Recommended: Ilana Horn’s Teaching/Math/Culture blog

I want to take the opportunity to recommend Ilana Horn Seidel’s blog, and not just because Ilana just published a post saying kind things about our book.  (But, since I mention it, she wrote an excellent summary of the book’s organizing framework — sensitivity, interpretation, repertoire and judgement — better perhaps than the original text.)  I’ve admired Ilana’s research on teacher professional discourse for a while, but had not encountered her blog before.  I’ve now spent a few hours on it and am totally hooked.  In particular, I want to recommend her posts on social status in the classroom.  This is a topic Julia and I focus on in Chapter 8 of the book (Episode 6), but we don’t delve into practical strategies for how to confront the issue in one’s teaching.  Check out this post for some of Ilana’s ideas, and this post on a commenter’s blog with the rather ingenious idea of randomly assigning students to groups (read it, it makes a lot of sense).

Listening to pupils — a conversation with members of the Dialogic Teaching, Learning and Assessment group

Julia and I had a fascinating five-way Skype conversation with Rupert Higham, Alison Whitehurst and Greta Fay from the Cambridge University organized “Dialogic Teaching, Learning and Assessment” Special Interest Group last week. The hour-long conversation focused on chapter five (“Responding to a Pupil Challenge”) of the book, and covered a lot of ground. Among the key issues we discussed:

Interpretations of Ms. Leigh’s response to William’s challenge

Our interlocutors felt that Ms. Leigh neither adequately attended to William’s ideas nor communicated to him an interest to hear his point of view. One wrote in a post before the conversation:

“I felt that Ms. Leigh’s communications – both verbal and nonverbal – when initially faced with William’s challenge were quite negative. In short, I had the distinct feeling – based on tone, verbal and nonverbal communication – that her first impulse was to shut William up as quickly as possible (and indeed, Rachel and Mary, who also wanted to join in). On the other hand, Ms. Leigh was willing to allow Ms. Forester – and to a lesser extent Harry – to speak; indeed she invited them to do so, directly asking Ms. Forester to contribute, and involving Harry by reading out the book he had given her. Because of this, I felt the dialogue was not established on the topic William introduced (the merits of the expository opening), but rather on the topic the teacher had chosen for the lesson (making openings exciting). While there clearly was a useful dialogue, I felt it was not 100% dialogic, because the uptake followed the teacher’s interest, rather than the interest expressed by the pupil who initiated the dialogue.”

Julia and I disagreed rather vigorously with this interpretation. Julia wrote, for example,

“…I don’t agree that Ms. Leigh’s communications – both verbal and nonverbal – when initially faced with William’s challenge were negative. On the contrary, I see Ms Leigh lean her ear towards William, giving the impression, visually, that she wants to hear more about his idea. And even though it appears at first that she wants to move on quickly, she stops herself, halts the task (asking Rachel and Terry to sit down) and questions William in order to better understand his point.”

So, what do we do with these conflicting interpretations? Is there any way to reconcile them? To decide which is right? One method is to look at how the people in the event are themselves interpreting what’s happening. For example, in this case, do William and the other pupils respond as if they’re being “shut up”? The available evidence would suggest the opposite.

How much contextual knowledge is necessary?

Nevertheless, we are still faced with the fact that five experienced and knowledgeable observers responded very differently to the same recording. One explanation is that we’re arriving at the data with different sets of expectations, formed by our different experiences with schools and classrooms. It’s quite possible – likely, I’d say, given how Greta, Rupert and Alison responded to the clip – that this classroom culture is somewhat unique, and it’s only because Julia and I have seen so many other lessons in this classroom that we see Ms. Leigh’s (counter) challenge to William as encouraging him. That opens a whole set of additional questions about the importance of ethnographic knowledge in interpreting video. Again, I quote Julia’s comments:

“These differences in interpretation raised for me an analytic point regarding the importance of ethnographic/contextual information in interpreting classroom interaction. How far is my own interpretation influenced by my knowledge of this classroom and by my relationship with Ms Leigh (and with the pupils)? How far are others’ interpretations influenced by their own assumptions and experiences? What might answers to these questions say about the value of short episodes of classroom interaction for teacher professional development?”

