Speak, but let others too


Educators never rest. Through their looking glass they focus on this and that. At times, it pays to have narrow focus, for learning gets intense and in-depth. Generally, an inclusive point of view appears liberal, but it tends to fitter away energy. The holistic model might truly get whole, if it allows a two-way communication. From Veda-s to Greek philosophers, a dialogue between the curious and the wise has unfolded the mysteries of universe and existence. Many have tried to emulate it in parts. David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett among others are proponents for application of Dialogue. Proposed below is one more look at this approach.

Dialogue Based Wholistic Model

This model called Dialogue Based Pedagogy of teacher education is powerful and relevant for correcting a fragmented society. Dialogue creates a wholistic pedagogy that works against the approach of reductionism.

The holistic world view has its roots in the new physics, systems thinking and ecology, and perennial philosophy. Some of the sample assumptions are that thought is a product of brain-activity; rather the universe is more like a thought than a thing. One more illustration of the assumption is reasoning is not the highest skill possessed by humans; rather reason and intuition are equally valuable skills. There are a few more assumptions about other aspects of learning and training.

In a dialogue, the classroom is envisioned as a site where new knowledge, grounded in the experiences of students and teachers alike, is produced through meaningful interaction. Dialogue involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then back to theory.

What Is Dialogue?

The dictionary defines ‘Dialogue’ as a conversation between two or more people and also as an exchange of opinion or ideas. Dialogue is a famous and an old technique of communication. Dialogue has been used by thinkers of the East and West, like Socrates, Martin Buber, Paulo Freire, David Bohm, J. Krishnamurti, etc. Martin Buber has also made a significant contribution to the use of encounters and dialogue in education. David Bohm– the eminent physicist and friend of Krishnamurti, whose example and practical proposals for dialogue have met a response from a number of different areas- but particularly from those like Peter Senge. The notion of dialogue has been linked as an educational manifestation by Paulo Freire.

Core idea of dialogue is a process of sharing your ideas in a safe and happy environment. Dialogue aims at learning about self and also about other’s beliefs, feelings, interests, and/or needs in a non-adversarial and an open way. Although the participants may challenge ideas or raise questions, the goal is to create understanding rather than debate with each other. The emphasis is on deep listening. The bottom line is that dialogue must result into some productive outcomes. Literature says that dialogue is skillful exchange or interaction between people that develops shared understanding as the basis for building trust, fostering a sense of ownership, facilitating genuine agreement, and enabling creative problem solving. Dialogue has various connotations ranging from opposing adversary culture to nurturing culture. We may know about debate, conversation, and discussions that are used in education. But we must understand that all these techniques have their special purpose and varying meanings. Let us understand a few of them.

Dialogue and Discussion

Dialogue is something different from discussion. Discussion has its roots in analysis and breaking the ideas. Discussion is based upon analysis whereas dialogue gives importance to synthesis. A discussion is usually between people who have adopted definite points of view and who wish to convince each other or compare their outlooks. Dialogue is more of listening but discussion is more of speaking. Dialogue demands and uses the art of deeper listening.

Discussion is a multi-way communication with a view to arrive at win-lose outcomes. Discussion involves advocacy, competing, convincing, and then deciding by votes or otherwise. Dialogue aims at win-win outcomes. In dialogue, people learn to listen not only to the spoken words but all facets of the views of others in their context. Dialogue is exploring for full synthesis and not necessarily for quick agreement. In dialogue people are supposed to create new understandings which are ‘explicitly critical’ and aim at action.

Debate is not dialogue but dialogue can use debate. Dialogue is neither chat, nor gossiping, nor information sharing, nor even a small talk carried out with an intention of entertaining, exchanging friendship, and nor even a process of seeking an agreement but rather dialogue is a process of exploration for construction of harmony, cooperation, understanding, and creativity.

