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Susan Dorfman's picture

Reflections on Co-constructive Dialogue

Co-constructive dialogue is a powerful tool to expand the perspective of each person involved in a joint conversation. For the last week, the participants in this Institute have shared ideas based on the questions posed by Paul. We have not always agreed, but each of us has had the opportunity to test our ideas and incorporate the input from the others as they responded to our output. Not only have we responded to Paul's output as facilitator, but often we have moved beyond Paul's original question to questions generated by one another. My Middle School students would call this a diversion. They love these discussions and get quite excited when I say we will take the time to follow one. You can see the engagement lighting up their faces. Their interest level is high, and if I can facilitate the flow of the discussion, we can usually get back to where we need to be in order for them to manage their homework assignment. If I can't get the group back to where we need to be, I will use a segue that makes them laugh or groan. The humor helps to keep them engaged as they wait to see how I will reroute the conversation. Most importantly, they have had the opportunity to express thoughts on a topic one among them has chosen, and they feel valued as so many in the class have related their individual experience on the topic. This takes patience. Remember these are 12 year olds in a biology class. We will be regaled with surgeries, illnesses, accidents and the like that have impacted them and close and distant relatives, friends, and characters in movies and TV shows. For me as teacher, it is an important opportunity to understand my students and how they are processing the information of the course. There are times when they share an experience that gives me the chance to find a bond with them. For them, it is the necessary output that stimulates a response from me to their specific idea while also creating links with other students who share similar experiences. These are the days when the students don't want to leave class. They dawdle until I have to shoo them to the next class with notes of apology to their teachers.

Yes, Paul, co-constructive dialogue works for students as well as adults. Engaging in the conversation at these Institutes reminds me to make more time for the shared dialogue with my students. I enjoy it immensely, and so do they.

One cautionary note. There are days when I feel that I have to be the conductor in the classroom. Therefore, I find myself advocating for a balance between inputing basic information, technical vocabulary, and chemical processes to develop a common classroom language and initiating co-constructive conversation to develop a share summary of observations among myself and the students in my classroom.

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