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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Instructional Conversation: Teaching and Learning in Social Activity

  • Author(s): Tharp, Roland G.;
  • Gallimore, Ronald
  • et al.

For more than a centruy, American schooling has ben conducted in much the same way: The teacher assigns a text for the students to master and then assesses their learning. Known as the "recitation script," this repeated cycle of assign-assess is far from the natural kind of teaching by which societies have been instructing their young since the dawn of time. Contemporary eductional reform is now emphasizing the fundamental, natural method of teaching, which is the assisting of learners through the instructional conversation.

Newly understood through the principles of socio-higorical theory, real teaching is understood as assisting the learner to perform just beyond his or her current capacity. This assistance in the "zone of proximal development" awakens and rouses into life the mental capacities of learners of all ages. This assistance is best provided through the instructional conversastion, a dialogue between teacher and learners in which the teacher listens carefully to grasp the students' communicative intent, and tailors the dialogue to meet the emerging understanding of the learners.

This pattern of relationship should be caracteristic of the communication of the entire school, in which the teachers assist and converse with one another, administrators assist and converse with teachers, and administration provides activity settings in which these instructional conversations can occur. such a school becomes a true community of learner, in which school reliably assists the performance of all.

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