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As it became evident from the previous discussion on the sequence of instruction, the teacher-classroom (T-Cl) dialogue plays a very important role in the learning process the teacher is organising in the classroom. There is quite a lot of research on the importance of the classroom dialogue in the development of thinking skills.

A very remarkable difference was traced in the quality of the dialogue between expert and non expert teachers (see Fig 7).
The quality was measured by three criteria discovered in different literature on the role of a dialogue in a thinking classroom:

  1. Nr of students involved in a dialogue;
  2. Nr of seconds given as a ‘think time’;
  3. Treatment of students replies.


  Expert teachers Non expert teachers
Nr of students involved in a dialogue 4 and more 1-2
Nr of seconds given as 'think time'  4-9 ?
Treatment of students faulty replies

a) Seeking clarification for tracing source of mistake

b) Providing example to make Ss aware of faulty reasoning

a) Verbal rejection

b) Instant involvement of another student in correcting his/her classmate

Figure 7. Quality of a Dialogue: Expert Teachers vs Non-Expert Teachers


The question mark that is placed in Fig 7 for ‘waiting time’ of non expert teachers means that it is difficult to count this time in those cases, when the dialogues are hold with 1 or 2 students. Another point is that a teacher can wait even 10 seconds but if he expects the answer “2+2=4” then do we really speak about ‘thinking time’ in the sense we understand this phrase?

What are the possible reasons for such a difference? I assume that very often novice TA teachers keep strongly in mind only the framework, forgetting to pay attention to such an important aspect as classroom interaction.

I would also like to connect this point on the dialogue with the previous one discussed above. As you remember, the dialogue is a form of providing help on the produced result (i.e. make aware of the problem and offer thinking models). The questions which are often asked during this dialogue are so called open questions: Why? How? In what way?, etc. They allow variations in the answer. If there is nothing to discuss, then probably the task a teacher gave to students is not ‘problematic’ or challenging, it’s more knowledge-based so there is nothing to discuss. And a teacher is ‘not interested’ in students’ reasoning. So, when planning a lesson, a teacher can use a dialogue planning stage as a criteria for checking whether the task being offered will require any solution building or not.

The following video excerpt from a lesson of an expert teacher is supposed to illustrate the second point. This is a lesson of Russian as a mother tongue in form 8. The translation of what is being said is provided in the transcript.

In order to contrast the difference in the quality of the dialogue of an expert and a non expert teacher I am presenting below the comparative overview of the dialogues of two teachers (one from the video above and the second one - a transcript of a dialogue of a non expert teacher).


EXPERT TEACHER  ......  NON EXPERT TEACHER ..................................................................
T     Please, read the topic of our today’s talk and explain the reason why it has been offered to you. Why does the teacher offer you this topic for today’s lesson?  

Let us specify, why we need these questions?


00:14-00:27 waiting time

    [is not calling any specific student]
There are more hands. Thank you, Ksenya, I see. Thank you.   Class  [in one voice] In order to find new parameters.
  00:33 – 00:43 waiting time   T [confirmative tone] In order to find new parameters.
T [calling a student] Rita. You know that I first ask those who don’t raise a hand.   T Tell me, how the work with these questions will help you to find new parameters?      
S1  I think this topic is offered to us today because we have studied ellipses […] but we haven’t covered everything on this topic yet.     [is not calling any specific student]
T Do you mean that this is a part of the topic that we have been studying for several lessons?   S1 [volunteers] We see similarities.
S1 Well…yes.   T Similarities in what? 
T Who does NOT agree?   S1 We reply the questions and compare the result.
  [calling a student] Marina.   T Absolutely right. We have to compare if we want to find the parameters. We describe one element, another one and as a result find the parameters.

I think that on the previous lesson we were describing our problems and we found out that we still don’t know a lot of things. Probably that is the reason we will study ellipses again. 

   T What do we have to compare? Where exactly are you looking for similarities? 
T [calling a student] Ksenya.     [is not calling any specific student]
S3 I think we will study ellipses because we use it very often so have to know it properly.    S1 [volunteers] Highlighted words.
T Please, explain your idea. What do you mean ‘we use it often’?    T  Exactly, highlighted words and word phrases.
S3 In our essays.    T What else? Look at the questions. Where else can we find similarities or differences?

I haven’t noticed that. Don’t know. Then maybe you should say ‘I use it often’.
A short remark. You actually do not use ellipsis often in your writings.

So do you mean that on the previous lessons we were talking about ellipsis? Our object of inquiry was ellipsis?

    [is not calling any specific student]
T [calling a student] Polina.    S2 [volunteers] parts of speech
S4 The task says ‘we continue our inquiry’. So maybe there will be something new about ellipsis.     T  Parts of speech of what?
T Let’s avoid too general words like ‘something new’. We’ll define the aim later. I am interested now why this topic appeared.    S2 …of words or word phrases.
T [calling a student] Lada.    T Of the highlighted word or word phrase. In a word phrase we will always have one main word and we can define its part of speech. 
S5 You said that we were studying ellipsis but in fact we were focused on the choice between a dot [.] and an ellipsis […]. And now it is clearer for us when to use a dot but it is not so clear with an ellipsis.       

I remind you that when you reply you, you speak only about yourself. ‘This is clear for me and this is not clear so I can assume that my classmates may have problems as well”
Are there any other ideas on your part?

General analysis:
  • Total number of students involved in a dialogue: 5
  • Waiting time: 10-13 seconds
  • Treatment of students replies: Neutral acceptance, asking for clarification
  • Quality of students replies: full sentences
  General analysis:
  • Total number of students involved in a dialogue: 2 and one all-class reply
  • Waiting time: less than 3 seconds
  • Treatment of students replies: Immediate verbal acceptance with affirmative tone, asking for clarification
  • Quality of students replies: short word phrases



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