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The Episodes

Episode 1. Getting in to Narnia

In this episode Ms James’ Year 5 classroom discuss why the secret portal to Narnia in C.S. Lewis’ novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was sometimes open and sometimes closed. The class consider a series of possibilities, testing each against evidence from the story.  At one point in the discussion Ms James disagrees with one of the pupils, rather than evaluating his answer as right or wrong as is more common. Immediately after Ms James’ expression of disagreement, another pupil disagreed with Ms James, and a third pupil disagreed with the second. Is it possible that the first (teacher) disagreement set off a chain reaction of further (pupil) disagreements? And what became of those disagreements – what sort of dialogue did they bring about? This exchange was one of four exchanges that explored pupils’ pre-prepared answers to questions about the story, and the only one in which we witnessed a dramatic breakthrough to dialogue. How can the differences among these exchanges be explained?

Following our analysis of the episode we include guest commentaries by David Reedy, Principal Adviser for primary schools in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham and current General Secretary of the United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA); and James Cresswell, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Booth University College, Winnipeg, Canada.

Episode 2. ‘I don’t really like that, Miss’

In this episode we explore how a spontaneous pupil challenge and the teacher’s response to it ignites a ‘dialogic spell’. The episode takes place in the second of two consecutive lessons on story opening. The teacher has just demonstrated to the class the key idea and objectives of the lesson – to open their stories by dropping the reader right into the action – and begins to set them the task of working in pairs to act out the opening to their own story. Before she finishes her instructions, however, she is interrupted by an interjection from William: ‘Miss, I don’t really like that’. We analyse in detail the interaction that follows William’s challenge and use this analysis to investigate the conditions that facilitate dialogue as well as the dilemmas inherent to this mode of classroom participation and learning.

Following our analysis of the episode we include guest commentaries by Robin Alexander, Fellow of Wolfson College at Cambridge University, UK, Professor of Education Emeritus at Warwick University, UK and Director of the Cambridge Primary Review; Gemma Moss, Professor of Education at the Institute of Education University of London, UK; Greg Thompson, Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Brigham Young University, USA and Affiliated Researcher with the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at University of California, San Diego, USA; and Laura Hughes, the teacher who appears in the clip and who was the Assistant Headteacher of the school at that time.

Episode 3.  ‘So we’re going to have X Factor’

In this episode the teacher introduces an X Factor themed activity as a way of organising peer-feedback on one pupil’s story. We use this X Factor episode as an opportunity to explore the alleged advantages and complexities of importing popular culture into the classroom, asking: How, if at all, did the introduction of X Factor bear upon teaching and learning practices? The episode also raises issues about how to arrange and facilitate peer assessment, when and how to intervene in pupil dialogue, and what should be valued in pupil writing.

Following our analysis of the episode we include guest commentaries by Roxy Harris, Senior Lecturer in Language in Education at King´s College London, UK; Janet Maybin, Senior Lecturer in Language and Communication at the Open University, UK; Dennis Kwek, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, National Institute of Education, Singapore; and Laura Hughes, the teacher who appears in the clip and who was the Assistant Headteacher of the school at that time.

Episodes 4-5. Debating football in Ms Lightfoot’s classroom

As preparation for the SATs tests the Year 6 classes conducted debates and prepared persuasive essays on the topic of restricting football playing on the school playground at lunch time.  The topic attracted considerable interest and concern, and led to many pupils’ spirited involvement in the activity.  The teachers moved to a relatively peripheral role in the debate to allow for more pupil participation in the discussion and greater pupil control over its course. This positioning led to interesting dynamics as the pupils assumed responsibility for conduct of the debates, but were unable to manage them effectively. In this chapter we discuss how two teachers, Ms Lightfoot and Ms Anderton, coped with this problem, and implications for designing debate activities and the teacher’s role in conducting them. 

Following our analyses of Episodes 4 and 5 we include guest commentaries by Jeff Barrett, who served as Headteacher of Abbeyford Primary School while the lessons appearing in this book were recorded, and participated in all the workshops in which the teachers and researchers analysed video-recorded episodes; Lucy Henning, a Primary National Strategies literacy consultant for two West London LEAs and PhD student at King´s College London, UK; and Jayne White, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty Education at University of Waikato, New Zealand.

Episode 6. ‘What does fear mean?’

This episode is about one classroom’s response to a predicament facing teachers who seek to enact dialogic teaching and learning in their classrooms. On the one hand, dialogic pedagogy rests on the assumption that children learn best through participation in rich and challenging classroom discourse, and therefore requires that all pupils be encouraged to participate in such activity. On the other hand, English primary education is dominated by the idea that pupils have inherent, stable, context-independent abilities – e.g. ‘bright’ and ‘intelligent’ versus ‘low ability’ and ‘inarticulate’ – and only the former are considered capable of participating productively in dialogue. In the episode we explore how teacher and pupils manage this conflict in practice, and consider the implications this has for levels and patterns of pupil participation and for pupils’ evolving identities. In doing so we raise issues about the relationship between discourses about pupils and instructional practices; the importance of identity to learning; and the impact of high-stakes testing on classroom dynamics.

Following our analysis of the episode we include guest commentaries by Pie Corbett, educator and author, whose poem, The Owl, is the focus of class discussion in the episode; Melanie Cooke, researcher and lecturer in the Centre for Language and Communication, King’s College London; Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur, Associate Professor in Human Development Learning and Culture at the University of British Columbia; Louai Rahal, a PhD student in the Human Development, Learning and Culture programme at the University of British Columbia; and Glenda Moss, Chair of the Division of Teacher Education and Administration at the University of North Texas at Dallas.

Episode 7: ‘I think there’s more to it than that’

In this episode a Year 5 class read and respond to a short story written by one of their classmates. We invite you to conduct your own analysis of this episode. For us, the episode raises interesting and important issues about criteria for evaluating pupil writing, organising pupil peer feedback, teacher feedback to pupils and how to improve pupils’ writing. What issues does it raise for you? 

Episode 8: ‘Tell me what you think as Wilbur’

In this episode pupils in Ms Cane’s Year 5 class are invited to take on the persona of the character of Wilbur from the book Charlotte’s Web in order to explore Wilbur’s feelings about going to the county fair. We invite you to conduct your own analysis of this episode. For us, the episode raises interesting issues around what constitutes an open question, what makes children engage (or not) with a text, and how we can strike the right balance between creating an atmosphere of fun and excitement in a lesson, whilst also attending to learning objectives and criteria for assessment. What issues does it raise for you?