Classroom Dialogue and Learning

Dr Victoria Cook, Dr Louis Major, Dr Sara Hennessy with Farah Ahmed, Elisa Calcagni and other colleagues from the Cambridge Educational Dialogue Research Group (CEDiR) | View as single page | Feedback/Impact


Evidence suggests that school students’ academic performance is influenced by the quality of educational dialogue in both small-group and whole-class situations (Howe & Abedin, 2013). The results of a recent Dialogic Teaching intervention study by Alexander, Hardman & Hardman (2017) involving 5000 UK children reported evidence of a positive effect on attainment; students in the intervention group who experienced just 20 weeks of dialogic teaching made, on average, two months more progress on standardised English, mathematics and science tests than their peers in the control group (Jay, Willis, Thomas, Taylor, Moore, Burnett, Merchant, Stevens, 2017). In Finland, the quality of educational dialogue has been positively associated with students’ academic attainment in physics/chemistry and language arts (Muhonen, Pakarinen Poikkeus, Lerkkanen & Rasku-Puttonen, 2017). A recent PhD study in five Flemish primary schools also demonstrated a positive effect on students’ reasoning and problem solving skills (T’Sas, 2018), whilst the link between dialogue and the development of critical thinking skills has been noted (Kuhn, 2016). Non-cognitive impacts of Classroom Dialogue include small improvements in students’ self-reported communication skills, teamwork and resilience, with students receiving free school meals reporting slightly larger improvements (Siddiqui, Gorard, & See, 2017). Dialogic approaches were also significantly correlated with increases in positive attitudes to school and to self-as-learner in a recent large-scale study of around 1800 primary school children in 72 classrooms in England (; Howe et al, under review).

Research has begun to explore whether specific dialogic or talk ‘moves’ (for example, asking questions to expand or explain) may influence learning more than others. For instance, the study by Howe et al. found that high levels of student participation, where students are actively engaging with each others’ ideas, in conjunction with high levels of elaboration (or building on ideas) and querying (or challenging), were positively associated with national Standardised Achievement Tests (SATs) scores at the end of primary school. Other work by Webb et al. confirms the importance of teacher support of student participation in raising student achievement. Thus, both teacher practice and student participation need to be taken into account when predicting student achievement (ibid.). Finally, a comprehensive literature review of the field suggests how research into student participation has demonstrated that gender, ethnicity and history of attainment are important variables influencing student participation (Howe & Abedin, 2013).

These findings are consistent with work undertaken at the University of Pittsburgh. Analysing information collected from researchers interested in the role of discussion in learning, data was considered to include evidence that students who experienced dialogic teaching performed better on standardised tests than similar students who did not have discussion experience (Resnick, Asterhan & Clarke, 2015). Further, some students retained their learned knowledge for two or three years and, in some cases, even transferred their academic advantage to a different domain (e.g., from science instruction to an English literature exam). It is important to note that these results were not found every time teachers tried to use dialogic methods in teaching traditional subject matter. However, they occurred with enough frequency, and in enough of a variety of countries and school environments, that was considered to suggest a potentially powerful new way of organising school learning.


Alexander, R., Hardman, F., Hardman, J., with Rajab, T., & Longmore, M. (2017). Changing Talk, Changing Thinking: Interim report from the in-house evaluation of the CPRT/UoY Dialogic Teaching Project: Cambridge Primary Review. York, UK: University of York.

Howe, C., & Abedin, M. (2013). Classroom Dialogue: a systematic review across four decades of research. Cambridge Journal of Education, 43, 325–356.

Howe, C., Hennessy, S., Mercer, N., Vrikki, M. & Wheatley, L. (in review). Teacher-student dialogue during classroom teaching: does it really impact upon student outcomes?

Jay, T., Willis, B., Thomas, P., Taylor, R., Moore, N., Burnett, C., Merchant, G. & Stevens, A. (2017). Dialogic teaching: evaluation report and executive summary. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Kuhn, D. (2016). A role for reasoning in a dialogic approach to critical thinking. Topoi, 1–8.

Muhonen, H., Pakarinen, E., Poikkeus, A.-M., Lerkkanen, M.-K., & Rasku-Puttonen, H. (2017). Quality of educational dialogue and association with students’ academic performance. Learning and Instruction.

Siddiqui, N. and Gorard, S. & See, B.H. (2017) 'Non-cognitive impacts of philosophy for children.', Project Report. School of Education, Durham University, Durham.
T'Sas, J. (2018). Learning outcomes of exploratory talk in collaborative activities (Doctoral dissertation, University of Antwerp).

Webb, N. M., Franke, M. L., Ing, M., Turrou, A. C., Johnson, N. C., & Zimmerman, J. (2017). Teacher practices that promote productive dialogue and learning in mathematics classrooms. International Journal of Educational Research. doi: 10.1016/j.ijer.2017.07.009