Protocols for improving teachers’ conversations

An important premise for knowledge creation through dialogue is that ideas, beliefs and feelings have to be explicit and available for exploration (Earl & Timperley, 2009). In other words, teachers must be courageous to let others comment on their incomplete ideas and have their own conclusions mirrored in the conclusions of others (Mercer & Dawes, 2008). This is about teachers giving each other space in the conversation, meeting each other as a “you” (Buber, 1992), in a climate characterized by tmst and acceptance. Group members have to pay attention to which conversation characteristics open up and which ones close further exploration. Careful listening, asking questions, asking follow-up questions and including others’ perspectives in the conversation are all relevant skills and features to develop and continually assess. Without these conversation characteristics, exploration may collapse and lead to something other than potential new insights.

Protocols for conversations (of which there are several), can be resources for the teachers. One example is the Cambridge Oracy Assessment Toolkit developed by Mercer, Warwick and Ahmed (2017). It was designed for improving student talk in schools, but it is also relevant for professionals at work. The toolkit includes assessment tasks and procedures for use by teachers together with a unique oracy framework for identifying the range of skills involved in using talk in any specific social situation. There are four strands of oracy described in the framework: physical, linguistic, cognitive, and social and emotional. The third area, cognitive, is made up of the following skills:


7 Content:

a a choice of content to convey meaning and intention, b building on the views of others

8 Clarifying and summarizing:

a seeking information and clarification through questioning, b summarizing

9 Self-regulation:

a maintaining focus on task, b time management

10 Reasoning:

a giving reasons to support views, b critically examining ideas and views expressed.

These are the skills that teachers teach then pupils to use, but they are also essential skills to be practised during teachers’ exploratory talk and discussions during lesson study cycles regardless of which phase you are in.

The fourth dimension in the oracy framework is also relevant and can be developed by groups of teachers when deciding what their group norms of conversations should be:

Social and emotional

11 Working with others:

a guiding or managing the interactions, b nun-taking

12 Listening and responding:

a listening actively and responding appropriately

13 Confidence in speaking:

a self-assurance, b liveliness and flair

14 Audience awareness

a taking account of level of understanding of the audience.

A simple online search for “protocol + lesson study” will identify many protocols developed for use within lesson study groups. Many of the protocols are concerned with the phases of lesson study, but some are also more oriented towards the quality of talk that goes on within conversations.

Thinking point 2

Do you use a protocol for norms of conversations in your lesson study group? How does the protocol help you explore your own thinking in your group? Which other protocols may be interesting for you to try out and why?

Engaging in critical conversations about pedagogical practice

However, merely making thoughts public and allowing them to stand side by side as equals is not sufficient for shared knowledge development. In lesson study discussions, this means that teachers should not only introduce multiple perspectives on the namre of the practical task, but they must also be willing to discuss their differing perspectives in a ciitical manner. They need to constantly assume that there is actually a better argument. This is what critical thinking entails, according to Dewey (1933). Teachers should maintain a state of doubt as they carry on systematic inquiry. When teachers engage in such critical discussions, they actively challenge each other’s statements and do not simply engage in consensus-seeking behaviours. If teachers in their exploration do not look critically at the rationale behind the conclusions they drew together, the conversations may be limited to sanctifying “the good conversation”, with the aim of the conversation being more of maintaining harmony than knowledge development (Lovlie, 1994, p. 21).

Thinking point 3

How can you take care of a good relationship with your colleague and at the same time give resistance to statements, arguments and perspectives?

What are some challenges you may face?

That conversations between teachers have a potential for knowledge development is documented in previous research. In a Norwegian context, Helstad and Lund (2012) have found that investigative negotiations in particular, where disagreements are expressed and challenged, can serve to promote knowledge development. These findings are also confirmed by international research in the field (see for instance Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006).

Identify relevant perspectives needed to address the task at hand

Figure 7.1 Identify relevant perspectives needed to address the task at hand

However, research also shows that challenging each other in conversations can be difficult. Nemeth (2018) proposes the need to cherish dissent. Having a designated “devil’s advocate” in a group is often suggested as a way to make sme there is some dissent in a group. But if this person does not represent true dissent, the critical issues brought up are easily overlooked. For a group to truly engage in critical discussions, a multitude of perspectives is needed.

In our case example, the group of teachers discussing students’ engagement in learning vocabulary appeared to arrive at a consensus quickly. There was not much they could do but ask the students to study harder. This group probably landed in a rut where a pattern in their conversations had developed that allowed perspectives to be shared without deeper exploration. This did not have a driving effect on their knowledge development (Kvam, 2018a, 2018b). It can be challenging to ask ciitical questions about colleagues’ conceptions of their practices, and perceived time pressures may emphasize the need for conclusions in schools rather than explorations. In some cases, it can be helpful for a group to draw a simple diagram such as the one in Figure 7.1 and to agree on some relevant perspectives that are needed to investigate a problem area or the nature of a task.

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