Dialogue at school


Conversation is a process of coming to an understanding. Hans-Georg Gadamer

"Let's go to Peter Jaros!"


"What did he write?"


"Mi- ...?"


"Mille- ...?"


"Millenial b-...?"


This is what a section from a conversation in a Slovak high school looks like. This particular one pursued diagnostic goals and took place in the solemn circumstances of a graduation exam. The dialogue as a whole was not a demonstration of live communication. It is easy to imagine on what communicative level it took place. It would certainly have been perceived as cumbersome and one-sided. You can be sure that there was no reasoned disagreement or witty polemic. After the results were announced, there were hugs and expressions of gratitude.

There are also excellent conversations in the classrooms. In them, young people reflect on what they have learned, how they are doing in their studies, how well they can think about what they have learned, how they have improved their understanding of what they have learned, and how they are able to use what they have learned in practice. The dialogue in the solemn shade of the green table is unique in some ways. It is the last conversation between two people talking together as teacher and pupil - the topic and course of the conversation being determined by those in official roles as educational authorities. Of course, we expect them to communicate at a high level not only interpretively - in order to teach something - but also diagnostically - in order to identify what has been learned. At the same time, we expect the educational authority in the school to be able to conduct the conversation in such a way as to help demonstrate the cognitive level of the pupils: what they have learned to know and in what quality in a particular context, what they can reason about and communicate at what level. Thus, the uniqueness of the final dialogue is also in the fact that it is supposed to be the best quality of what pupils and teachers are able to accomplish through communication. Unless this dialogue is preceded by a consistent and high quality - both teaching and diagnostic - dialogue experience, one can hardly expect a high level of communication.

In the light of such expectations, it is necessary to demand that the dialogue - if it is to be a valid means of final assessment - should be a frequent method in school, which can improve the quality of pupils' performance in different life situations and improve the ways in which they can solve specific problems. After all, conversation is a common way of everyday interpersonal contact and problem solving; it is still the most frequent mode of human communicative activity. This is why conversation in school should be seen as an articulated communicative dimension through which both speech and pupils' thinking can be developed - it is still true that speech is a tool for thinking and by developing speech we develop thinking. In school practice, this means, in the first place, creating lively learning situations, putting pupils into them purposefully, so that they try to carry the cognitive burdens they are likely to carry in the future. In learning situations, therefore, pupils need to be placed in concrete life circumstances and faced with situationally defined problems, the solution of which is carried out dialogically. For example, it might look like this:

  • Imagine you're in the school cafeteria and you're waiting in line for lunch. Behind you is a girl - a pupil in the next class. The girl is talking rudely to a classmate. Make contact with the girl so as to bring about a change in her language. (2 - 6 lines)
  • Think of a dialogue between two neighbours immediately after one's child has damaged the window of the other's car. Consider the characters in different moods. Begin the conversation by having one of the characters ring the other's doorbell. Act out the conversation you have created.
  • Imagine that you are a participant of a company party. Your spouse is attending the party with you. Prepare and present in writing an introduction text that you should say when you first meet your supervisor. (3-4 sentences)
  • Consider a dialogue between the principal/manager and a subordinate employee who is repeatedly late for work. Write down five appropriate questions for the principal to use in the text of the dialogue. Present the prepared dialogue.
  • In pairs, prepare and act out a conversation between a teacher and a pupil whose interest in class has dropped significantly. End the conversation with encouragement (10-14 lines).
  • In pairs, prepare and perform a dialogue between a teacher and a pupil in a final examination in a mother or foreign language. Choose two extracts from literary works and make them the topic of the dialogue. Conclude the dialogue by assessing the pupil's ability to respond to questions about the literary work (duration of the dialogue: 5-7 minutes).

The last two learning situations extend beyond both primary and secondary school environments. They can be read as examples of exercises that prepare future teachers for classroom communication. Mastering the different variants of both teaching and diagnostic talk should be understood as part of a teacher's cognitive and communicative equipment, which can apply different strategies in a controlled way in dialogues - motivational (encouraging), formative (influencing), explorative (helping to discover), explicative (explaining), diagnostic (finding out) or evaluative (assessing).

Among all strategies, the dialogue has a special place, the task of which is to ascertain the degree of cognitive development of a person. This is not exclusively a conversation to be held in the green gloom of formal tables. It would be excellent if we had teachers in Slovak schools who can - in the full breadth of their professional communication - purposefully formulate quality questions, for example, those that encourage pupils, help them to understand something better or discover something. High-quality diagnostic questions are exceptional in that they allow for expert observation of the quality of pupils' expression and construction of ideas. On the basis of this observation, the extent of their cognitive development can be determined more objectively. If teachers were able to do this competently, they could use the findings to promptly guide the development of the dialogue to help pupils demonstrate what they can do mentally and communicatively, less what they cannot remember. At the same time, it can be assumed that pupils might perform better if the final diagnostic dialogue was preceded by a set of classroom dialogues in which a variety of questions were asked. Such dialogues would certainly not come across as one-sided or cumbersome, but could be the demonstrable result of pupils' good work with the information, a demonstration of their more complex knowledge, examples of reasoned opinions, well-founded doubts or cultivated refusals. Such communicative experiences could then indeed be an objective reason for gratitude after the pupil's last school dialogue with the teacher.

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Karel Dvořák PhD. – DaCoSiDe expert tasked with the creation of A2/B1-level methodological guidelines and certification tools


AUSTIN, John Langshaw. 2004. Ako niečo robiť slovami. Bratislava : Kalligram. 184 p. ISBN 80-7149-659-6

GADAMER, Hans-Georg. 2004. Truth and Method. London : Continuum. 601 p. ISBN 08264 7697

RIMBAUD, Jean Arthur. 1983. V Zelenej krčmičke. O piatej večer. In STACHO, Ján. Preklady. Bratislava : Slovenský spisovateľ. s. 91.