn in the English Classroom. Mandie Dunn and Ashley Johnson are doctoral students in curriculum, instruction, and teacher education at Michigan State University.

The ILA Literacy Research Panel uses this blog to connect ILA members around the world with research relevant to policy and practice. Reader response is welcomed via e-mail.



Alexander, R. (2008). Towards dialogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk (4th ed.). York,  England: Dialogos.

Boyd, M. (2016). Connecting “man in the mirror”: Developing a classroom teaching and learning trajectory. L1 Educational Studies in Language in Literature, 15, 1–26.

Boyd, M., & Markarian, W. (2015). Dialogic teaching and dialogic stance: Moving beyond interactional form. Research in the Teaching of English, 49(3), 272–296.

Juzwik, M.M., Borsheim-Black, C., Caughlan, S., & Heintz, A. (2013). Inspiring dialogue: Talking to learn in the English classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kelly, S. (2008). Race, social class, and student engagement in middle school English   classrooms. Social Science Research, 37(2), 434–448.

Murphy, P.K., Wilkinson, I.A.G., Soter, A.O., Hennessy, M.N., & Alexander, J.F. (2009). Examining the effects of classroom discussion on students’ comprehension of text: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), 740–764.


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