The Art of Classroom Dialogue
by Anri Tanabe and Mitch Bogen
Special to the Tribune
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Above all, dialogue is a process. So is learning to value dialogue and successfully facilitate it in classrooms. Such were the guiding themes from the seminar “The Art of Classroom Dialogue,” held on April 19 at the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue.
The seeds for this gathering originated with Steven Cohen’s contribution to the Ikeda Center’s new multi-author volume Peacebuilding Through Dialogue. In his chapter, Dr. Cohen, a senior lecturer in the Department of Education at Tufts University, explored such topics as how to create a trusting atmosphere conducive to dialogue, and how transformative learning emerges through sustained discussion between teacher and student, as well as among students themselves.
Drawing from their own learning and teaching experiences, the four seasoned education professors in attendance—Deborah Donahue-Keegan and Steven Cohen of Tufts University; Stephen Gould of Lesley University; and Jason Goulah of DePaul University’s Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education—expanded on these topics.
One point that emerged was the importance of the physical learning space to create trust. For instance, as part of Dr. Goulah’s classroom arrangement, he sets up a perfect circle, allowing every student to “have equal power, equal distance to engage in dialogue.”
Another means to build trust, said Dr. Donahue-Keegan, is to help students get “to know each other in a safe way.” This is why she starts each semester with activities, sometimes silly, sometimes serious, that enable students to share their personal stories.
The participants agreed that for learning to be transformative, students have to reflect on what they already know and then engage thoughtfully with others, thereby learning from their classmates and teachers. What this means, Dr. Cohen said, is that course content, while important, is not the heart of the matter.
Ultimately, said Dr. Goulah, the goal is what Daisaku Ikeda would call “human education,” or learning “how to view the world, how to view [oneself], how to engage difference.” WT