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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


Dialogic Inquiry Proposed as a Model Practice for Teaching Students Who Are Deaf

As part of a 4-year research project that is designing a model of exemplary practice in teaching students who are deaf, researchers are proposing dialogic inquiry as an exemplary practice. In contrast to knowledge-transmission models of teaching and student-centered notions of discovery learning, dialogic inquiry requires that teachers co-construct knowledge with their students, engaging in knowledge-building as a collaborative enterprise. Learning then occurs as children construct meaning and interpret their environments through active mediation with others. In this model, teachers:

  • Guide students in their attempts to gain knowledge rather than assuming the role of the “Teller” who dictates knowledge to the students.
  • Focus on the content of a student’s response to a question, which provides clues about a student’s understanding of a concept.
  • Let the conversation influence the nature of the communication used.

The study produced illustrative examples of dialogic knowledge building and exemplary communicative practice in classrooms. Ten exemplary teachers of students who are deaf were selected on the basis of supervisor nominations in 8 districts in a Midwestern state. Each teacher was videotaped interacting with students for 6 hours over 2-3 days.

Examples of dialogic inquiry provided by the study include the following:

  • An exchange in which a teacher relates geographical concepts (peninsula, island) to the life experiences of her elementary school students.
  • An example in which the discourse is superimposed on the use of manipulatives to teach the idea that multiplication involves working with groups of equal numbers.
  • An illustration in which a teacher and 5-year old student talk about a story’s illustrations to establish relationships among meaning, face to face language, and written text in order to teach reading
  • .
  • A case where a teacher uses beakers of water and a globe to discuss pollution and its effect on water quality with high school students, drawing in the concept of percentages and the percentage of drinkable water in the world.

These examples show learning as a social, interactive enterprise in which the learner and teacher interdependently co-construct meaning. This joint meaning-making is mediated through classroom conversations and depends on the teacher’s ability to work in a contingently responsive manner with the students. The teacher uses learners’ statements to gauge their current state of understanding, and then responds in a way that is in tune with the learner’s needs. For teachers of students who are deaf, dialogic inquiry implies a shift from thinking about how a student who is deaf communicates to what it is that a student who is deaf is trying to communicate.

For more information, see " A Model for Effective Practice Dialogic Inquiry with Students who are Deaf," by Connie Mayer, C. Tane Akamatsu, and David Stewart. Exceptional Children, 68(4), Summer 2002. This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Grant #H32M990001-00).

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Last updated: February 3, 2003

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