Dialogue and Conversation

Conversation is different from dialogue. Conversation is a comfortable talk. Conversation looks like a small talk between friends or neighbors. Topics of conversation are comfortable and fluid. Conversation can be used as an exercise of building relationship. In conversation, the participants engage themselves on any subject matter. Seriousness of topic is less important compared to building social relationship. Conversation takes the form of a gossip if it is prolonged and is without any purpose. A happy thing is that conversation entails concern, trust, respect, appreciation, affection and hope. But dialogue is much more serious and is applied for chronic problems.

Let us know that there are many shades of dialogue. We have five kinds of dialogues, namely Instructional dialogue, Debate dialogue, Conversation dialogue, Inquiry dialogue, and Wisdom dialogue. The Wisdom Dialogue is a process of sharing and learning about another group’s beliefs, feelings, interests, and/or needs in a non-adversarial, open way, usually with the help of a facilitator. The Wisdom Dialogue is skillful exchange or interaction between people that develops shared understanding as the basis for building trust, fostering a sense of ownership, facilitating genuine agreement, enabling creative problem solving, and asking basic questions for examining old mental models. The emphasis is on “deep” listening and responding by building on what has been said in order to reach a deeper level of understanding together.

Guidelines for Organizing Dialogue

Dialogue aims at building trust amongst the involved parties. Trust cannot be built by giving instructions. We need to create a culture that must reflect the goal of creating a setting in which individuals feel that it is safe to reveal the thinking behind their thinking. A feeling of mutual closeness is generated among the participants though they may differ widely in various things – views, line of thinking, way of doing things, the belief system and so on.

In dialogue one must be enabled to examine and cleanse one self as regards prejudices, restrictive belief systems, non productive mental models etc. She/he achieves this by listening to the spoken words of others and to self. The aim is not to arrive at a consensus or unification of ideas but to enable oneself to look at ones mental models.

Rules for Organizing Dialogue

· Dialogue members in a group can vary; number can be anything around 10 to 40 so that we can hear each other without mike and speakers.

· Seating arrangement is circular so that everyone can see everyone else.

· Time duration for the dialogue meetings can be according to our convenience with all kinds of flexibility.

· Communication is informal and language is simple. How to talk when there is no hierarchical structure in the group?

· How to start a dialogue? How to stay focused? How to save a situation when safety is at risk? How to speak and avoid persuasion? How to turn ideas into habits?

· How to select the topic? Agenda is self chosen where there is personal concern so that there is full motivation and involvement.

· Who plays the role of a chairperson especially when all the members are equal?

· Decisions and outcomes are dynamic and evolving.

Art of Using Dialogue

· In an environment of dialogue, all the participants freely share their views and thoughts in an informal and safe setting. Following questions are seriously considered.

· How to manage someone who is talking too much?

· How to use talking stick for controlled talking?

· How to overcome hesitation and shyness?

· How to cultivate the culture of care, execute symbolic conduct, and improve generative life?

· How to learn the art of deep listening?

· How to avoid looking at someone so that there is no visual conflict?

· How to avoid yes-but game?

· How to avoid anger, conflict, confrontation, pressurizing, too much advocacy, prevailing over the views of others?

· How to avoid external manipulation and unnecessary flattery?

· How to check our assumptions, mental models and buried belief systems?

· How to create trust amongst members?

· How to ensure the plans and programs of development of structural support?

· How to learn five disciplines – Personal Mastery, Shared Vision, Mental Models, Team Learning, & Systems Thinking through dialogue?

· How can Dialogue be used in al kinds of formal, nonformal, and informal learning environment?

Using Dialogue in Teacher Education

Firstly, let us understand a formal teaching-learning in a classroom situation. Formal environment represents strictness of formalities and it consists of fixed goals, pre-determined curriculum, formal teaching-learning processes, standard procedures of evaluation, market driven certifications, business rules of private management, and dominance of state level bureaucracy. Many of these formalities do not allow the free use of dialogue for teaching-learning. Some of the examples of formal environment can be: (i) face to face learning in a formal classroom, and (ii) distance mode learning and evaluation of curricular subjects. The teacher educators have to negotiate the formal conditions for bringing in the much useful technique of innovation like dialogue. We must understand that it is not easy to use dialogue in formal situations.