Are we misreading William’s story opening?

In what was for us the most interesting part of the conversation, Rupert and Alison reread William’s opening sentence, claiming that Ms. Leigh (and Julia and I) have not fully appreciated its literary qualities. First, a reminder of the story opening:

“Loads of people think nothing’s going to happen as they go into a tunnel. But then… and then…”

Rupert and Alison, who both come from an English literature teaching background (and therefore have a better ear for this sort of thing than I do), spoke eloquently and in detail about the merits of this opening. Here I’ve transcribed some of Rupert’s comments (you can listen to a recording of this and another four minutes of the conversation here).

“I don’t necessarily see that anyone has really picked up on his ideas. And looked to draw them out. In fact, what we have is an extended attempt to disapprove the premise of his question that there might be other useful, or engaging ways of starting a story. And, for me, the irony of that is I actually really like his idea for starting a story. I think it’s quite witty, quite ironic, quite suspenseful. And actually, the bit where I think extemporaneously Ms. Leigh tries – and very well in the circumstances – tries to create a story around that, I think actually it detracts from his entry a little bit. And I know that what she’s trying to do there is to work with him on trying to incorporate something of what she sees as his perspective, giving a bit of background detail. But actually I don’t think that she recognizes – at any point, nor does anyone [else] – that his initial suggestion has the qualities that she says that she’s looking for herself.”

Julia and I found this perspective (and the rest of his and Alison and Greta’s comments) fascinating, since we’d taken William at face value when he said that he preferred “a little bit of narration first”. How interesting. In a sense, what Rupert is suggesting, is that Ms. Leigh could have used William’s opening as an opportunity to explore ways of dropping the reader right into the action. This would have required, of course, swiftly appreciating the qualities inherent in his opening, apprehending that it was different from what he claimed, and coming up with a way to explore that with William and the rest of the class. Not easy, but certainly interesting to think about. Later in the conversation, Julia raised the question of what a SATs examiner might say about William’s opening, and I spoke about the QCA guidance for teaching story openings.

And more…

We spoke about a number of other topics, including:

  • Planning for dialogic lessons
  • The benefits and disadvantages of explicitly marking dialogic teaching as such (e.g. explaining to pupils what we’re doing and why)
  • Teaching through dialogue within current curricular and administrative constraints and pressures
  • The communicative environment outside school: where are the dialogic spaces? What are the implications of this for school?
  • The advantages and problems of dramatic confrontation

Too much to do justice to in this post, but happy to address in future. Let us know where your interests lie, and/or what you think about the above issues.

Thanks again Alison, Rupert, Greta and Julia for the brilliant and enjoyable conversation.


Where are the episode transcripts?

We’re still ironing out wrinkles with the companion website.  The videos all work fine, but the transcripts are missing.  In the meantime, we’ve added them here, each on the relevant episode page (a link can be found just below the description of the episode and commentators).

We hope you find them useful,

Adam and Julia

The book is now out!

Received an e-mail from the publisher this afternoon, though haven’t seen a physical copy yet.  The “companion website” with the videos is also live, though it still needs some polishing.  And if you want to purchase the book, you can do so here, using the discount code on this flyer.

Can’t wait to see the book, and hear what readers think.


A new job and new opportunities

After three fantastic years in the Department of Education & Professional Studies at King’s College London, I’ll be leaving at the end of January to take up the post of Associate Professor in English Language in the School of English at the University of Leeds. I’ll be joining the English Language team there, headed by new Professor in English Language, Tony Crowley, but I hope also to make links with colleagues in the School of Education and the Department of Linguistics and Phonetics – with the new Language at Leeds initiative, set up to facilitate interdisciplinary language and linguistics research, there’s plenty of scope for collaboration. I’ll be very sorry to leave my colleagues at King’s, but hope to maintain strong links with them. I’ll certainly be back there in July to teach on the Key Concepts and Methods in Ethnography, Language and Communication training course – as Adam said, there’s no better place to be than on the London South Bank in July!

