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From dialectic to dialogic

Rupert Wegerif

pp. 201-221

In this chapter I put forward a dialogic theory of education that focuses on the process of drawing children into those kind of relationships that help them to see things from other points of view. I contrast this theory to Wertsch and Kazak's Vygotsky-Shpet perspective which gives a central role to mediating cultural objects such as sign-tools. I argue that while tools can be important, the quality of the learning relationship is more fundamental. I begin by distinguishing Bakhtin's dialogic perspective from Vygotsky's more dialectic perspective. While dialectic can look like dialogic it is different in not respecting the essential otherness of the other and so ends by subsuming the other into the development of the self. I then offer a critique of the Vygotsky subject-tool-object mediation triangle. For an object to serve as a 'sign-tool" presupposes a prior relationship between people within which signs can be interpreted as having a meaning. The significance of this is then illustrated in a re-analysis of the same episodes of classroom talk that Wertsch and Kazak analyze in their earlier chapter. Whereas their analysis claims to show the importance of the graph-paper as a cultural tool engaging learners at different levels of understanding my re-analysis suggests that they learnt to understand how to use the graph paper through the careful establishment of intersubjectivity both in teacher led sessions and in small group work. I conclude that while learning how to use pre-existing cultural tools is one aspect of education it is too limited a perspective to serve as a general theory of education. By contrast the more truly dialogic theory of education that I propose shows how children can learn to think, learn to learn and learn to be creative through the process of being drawn into dialogue where dialogue is not only considered as a means to constructing knowledge but also as an end in itself.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-7582-9_12

Full citation:

Wegerif, R. (2011)., From dialectic to dialogic, in T. Koschmann (ed.), Theories of learning and studies of instructional practice, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 201-221.

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