Strengthening dialogic argument: What teachers can learn from authentic examples of student dialogue

Michelle Sowey


This paper is inspired by Philip Cam’s book Twenty Thinking Tools. Cam recommends classroom dialogue as the primary means for students to achieve conscious, strategic, and eventually habitual command of the intellectual moves needed for building and evaluating arguments. Classroom dialogue has indeed been found to be effective for developing students’ higher-order thinking skills, but only when students are engaged in dialogic argument. This paper addresses the dual concerns that dialogue is not widespread in classrooms, and that even where it is practised, it rarely involves argument. To address these concerns, an enhancement to teacher professional learning programs is proposed: the use of authentic examples, i.e. examples drawn from students’ real-life dialogic argument. Reflecting on numerous examples of this kind is likely to boost teachers’ confidence and competence as facilitators, with the consequent benefits of broadening the use of dialogue in classrooms and enhancing the rigour of students’ dialogic argument. Authentic examples of dialogic argument are surprisingly scarce in the relevant published literature. This paper provides several such examples, together with suggestions for how they may be constructively embedded in professional learning programs.

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