The seventh and final principle of teaching and learning with drama is to make learning dialogic.
Principle seven is the most important of all of the principles I’ve explored in class this week because, as Edmiston writes, “it is at the core of the transformation of understanding” (p.1). Learning becomes “dialogic” when we engage in dialogue to, possibly, change our views from a perviously-held understanding or opinion.
Dialogizing learning is the fourth quadrant of teaching and learning with drama which is both the most challenging to address and the least common to reach. It’s easier to remain in the first three quadrants of directing/instructing, facilitating, and collaborating. But it’s important to engage students in critical dialogue to challenge their perspectives and, perhaps, to allow for transformation to take place.
In fact, dialogizing learning is probably one of the only effective means of helping people to view others’ opinions as having the potential to allow them to let go of their own ideas, something I wrote yesterday that I often struggle with. Only when people can reframe the issues they are studying and see them from new and diverse perspectives can they be expected to abandon some of the obstinance that accompanies otherwise usually rigid, single-minded views.
There are many benefits to dialogizing learning. When we encourage dialogic learning we discourage monologic learning. This is a good thing, because monologic learning is that learning that happens too often in our schools today: test prep, memorization and regurgitation of factual information, and the like. This type of learning values students’ ability to learn and spit back “old” knowledge while devaluing their ability to create “new” knowledge by collaborating effectively with others. While it is important that students learn skills and factual information, it is even more necessary that they learn to be flexible and creative in their thought processes so that when they do not know a correct answer, they are equipped with strategies to explore ways of finding out what they need to know and making new meaning.
By dialogizing learning, we:
“resist the closure, certainty, tidy conclusions, and finalizing solutions that are the hallmarks of the outcomes of ‘monologic’ learning” (p.1).
In other words, we encourage students to go past simple comprehension and even what turns out to be simple synthesis of already-existing information and push them to instead have authentic conversations and interpret the possibililities that exist in a text, factual or otherwise. Even if students create new meaning that is not factually accurate, they may at the same time deepen their understanding of the context of a story and the characters’ possible motivations. All of this will, at the very least, help students realize that understanding a text goes beyond literal comprehension of what is on a page and requires a constant, active conversation with the text. Plus, students can easily be clued into the difference between socially-constructed meaning that may not be exactly what is contained in a text and literal factual information that is (in fact, it’s the responsible thing to do to make sure students see the difference between the two!)
The idea of having a conversation with a text reminds me of the reading professional development my school district did this year. The theme of engaging in a dialogue with whatever text you are reading was one that they touched on as well; however, their dialogue was carried out individually via written annotations in the margins of texts. Later, students were engaged in discussions about what annotations they had made to make their thoughts visible to all. While this has some similarities to what I’m learning about this week in class, there are also some clear differences. For example, in dramatic inquiry, students explore texts as a group and work together to interpret possible meaning behind passages. I think that in some ways dramatic inquiry is just plain easier than independent reading. Edmiston references this too when he says:
“In everyday life imagining from other people’s positions is often more difficult than when participating in dramatized encounters. First we usually have to imagine shifting positions without actually speaking or acting as if we are another person…Second, dramatizing allows you to slow down or “rewind” and repeat interactions for deeper analysis….Third, fictional worlds are emotionally more protected spaces for young people to imagine taking intense extreme actions very different from those they would likely ever do or even contemplate e.g. kill a brother (like Claudius)…or commit suicide (like Ophelia) [in Hamlet]” (p. 3)
I have to agree with this. There are so many times in teaching at the secondary level when it seems like we have to use so many words just to express an idea that could have been acted out in seconds and been completely clear to everyone. Although sometimes it’s good to engage in whole-class discussion for the express purpose of encouraging students to be clear, concise and articulate, often I think we do students a disservice when we continue to have roundabout conversations that result in at best cloudy understanding where an active approach could result in deep comprehension and shared meaning-making.
Dialogizing learning allows the teacher to play “devil’s advocate” in order to challenge students’ pre-suppositions and push them to justify their positions. If they are unable to do so, or waver in their reasoning, these pockets of uncertainty provide windows of opportunity for transformation. While some learners take this more seriously than others, by constantly engaging in these types of active approaches and then following up such activities with asking students questions about their points of view that spur reflection and analysis, more students will likely begin to take their thought processes more seriously. I really think after my experience in class this week that most students welcome thinking on a deeper level than they do in most classes.
It could be that students are largely bored because we don’t dialogize learning with them. Likely, many would welcome a change of pace, particularly one that is mentally stimulating and exciting without the constant use of edutainment or technology. Perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of this course for me as a teacher has been the realization that, although technology is a valuable way of extending learning past the walls of the classroom, within the classroom itself, social interaction and building a community are most important thing.
Focusing on building a community is, in the long run, more effective than perfecting use of flashy power-point transitional effects or incorporation of fancy SmartBoard notebook gallery items. While some visual learners may benefit from projected presentations, I think one could argue that a visual learner would benefit even more from seeing a novel come to life right in front of them. Meanwhile, we are daily losing the students who prefer a kinesthetic approach to learning when we continue to teach in ways that are teacher-centered and fail to engage students actively.
My biggest goal to take away from this class is to increase the active, physical movement of my students in class. I truly believe that in making this one change, I will be motivated to change all sorts of other aspects of my teaching as well, and move closer to the type of teacher I always dreamed I would be!