I had never seen dialogue as a tool, but as an atitude towards the other. By talking and listening, and listening and talking, we go through the process of communicating that implies a certain need to comprehend and know the other person at the same time that you try to make yourself understood while both investigate reality, in other words, you can’t really understand what is going on without engaging in dialogue. I agree with Paulo Freire that ‘dialogue’ is not a pedagogical tool and neither it is a way to manipulate people into doing what you want. However, I can see the potential for students to doubt this practice, and as the end of the year goes, I noticed that few of my own students who still did not understand what was going on, unable to see the real picture and become a co-participant rather than just students.
Dialogue is a moment where humans meet to reflect on their reality as they make and remake it. Freire¹
Feedback and Survey as pedagogical tools
I am going over students’ feedback. I’m still working on the analysis of the survey they took a week after the project was over. Practically, that was the day that our year came to an end. For most of us the feeling that it was a great year filled the air. For the last week, we ate breakfast together, they answered the questionnaire which I told them it was for the benefit of the future 9th graders and I’d appreciated if they answered it as honesty as they could, and watched my favorite episode of Sherlock Holmes “The great Game” by BBC.
In 2014, I was assigned 6 classes of 14-year-old teens . In one of them, there was only a girl. She had classes on 1-2-1 basis all year around. The other classes were small groups of mixed levels. Here is Group B Profile:
One group which I’ll call group B had 3 girls and 3 boys. One of the boys joined us in the second semester of the term. At the beginning of the term, one of the girls (G.) was a beginner, but in our TV series and Music project in the first semester, I discovered that she loved Korean TV series and watched it on Youtube. Some of them didn’t have Portuguese subtitles so she told me that she had to watch in English. She was not confident to speak in English. She prefered to use writing than speaking. In the same group, always sitting next to her there was another girl (M.), like G. she was not confident either. She was, however, in her fourth/fifth semester of studying English. She still didn’t feel comfortable trying out and making mistakes in speaking. Also like G. she prefered using writing to communicate her ideas. In constrast to these two students, we had another girl (T.) who ever since she started the course in our school (already in her third year of course) she was willing to speak in English. She loved reading and was so full of opinions and ideas. One of the boys (G.), a friend of (T.) followed T’s footsteps and participated actively by keeping up with his friend T. It’s worth mentioning that both of them (T and G) were very kind to the other students and even G being a boy he was most of the time very considerate and willing to help less confident learners when they paired up. The fourth student was S. He was also a nice boy and loved music. As a beginner he was willing to speak in English and always very participative in oral tasks. The fifth boy (L.) who started in the second semester, was a beginner too, but he knew a lot of words in English due to listening to music and watching movies. Classes in this group was 98% of the time only in English.
The Implications of the dialogical approach
Sitting as equals does not mean that we lose our roles in the process or who we are, but that we respect each other; and that by listening and understanding one another we contribute to one another’s development. The goal of the English class is to achieve a level of communication for one to become independent. At the beginning of the journey, one depends on the teacher or other more proficient learners to understand the message and how the language works. With time they learn strategies and they build up language knowledge that can help them do it on their own, eventually they become language users themselves, not as proficient but they keep going and also improving as they go with or wiithout help of more proficient users. When one feels less in need of help, they become more independent. Building this confidence and independence takes time and a lot of understanding between all parts.
The goal of the educator is (or should never be) never to create dependence, but to lead the way to show how to become independent. And learners who understand the value of autonomy will lead the way for others. Therefore, that is why I honor dialogue in my class. I want everyone to know they can contribute even if they can’t do it in English, they can do it in their own language, and sometimes interesting enough they take this opportunity to also use this moment as English practice, even though they are free to use Portuguese.
2 WEEK OF THE READING PROJECT: Sharing and reflection
In the previous posts I shared about the process of planning and inviting students to participate, and also why and how I decide to bring books to our classes. Once, they did their part of the project (choose, read, share), I invited them to sit and talk about what we had done so far. It’s important to note that during the sharing time, they were not asked to do anything other than listen to their classmates sharing their stories. There was a lot to assess, but I decided in the first week just get their first impression of what they had been doing so far by asking What do you think of this reading project?
ANY SUGGESTIONS? Ok, their responses were pretty positive. Only the new student in the group did not give a feedback or suggestion. And no one had anything in mind to suggest until someone mentioned the place. My supervisor and I had thought of place and we decided that the multimedia room was the best place as there were no desks and a nice comfortable sofa and lots of big cushions.
But going outside wasn’t a bad idea either. And we did it. In the following week, we left the bags in the multimedia room and walked around the campus to find a spot to sit and share. When we got back in class, we discussed the pros and cons of doing it outdoors. This was the only group that suggested going outside. Here is the result of the points they mentioned. I did ask questions to help them think of a number of things we encountered outside, like ‘how did you feel about speaking in English with people walking around?’ or ‘Was it easy to find a comfortable place to sit?’. Couple of the things they spotted easily as negative were that it was too sunny and that hearing each other was not easy in open spaces if one do not make an effort to speak louder. Well, the purpose of the sharing time is to listen to each other and be able to share the story, so the last question I asked in this meeting was: Did this change in place match the purpose of the activity? Or in other words, “Did it attend our needs?”
They knew what the purpose was and they agreed that it did not attend our needs, even though they prefered to be outside. So some choices are based on our preferences and sometimes they are not useful or beneficial. I don’t see the need to please my students. I see the need to discuss things over because I believe that only through that they will see the benefit of the choices sometimes we have to make. It is not whether I like this or that, it is a matter of critically thinking if that choice made is beneficial, useful and whether it helps us achieve our goal. In this case, they understood that much more was involved in the process, such as one willingness to speak in public in a place that English is not the language being used or having to find a much quieter spot so they could feel more comfortable to speak louder.
If anyone is interested to learn more about dialogical practice, this is an excellent article which is a dialogue between Paulo Freire and Ira Shor published in 1987 in the Journal of Education.
What is the dialogical method of teaching. Available in: http://acervo.paulofreire.org:8080/jspui/bitstream/7891/2577/3/FPF_OPF_03_007.pdf
For all the comments and suggestions that students made during the 4 weeks of reading and sharing, here is a lino.it board.