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D is for Dialogue, internal and otherwise

Self: So if I write this as an internal dialogue, is it really a monologue?

I: And if there are three internal speakers, is dialogue actually the word to use?

Me: But loads of people use dialogue for conversation between more than two speakers don’t they?

Self: Back up, back up, why on earth do we want to talk about this word anyhow? We should start there.

Me: Right, right. Ok. Why do we want to talk about “dialogue”? I? You seem to have some ideas about that.

I: Two reasons. First, I keep saying that my teaching style is “dialogical”. I want to unpack that a bit. Second, I’ve got this conference paper on dialogue in children’s books teaching the Bible and theology, and I think more research in that area could be interesting.

Self: Hmm. Ok, so let’s talk about the teaching style thing first.

Me: Well, what do we mean when we say our teaching style is dialogical? What does an ideal classroom look like when teaching is dialogical?

I: That’s just it. An ideal dialogical classroom is not ideal at all in many ways.

Self: Yeah, everybody talks at once, lesson plans go out the window in the first five minutes, and the same idea gets hashed over so much it is dead by the time class is over.

Me: But that just means that the ideal dialogical classroom is different from other ideal classrooms.

I: Sometimes I think it should actually be the DIOBOLICAL classroom, instead of the DIALOGICAL classroom.

Self: Ha!

Me: Don’t interrupt. An ideal dialogical classroom is one with a small enough class (possibly fewer than 15 people in the room) to have a real conversation about the topic to be covered. A real conversation involves people listening well to one another, not just formulating their own fixed response to the points being made. It also involves a lot of preparation by everyone involved, not just the teacher. And teachers in this case are really facilitators.

I: But that is most of the problem isn’t it? No one prepares adequately. I might be prepared as the teacher or facilitator, but if no one else is prepared then everything goes sideways.

Self: Does it actually go sideways or just in random non-predicted directions?

Me: That’s the other thing about dialogical teaching. We need to be prepared for the unexpected, and allow things to go sideways if sideways is where the conversation goes.

I: I guess the thing I find frustrating is when it feels like I’m doing all the heavy lifting and things actually don’t so much go sideways as nowhere. Sideways could be interesting. Nowhere is not.

Self: Yeah and in all those conversation books, the adult or teacher manages to keep things going, either by telling the children or students when to stop being ridiculous, or by giving the information in the actual lesson.

I: No, not always, there’s that one book where Mother and Mary are discussing what Mary has read. Those are more like the ideal Me described. Plus there’s only the two characters. But the adults in those books do direct conversations pretty obviously. Can teachers ever direct conversation?

Me: Why not? If a teacher is a facilitator, then the facilitator’s job is to keep conversation going and keep it going in the agreed direction. The trick is getting an openly agreed upon direction, instead of the facilitator having a secret agenda direction.

Self: Hmmm. We need to think about this more. Can we actually have a dialogical teaching style in a large classroom setting?

I: And can I actually say my preferred style is dialogical?

Me: What about those conversational books? Do they provide guidance for this kind of teaching, or is it all about adult coercion?

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Talking about reading

Last weekend was Thanksgiving here in Canada. I went to camp to staff a senior high/college age retreat weekend. This is something I’ve been doing for many years. At camp on this weekend, campers and staff are encouraged to sit with a variety of people. In attempting this, I ended up having a variety of conversations about books over meals. I also talked about books at other times on the weekend. I knew many of the campers at the weekend because they’d participated in the camp’s leader-in-training program, which I direct. From our interactions before last weekend, most of the campers knew I like to read. So we talked books. (When I write this blog, former LITs are often the audience I have in mind.) Here are a few snippets of the conversations about books that stick in my mind.

One day at lunch, we discussed recent non-required reading. The Physics Student and I talked about 1984, which we’d both read for the first time this year. The Physics Student’s cousin told us not to spoil the book for her, so we talked in non-specific terms about how we didn’t like the ending. The Physic Student’s sister was appalled that I had not read 1984  before this year. The Chess Master recommended a series about a thief and Attolia, though he couldn’t remember the author. He read the third book in the series first and recommended I try the same thing. I found the first two books at a used bookshop today, so I’ll be starting with number one, The Thief.

The Physics Student’s sister and I talked about books while many people carved pumpkins. She is working through one of those top 100 books you should read lists, and talked about her experience reading Catch-22. We then discussed book lists and how we don’t like everything on those top-100 lists. She doesn’t like Pride and Prejudice; I’ve read P&P 7 times at least. I flee from Wuthering Heights; she’s read it multiple times. I’m almost convinced to try WH but not quite. And Catch-22 is on my list but sort of in the background at the moment.

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At the turkey dinner, required reading was the topic on the table. I was sitting with high-schoolers and they were reading Life of Pi and The White Tiger. I was impressed by the fact that English teachers seem to be updating reading lists regularly, and with the Tiger theme in the reading at two different schools. I’ve read Life of Pi but not White Tiger. I may have to reconsider WT.

Conversations change what I decide to read. Does talking about books change what you decide to read?

(The book I kept recommending last weekend was a recent read: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.)

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Talking about books

I had dinner with the Playwright last night. We sat on a patio, drank dark beer, and discussed many things. One of the things we usually talk about is books. We went to a bookshop when we finished dinner, and that was when we started talking about books. This is slightly unusual — usually books come up sooner in our discussions. Oh wait, a Henri Nouwen book came up at dinner as a side bar to the conversation. Usually our book talks begin with “What are you reading?” and it doesn’t matter who asks the question. The other person answers and some discussion of that book follows. This leads to other books previously read, or a discussion of books both of us have read. It is all very pleasant. The Playwright has an MA in English Lit, and I do not, so she has a different reading view than I do. I *think* I tend to be more forgiving in initial assessments of books and writing styles, but it could also be that we look for different things in our reading. Tonight our longer discussion was about The Hunger Games trilogy, where I’ve only read book 1 and the Playwright has read them all.

What am I reading? Currently I’m reading Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. There’s a huge waiting list for IQ84 at the library, so I decided to try Murakami’s backlist first. I like the book so far. There are some stylistic things that bug me. The translator uses sentence fragments a little too frequently for me. I am not a fan. These are the kind of sentence fragments that I find when marking papers, the kind that students don’t realize are incomplete sentences. I think the translator knew what he/she was doing, but I’m still a tiny bit irritated. Of course, the fragmentation could faithfully reflect something that is there in the original. I don’t read Japanese, thus cannot tell.

I’ve just finished a couple of mystery books by Deborah Crombie in the Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid series. The two I read are from much earlier in the series. I quite like the books. The first one I read had no body in evidence for a really long time. I began to think no one would be murdered in this murder mystery! I rather liked that. I’m now in search of all the books that came before the two I read, which were A Finer End and Kissed A Sad Goodbye.

What are you reading?

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