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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Instructional Conversations and their Classroom Applications

  • Author(s): Goldenberg, Claude
  • et al.

Generations of educators have advocated a type of teaching that does more than impart knowledge and teach skills. Knowledge and skills are undoubtedly important, but true education requires far more. It requires helping students use their knowledge and skills to understand, appreciate, and grapple with important ideas as they develop a depth of understanding for a wide range of issues and questions. Yet teaching aimed at these important goals is largely absent from U.S. classrooms.

"Instructional conversations" (ICs) might be one way to achieve the ambitious but elusive goals long held by many thoughtful educators. ICs are discussion-based lessons geared toward creating opportunities for students' conceptual and linguistic development. They focus on an idea or a students. The teacher encourages expression of students' own ideas, builds upon information students provide and experiences they have had, and guides students to increasingly sophisticated levels of understanding. In contrast to more directive forms of instruction, which assume that what is to be learned by the students is already in the head of the teachers, ICs assume that students themselves play an important role in constructing new knowledge and in acquiring new understandings about the world.

Conversations that instruct and stimulate thinking might be particularly important for language minority students, many of whom receive insufficient opportunities for conceptual and linguistic development at school. By providing students with opportunities to engage in interactions that promote analysis, reflection, and critical thinking, instructional conversations suggest a way to help redress the imbalance of a curriculum that is heavily weighted toward skills and knowledge acquisition.

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