From the Assembly on Computers in English (ACE)
This post was written by NCTE and ACE members Beth M. Lehman and Katie Shepherd Dredger.
The need to teach students how to be in healthy connection with different others is distinctly important as the genre of argument permeates our society and classrooms. Recent protests against police brutality against the backdrop of a global pandemic clearly show the value of dialogue and the need to be able to engage in difficult topics, including racial, educational, and medical inequity and the nature of protest and reform, all within an online environment.
We suggest a multimodal presentation assignment that is modeled after Pecha Kucha (a six-minute, 40-second slide lecture in which slides automatically advance after 20 seconds); however, this assignment is for two students, who are given equal and alternating space to share in front of the backdrop of carefully curated images that serve to expand the spoken word.
The picture-oriented nature of this presentation encourages multimodality, as it acknowledges that authentic dialogue is not confined to written text, and brings out-of-school literacies (like the use of images on Instagram) into the classroom. It holds the potential to promote growth of understanding in each learner through dialogue.
Given the nature of media today that pits varied viewpoints in opposition instead of in dynamic dialogue, it is unsurprising that students understand argument as a genre. In a culture that values competition, winning is often prized in discussion. Reaching deeper understanding and appreciating complexities could be a higher goal of communication. ELA assignments can be structured so that students can interact with a classmate in ways that promote dialogic processes.
The Dialogic Multimodal Slide Paired Presentation is a compelling way to engage with people and invite culturally responsive teaching and appreciation for diversity. We need to expect, accept, and desire multiple viewpoints and a willingness to change.
Without an intentional effort toward this approach, dominance and assimilation can be the result of argument. Argument silences less powerful voices, and the mosaic of innovation that can result from a compromise is lost.
From Argument to Dialogue
Focusing solely on argument assumes that writers are fixed in their opinion and leads to the often-faulty assumption that there is one “right” or “wrong” answer. One specific way educators can foster productive dialogue is through a dialogic presentation. This composition process begins with conversation and ends with a slide presentation delivered by partners in two voices.
The Process (valued over product)
- Identify a valuable question or topic with one partner.
- View Pecha Kucha and lightning-talk models online.
- Make space for partners to converse.
- Record and listen to the paired conversation.
- Transcribe, revise, and edit conversation for script.
- Curate powerful images for slide presentation.
- Recursively move between steps above to draft presentation dialogue with equal and alternating time for each speaker.
- Practice and record Dialogic Multimodal Paired Slide Presentation for publication/presentation.
This presentation makes space for purposeful discussion with the goal of creating new shared understandings and of loosening impermeable beliefs. In this process two discussants work toward understanding. Building a dialogic classroom is a process of building trust, valuing diversity, and listening with a constructivist paradigm.
The Dialogic Classroom Is about Learning from Others
This work is grounded in relationships. Too often, social media “conversations” are unproductive. The results of unproductive discussions are often hurt feelings, bruised relationships, and the spread of hateful, inaccurate, and unexamined ideas.
We can teach our students ways to dialogically examine and productively respond to varied perspectives. The learning stance of the dialogic classroom is one where the expectation is expanding understanding and the appreciation of complexities. Dialogic writing involves thought, reflection, and engagement across time and space.
Because media platforms are easily accessible and invite space for public discourse, we can use this out-of-school literacy in the classroom and we can teach our students to engage more productively than some of the divisive rhetorical models found in online comments. The Dialogic Multimodal Paired Presentation is a way to practice this.
In contrast to a winner-takes-all argumentative approach, we can develop in students an equity stance of sharing the metaphorical microphone. Recognizing that in many arenas the meanest, the loudest, and the most sensational words silence dissenting opinions, we can teach a dialogic learning stance that students can use to help redistribute power in these spaces and to foster understanding of others in constructive ways.
Practicing Productive Dialogue
This composition form supports dialogue because two students work together to craft and then present a negotiated discussion that incorporates two perspectives.
To help students with this, there are specific sub skills teachers must scaffold for students so they can develop and practice productive dialogue. Such skills include constructive listening, asking clear and intentionally open questions, and genuinely respecting the other human in their dialogue. The Dialogic Multimodal Paired Presentation is a classroom tool that encourages healthy interactions with others in a divisive, digital world.
Beth M. Lehman is an assistant professor of teacher education at Bridgewater College, a member of the Assembly on Computers in English (ACE), and a National Writing Project teacher consultant. The information presented here was shared during the NCTE/ACE 2019 conference. Lehman has published through the Virginia Association of Teachers of English, an NCTE state affiliate.
Katie Shepherd Dredger is an associate professor and academic unit head at James Madison University. She is a member of the Assembly on Computers in English (ACE), and past chair of NCTE’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English (#CARBTE). The information presented here was shared during the NCTE/ACE 2019 conference. Dredger has also presented and published through the Virginia Association of Teachers of English, an NCTE state affiliate. She can be found on Twitter @kdredger
It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.