Secondly, let us understand the situation of a nonformal teaching-learning environment. Dialogue can be used in the settings of life-long learning and continuing learning through the modes of conferences, seminars, lectures and discussions. We know that one can learn through the informal mode. We know that the brain learns through all kinds of formal, nonformal, and informal environments. In order to arrive at a new kind of education, we must learn the use of dialogue in an informal environment.

Using Dialogue in a Formal Setting

Formal education is working in very tight jackets. Formal classroom is curriculum-bound. There are boundaries of space, timings, seating arrangements, and even the nature of evaluation. Formal classroom imposes many constraints against the use of dialogue learning. And it is here that dialogue kind of learning is essential to overcome the defects in teacher education. Some innovative work like collaborative learning, group learning, and cooperative learning is going on.

Apart from the use of dialogue in school environment, some other experiments are going on at the university stage. Further, an experiment is in progress at Vanasthali in Rajasthan where dialogue is being tried out with B.Ed. students. Results of Vanasthali experiment are encouraging. Inspired by such outcomes another teacher educator of ILVA College of Education in Indore has launched a similar experiment. We may try a new pedagogy in a full fledged teacher education program.

Steps for Organizing Dialogue in Formal Classrooms

There cannot be fixed patterns and steps for organizing dialogue in the classroom setting. The following can be the steps of using dialogue in a classroom setting. These steps are- Orientation about Dialogue, Deciding Groups, Declaring Topic and Questions, Disseminating Findings, Drawing Synthesis, Directing Reflection, and Evaluation of Learning Outcomes.

· Step1 – Orientation about Dialogue – the teacher sets the stage for the Dialogue by making a quick presentation about the finer details of this approach. Clarifications, if any, are made at this stage.

· Step2 – Deciding Groups – during this step all the students are divided into groups based on the number present. All the students sit comfortably close to one another in a circle, where everyone is able to see and hear peer individuals with ease.

· Step3 – Declaring Topic and Questions – the groups are formed and the members are seated in their respective sub-groups. The teacher presents the dialogue questions related to the learning topic of the day on the board. Time is allotted for each question. Then dialogue proceeds in such a way that every student is active. Every student is enabled to participate. A cyclic mode may be used for ensuring equal participation. The participation is loud enough so that it can be heard but low enough so that other groups are not disturbed. The teacher acts as a facilitator.

· Step 4 – Disseminating Findings – this step takes about 15% of the total classroom period. Each sub-group of the class presents their discussion to the larger group. The students finish the task of dialogue presentation.

· Step5 – Drawing Synthesis – this step takes about 20% of the total time where the groups synthesize the findings of all the questions. The learning principles are drawn. One uses the pedagogy of constructivism to create specific knowledge.

· Step6 – Directing Reflection – this step takes about 15% of the total time and the students in their respective groups reflect on the findings and the points that have been synthesized, which emerged as a result of dialogue among group members. It also churns the minds of the students and new ideas are generated. This is the end of Stage 1 of Dialogue Mode.

· Step7 – Evaluation of Learning Outcomes– this step is about the evaluation of learning outcomes. It is a crucial step for knowing and certifying the utility of the dialogue. Formative evaluation is carried out by the peers and the teacher-educator. Formative evaluation is fearless and constructive. They apply the principle of politeness. There is neither fear nor fight. The summative evaluation is the ultimate touchstone for the utility of the dialogue method. It could use various tools and techniques. One can use multiple evaluators.

