DIALLS was a promising project for me from the beginning since it was using children’s books. Getting familiar with such material was a great opportunity for me and for my students. Moreover, the support from academic people and the chance to work with researchers was also a great motive.
The whole experience, taking part in this project as a teacher, has been remarkable because I was given and implemented a step by step procedure of how to build skills for “dialogue and argumentation”. As a teacher I always aimed at enabling my students to communicate with each other with respect and to be active listeners, but this was always a very provoking task. Now, I feel very confident, since I learnt a step by step procedure in how to enhance Dialogue Skills in my students.
Using picturebooks and short films as stimuli for classroom discussions helps students to become positively and actively involved in the dialogue activities taking place in our classroom. By watching the film or by “reading” the book my students engage actively with the story and feel part of it. They feel it is their duty to help resolve the controversial issues being discussed in the class and they never lose interest. The books and the films are truly pieces of art and the children admire the colours, the different techniques used by the artist-creator but most importantly they get surprised and excited with the opportunity to “read” and “listen” to so many ideas without using a single word. They are curious to learn about their classmates’ thoughts and various interpretations of the pictures and stories. Their different perspectives and interpretations of the stories have arisen in different occasions in the DIALLS lessons, meaning that they learnt to appreciate all those varied perspectives turning each lesson into an imagination and creativity game.
My students felt very positive to the implementation of DIALLS since the first Lesson. They were very keen to continue and kept asking when the next lesson would be. They felt very proud that they were going to take part in a European programme and that they would collaborate with students from other countries. I believe that they felt that these lessons were something different compared to their normal lessons. Reading books full of nice pictures and without words along with watching nice films was a totally new experience for them and they seemed so impatient to have this new experience. Moreover, they wrote down some useful rules for a productive dialogue and they agreed that they all wanted to have the opportunity to express their opinions. They all agreed how important it was to receive their classmates’ attention and feel respected. So, most of them cherished the idea of building valuable dialogue skills.
The DIALLS bag was the signal that we were having a DIALLS lesson. As soon as they saw me carrying this bag, they took away all their books and they were ready announcing to each other that it was time for our DIALLS lesson. During the lesson they seemed very happy, with no stress and they were willing to discuss with their fellow students. The discussion that took place before doing the artefact was self-evaluating of their dialogue skills. During this part of the lesson they realised how challenging our venture was, to listen carefully and build on other’s ideas.
It is worth mentioning that most of the times the students could easily achieve the intended objective for cultural learning but initially they had difficulties with the dialogue and argumentation objective. Starting from Lesson 1 Saturday (Zaterdag), students could easily agree that Saturday activities differ from one person to another and from one family to another, but it was almost impossible for them to invite someone else to express his/her point of view. They all wanted to speak as much as possible. In some groups, they didn’t want to share the A3 paper for the artefact (artwork) so they decided to cut the paper in four separate pieces to work by themselves and then they put the pieces back together in order to have the groupwork done. The activity with the unifix blocks (Lesson 2, where each student had 3 blocks which they could “play” when they wanted to contribute to the discussion) helped them to consider who was contributing or not to the discussion. Moreover, the unifix activity seemed to motivate the less talkative or active kids in order to express their ideas. It seems that the discussion “If you do not contribute in a discussion you will learn less than others who do” also questioned their habit to talk as much as possible during a class discussion and to ignore other people’s point of view. As lessons went on students kept the same belief or habit to speak as much as possible without interacting with others’ point of view but the artefact in Lesson 4 encouraged them to invite their group members to the conversation, using the phrases we set in Lesson 1. The dialogue and argumentation objective was ultimately achieved by the majority of the students for the first time in Lesson 4. In Lesson 5, they had to make a rescue scenario so it was almost natural saying “I agree with you and I would like to add …”. Indeed, the students carefully listened to each other’s ideas and they managed to build on previously told ideas.
Students’ communicating skills are still improving as lessons are going on, they learnt to support their ideas by using personal experiences or evidence from the film or the book, and they can ask for more details or explanations on someone’s idea. They are really interested in listening other people’s ideas (Lesson 6). Finally, students managed to make a real discussion (Lesson 7) by using all the skills learned, acquired, practised during Lessons 1-6 but they still have some difficulties with valuing every idea from every student and distributing the talking time fair to the group’s members, a skill that, I believe, will improve with the completion of all fifteen DIALLS lessons.
I am really keen on and excited to continue working on this project.
Stella Gavriel, primary teacher, Cyprus