A Dialogic Approach in Education
Last week on the 4th and 5th of October, I visited a conference called Dialogisches Prinzip in der Pädagogik organized by the BaKd and hosted by the Hoffbauer Stiftung. The conference was set in Potsdam on an island surrounded by autumn painted trees and historic red brick buildings, a truly picturesque scene.
Although I didn’t quite fit the profile of the attendees, whom all had a background in education or pedagogy and were mostly employed in schools, I found the conference’s topics very open and generally relevant. Its main theme, for example, was the principle of dialogue, which was largely based on Martin Buber’s notion of a dialogic encounter. It was being portrayed as an essential approach when working with people in an educational setting. Yet I would argue that its relevance goes beyond that as owning or embodying a dialogic approach when working with children, youths, adults and seniors is crucial in any sort of context.
There was one pedagogical method I found particularly intriguing since it can be used in a variety of settings. It was conceived by Prof. Dr. Peter Gallin and Prof. Dr. Urs Ruf and is called Dialogisches Lernen. Dr. Gallin and Dr. Ruf developed this method conjointly in the mid-1970s in Switzerland, and have been employing it ever since in schools. Starting from the essential question ‘Wie machst du es?’ which translates to ‘How do you do it?’ they developed a systemic learning process based on feedback. At the centre of this method is a notebook or ‘Journal’ as they both call it, to capture the student’s thinking processes when dealing with the school material, whether this is solving a mathematical problem or answering literary questions. The subject matter the students are dealing with is as important as the notes they are taking because it gives the teachers the possibility to understand the individual thought processes. It is Dr. Gallin and Dr. Ruf’s main concern to credit the quality of the dealt material over its correctness. For this purpose, they have even developed their own grading system. An important element of this method is that students learn to express their thoughts. And because their notebooks are regularly checked by the teacher, the students are in a direct feedback loop with them, creating a learning system based on understanding and reflection. Both teacher and students benefit from this, since teachers can immediately change their teaching processes and students learn not just dealing with material but also about other learning-based potentials like creativity, originality, adaptability and so on.
In conclusion, the two-day conference managed to give its attendees a glimpse of the possibilities that a dialogic encounter could engender within a learning environment. However, in my opinion, what the conference lacked was the essential contributions by Martina and Johannes Hartkemeyer who both added enormously to the field of dialogue in relation to pedagogy and education. Another crucial contribution, that was absent and when mentioned even misconceived as a mere method, was David Bohm’s dialogue. It would have been fascinating to listen to teachers practise dialogue with their students to further their critical, creative and collective thinking skills.
One of the conferences’ strengths, however, lay in its set up, since it encouraged small group consultation, where the attendees could exchange experiences and share their knowledge with each other. Finally and personally, I found it heart-warming to have encountered so many people trying to improve the teaching-learning process by using the dialogic approach.