As a teacher, is there a way for you to encourage honest conversations with your students about issues in the classroom? Some educators have been trying out co-generative dialogues with their students.
Co-generative dialogues, or co-gens, are structured conversations that offer a safe social space for participants to come together and discuss their perspectives on what is happening in class. It is especially useful in an inclusive and educationally equitable classroom because every student is given the opportunity to express their thoughts.
“Co-gen is about understanding what individual students’ and teachers’ strengths and weaknesses are, understanding and trying to make sense of what individuals need and can do,” says Associate Professor Sonya N. Martin from the Seoul National University.
As part of her research, Sonya has been conducting co-gens in different educational settings. She was in Singapore in July 2015 and gave a talk at NIE about conducting co-gens in classrooms. We bring you an excerpt from her talk, in which she explains what co-gens are and also their characteristics.
Excerpt from the talk on “Co-generating Possibilities for Success in Science Classrooms”
“The big goal, and the thing that makes co-gen different than talking to people or doing an evaluation is the idea that it’s a forward-moving conversation. We come together to talk about some experience we shared, but it’s with an expectation that we’re going to co-generate together a plan for improving that.
Then, we move forward and we implement that action and we come back again and reflect on it. This should occur in cycles over time.
There are some rules associated with it. The role of the structure of the dialogue is to move beyond complaints or criticisms to say, well, what can we do about that? What can be done to improve how we interact with each other, with the explicit goal of improving our Science teaching and learning?
One important thing is that we use video often. It’s a really important reference. When our pre-service teachers are in the classroom for the first time, so many things can be happening that they never notice. When we come together to reflect without the video, it’s really difficult for them to have an accurate memory of what happened or to have any real perspective on their own practices. So we find the videos really useful for that. For young children, second-language learners, and students with disabilities, it’s a really powerful tool for them, like memory recall.
We tend to have some rules. Most teachers begin their co-gens by talking about rules with students. It’s something that provides some boundaries and support for the type of dialogue we want to promote.
The first one is no one voice should be privileged. In that, we’re trying to address some of the hierarchies in terms of age, between adult and children, the most popular and least popular kid, and so on.
There are a lot of power differentials that can exist in the normal structures in classrooms and the society. So, the idea is that we want to make space for each other’s voice. We try to make rules to make sure it happens, to make sure each person is given the opportunity.
However, participants may choose not to speak. You are not required to speak in co-gens. In our work with second-language learners and students with disabilities, that’s one thing we look at: the degree to which participation is present. That helps us think about what are the types of tools and resources we need to provide these learners, in the event that they are thinking something and need to express themselves but have trouble doing that.
We try to focus on co-generating an understanding of how people feel, and what’s going on. There might be some expression of critical thoughts, but we move beyond that to co-generate a plan: What can we do to improve this?
We usually invite students to come during lunch, or before or after school. We try to do it around food, because it seems to be a motivator for kids! For people to come together to eat in a relaxed environment—it’s like a social activity. And also, we’re taking up their time, so you’d want to be thoughtful about what you’re asking them to give up.
We do co-gens over time, but they have to be done consistently. One of the things is if too much time had lapsed between the first meeting where you’ve made a plan and you’re implementing it and if you don’t come back to review that, students and teachers, everyone begins to take it less seriously and your dedication will fall off, so we think consistency is really important.
The thing that makes co-gen different than talking to people or doing an evaluation is the idea that it’s a forward-moving conversation.
– Sonya N. Martin, Seoul National University
Co-gens can take many forms. They can be one-to-one, such as a pre-service teacher and an in-service teacher; or small groups, like a university faculty member and his tutorial group, or a whole class.
We once had a whole group of high school students participating in co-gens after school, for the professional development for new pre-service teachers. They were talking about things like, if you were my teacher in my school, these are some hints I have for you; things I’d like to tell you about.
We do a lot of auto-ethnography and autobiographical reflection with our teachers. In order to express yourselves in these conversations with other people, it’s important to reflect on your own beliefs about learning, teaching, and how you think people learn Science. In our work with second-language learners and students with disabilities, it’s important for teachers to reflect on the biases and prejudices they hold about what’s possible for these students to learn, because we’re looking for more open dialogue with them.
We often talk to students and teachers about how the co-gen should carry the spirit of authenticity in all of their conversations. This is part of the structure that allows some of the difficult conversations to occur but we still move forward. The idea is that the dialogue should be ontological, that people are sharing their perspectives and that they’re being heard. At the end, we evaluate: How effective was this dialogue? Were people experiencing changing perspectives? Am I hearing what you’re saying?
It should be educative; people should be learning from one another. You don’t have to agree with someone. The goal of co-gen does not have to be that we take differences and make them same, but we appreciate where you’re coming from. So, I can maintain a different perspective, but in order for us to have shifted ontologically, I should be able to appreciate that you hold a different perspective and that it is as valid as mine.
The next and most important aspect of co-gen is that it should be catalytic, that we try something different. If we just come and keep talking and talking, then nothing is changing. The most important thing is that you identify problems; you come up with some plan of action together and you go back to the classroom and you try it. And then you hold each other accountable to that, by coming back and having that dialogue again.”