Ethics, consent and masking participant identities

Dennis Kwek (National Institute of Education, Singapore), one of the guest commentators in the book, sent us the following question:

Quick ethical question: the 8 videos that were showcased in the book… when you recorded them with the teachers, did you obtain permission from them to share the videos in a public forum (like the book or the website) or was the permission obtained later on? I’m trying to work out how, if possible at all, we can use the 600+ lessons we collected for Professional Development / teacher learning. When we collected the data, we stated that the videos are confidential and will be shared only with the research team, because we did not consider how we can use the data beyond the Core coding and analysis. Now there’s increasing demand for secondary access to not just our video data but our survey and assessment data. We’re trying to work out the ethical issues for these.

One way forward for us is to contact all our teachers involved in the data collection and ask them for permission to release the videos (perhaps giving them a copy of the video to ‘vet’ first). But this is 3 years after collection, so I’m not sure if they’re still in the school or have left the service.
Would appreciate any thoughts you have on this.

This is a thorny issue.  First, regarding what we did: From the teachers we asked for permission to film for research purposes, promising complete confidentiality, but noting that we might want to use some of the video in the biweekly workshops or beyond, in which case we would seek specific permission from the teacher involved.  As for the parents, the school already had attained general parental permission that “covered” our filming, so we merely sent them a notice informing them about the research and offering them the opportunity to opt out if they so desired.  We also explained the research goals and process to the pupils, who likewise gave their consent to participate.  At the end of the year, after coming up with the idea for the book, we returned to the participating teachers, all of whom gave us blanket consent — use whatever you want — though we still showed them the specific clips to be on the safe side.

Though legally we’re covered by these arrangements, we still thought it wise to mask participant identities, by applying a “cartoonize” filter.  (Specifically, I used the free NewBlueFx Cartoonr plugin, together with Sony Moviestudio Platinum12, but the plugin works with many other video editing programmes.)  It takes some time to play around with to get it right, and every video is different so you need to tweak the filter each time.  This effect is far from perfect — you could still probably identify some of the participants if you knew them ahead of time — but it does create some distance between the representation and the actual person.  It also reduces some of the complexity of the image (less detail), which has some advantages.

My guess is that in your case it’s going to be very difficult to overcome the ethical obstacles (especially with regard to parents) for all your data, but do you need release for all the data?  Probably a couple dozen lessons will suffice for professional learning purposes.  Or, better, go collect some new data specifically for this purpose, using better equipment (the field has certainly progressed in that respect) and select teachers / topics.

I hope this helps.  I wonder what others suggest, and what have been their experiences?

Recommended: Ethnography, Language & Communication 2014 summer course

ELC Class of 2103

ELC Class of 2103

OK, I know that I’m not the most reliable source, since Julia and I are on the course team, but it’s really a fantastic course — certainly the best research methods training activity I’ve ever been involved in, as a student or tutor.  In addition to the energy and expertise of the team (Ben Rampton, Jeff Bezemer, Jan Blommaert, Carey Jewitt, Celia Roberts, alongside Julia and me), the course always attracts excellent students and post-doctoral researchers, from around the world, and from a broad range of disciplinary and professional fields.  Finally, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than on the London South Bank in July.  Hope to see you there.


Comments are now available

I think I’ve figured out how to turn commenting on on all new posts.  (If you can see a comment field on this post it’s working.)  Feel free to leave a note, or write to us directly.  In order to avoid spam, we’re moderating all comments, so it may take a little while for your comment to appear — unless your comment is about how you make $5000 dollars a day surfing the internet, or need our bank account details to get money out of Nigeria, in which case we may delete it.

We look forward to hearing from you.


Getting close!



It looks like this long slog — we completed the book proposal almost four years ago — is close to completion.  We have finished the analysis, the writing, eliciting and commenting on commentaries, the artwork, copyright, revising the title (more times than I can count), the proof-reading, the video anonymisation, the index, the web-site — we’ve finally arrived at the marketing stage.  I’m pleased to present the following flyer, which includes a code for 20% discount.  Tell your friends, colleagues and librarians.  The book will follow soon!


About the ‘continuing the conversation’ page

In this section we invite readers to add their voices to the conversation about the epidodes, dialogic pedagogy classroom practice, and teacher learning. Let us and others know what you think. Send us your comments and we will post them, along with our thoughts, once a week.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Adam and Julia