The above activities have shown the path for the use of dialogue in formal settings of given timetables, given space settings, given subject allocations, and even culture of noisy environment. We found that the dialogue group students were proactive. Students did self study. Students participated in their own evaluation. They also gave feedback to each other. Volunteers from each group were present for the synthesis. After these presentations, the participating students reflected and expressed their feelings. This process came to an end after all the groups presented their synthesized recommendations of that day.

Conclusions about Dialogue

· Institutional leaders need to view a teacher education institution with integrative perspective: (i) educational uses formal-nonformal-informal systems; (ii) wholistic learning is brain-based, and (iii) art of dialogue is group learning.

· Dialogue is skillful exchange or interaction between people that develop shared understanding as the basis for building trust, fostering a sense of ownership, facilitating genuine agreement, and enabling creative problem solving.

· Teacher education must introduce the use of dialogue as a full fledged model of teacher education or at least as a component-innovation.

· Dialogue can be used by all stakeholders of education in a variety of settings like partners of formal, nonformal, and informal systems. The formal system will include school systems and teacher education colleges. The nonformal system may include seminars and conferences. The informal system will include family settings, recreation groups, traveling groups.

· Regarding topics of dialogue, one can use subject-topics and/or informal interdisciplinary contents from life problems

· The outcome of dialogue will be both cognitive development and the development of affective domain. When action is followed by do-able projects, then psychomotor domain too is covered

· In order to implement dialogue in teacher education institutions we need to develop a format of lesson plans and observation tools and give it a judicious place within the section of practice teaching

· Use of dialogue needs flexibility and patience on the part of trainers.

· We have found that the dialogue can be employed in many other kinds of situations related to teacher education- (i) developmental staff meetings, (ii) parents meetings for eliciting cooperation, (iii) students’ meetings for improving learning environment, (iv) community & management for involvement, and (v) organizing conferences & holding seminars for capacity building of teacher educators and researchers.

About Dr. BK Passi

Dr. BK Passi has 40 years of experience in research, training and consultancy in government-institutions, UNESCO, UNDP, OECD, International Universities, and corporate bodies. Prof. Passi has been Rector of University, and then Vice-chairman of NCTE India. He has worked as UNESCO CHAIR of distance teacher education, and Consultant in APEID Bangkok. Now, he is Consultant to IITE, Moscow. Professor Passi has received the recognition for the Life Time Achievement Award in Teacher Education, Best-Social-Scientist Award, World Award of Education – citations for Illustrious Scientific Career and Valuable Work for the Benefit of Mankind – World Council, and the Fulbright Scholar. He has been a creator of innovations, founder of institutions and implementer of programs. His original contributions have won him the nick-name “Father of Microteaching”. He has authored many books and Passi Creativity Tests. He has researched in Futures Studies, Models of Teaching, Research Surveys, Distance Education, ICT, and Learning Organizations. He is the President of All India Association for Educational Research. He worked as an expert for Thinking Skills and technology in Asia, Europe, and America. He is the member of the Governing Board of dozens of institutions, organizations, and associations.



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2 responses to “Speak, but let others too

  1. A K Awasthi

    Well-written ,Dr Passi.
    I do share the views expressed by you. Dialogue, no doubt, adds to our experience,learning, exposure, power of reflection, imagination, patience, respect for others and training in co-existence. It was dialogue that was one of the methods used in ancient gurukuls though different from the ‘dialogue’ that was practised in Plato’s Academy.The non-formal manner of education open up minds and natural quality of leadership, initiative comes to the fore.
    But the woe is that we are forced to follow the old rotten guided syllabus, which creates the feeling of repulsion rather than attraction among students, who do not get the desired training but they somehow ‘pass’ and start aspiring for ‘job’. How will they fare?

  2. Anamika Rajput

    Although in present scenario human civilization lives under mechanization; use of I.C.T. in education is as important as love (quoting Prof.Passi ) but still it should serve as a tool of empowerment for teachers not as their master. However, Technology is being projected as master who wish to devalue self-motivation of teachers.

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