Where practice and theory intersect in the chemistry classroom: using cogenerative dialogue to identify the critical point in science education

by Martin, Sonya

This paper argues for an inclusive model of science education practice that attempts to facilitate a relationship between “science and all” by paying particular attention to the development of the relationship between the teacher, students and science. This model hinges on the implementation of cogenerative dialogues between students and teachers. Cogenerative dialogues are a form of structured discourse in which teachers and students engage in a collaborative effort to help identify and implement positive changes in classroom teaching and learning practices. A primary goal of this paper is to introduce a methodological and theoretical framework for conducting cogenerative dialogue that is accessible to classroom teachers and their students. I propose that researchers must learn to disseminate their findings to teachers in ways that are practical, in that they provide teachers with information needed to make concrete connections between the research and their teaching, while continuing to make available the theories that support their findings. Using an integration research framework in conjunction with a temporality of learning model, I introduce a method of disseminating research findings that provides both classroom teachers and researchers with access to different forms of knowledge about cogenerative dialogues in the same paper. In doing so, this article examines the relationships between teacher knowledge and researcher knowledge by exploring the practical application of cogenerative dialogues for classrooms teachers and the theoretical implications of using cogenerative dialogues for researchers.

DOI: 10.1007/s11422-006-9031-z
Online Date: 11/16/2006
Print publication date: 12/1/2006
View article on SpringerLink

2 Comments so far

  1. ebaker47 March 6th, 2007 2:20 am

    I enjoyed this excellently laid out introduction to doing cogenerative dialogues in a science class.In addition to the step by step methodology, the theoretical frameworks are explored. The struggles of the classroom teacher as teacher, then teacher researcher, and then as university researcher teaching other teachers resonate with every teacher’s goal- relecting on their teaching practices and coming up with new ideas that work in the classroom to make learning and teaching a positive experience.

  2. Dorota Koczewska November 3rd, 2007 10:33 pm

    Dorota Koczewska

    Accepting Theory in a classroom: Cogenerative Dialogue

    As a first year teacher, I was not successful in connecting theory with my teaching practices. As many new teachers, I thought during the day and in the evenings I prepared for the next day and attended graduate courses. I was desperate for practical teaching and behavioral management strategies to survive in the classroom teaching. My learning during the graduate courses was concentrated on looking for the golden strategies. I read the assigned research articles, however, I did not know how to connect the readings to my teaching. The lack of time and difficult language of the literature did not help me to bridge the theory with practice.
    Reading Sonya’s Martin paper, Where practice and theory intersect in the chemistry classroom; using cogenerative dialogue to identify the critical point in science education (2006) made me think of my conscious/unconscious use of theory in teaching and learning. Her main goal for the paper is to “introduce a methodological and theoretical frame work for conducting cogenerative dialogue” (p.694) in a classroom. Martin mentions that research must deliver information and findings to teachers in an accessible way so teachers can find a connection between the research and their teaching.
    Martin makes an argument that there is a lack of connection between theory and research especially in educational literature. The literature is written in a format that is not easily accessible to teachers and is about teachers rather than with teachers. She argues that teachers do not have enough time to spend on research studies, they may be unfamiliar accessing the research, and the writing style and vocabulary of the literature might be difficult to read and apply in a classroom. Therefore, the research and practice are not connected to improve teaching practices. As a teacher herself she points out that, “developing theoretical understanding requires time during which experiences with something transform to become knowledge about something” (p.696). Martin continues, that to be successful during the change, teachers need to experience implementing the change and time to reflect on these changes.
    In her paper, Martin uses cogenerative dialogue as the bridge for theory and practice. I also used many strategies of cogenerative dialogue in my teaching experience, not knowing that the research was done to support the practice. Kenneth Tobin and Wolff-Michael Roth (2006) describe cogenerative dialogue as a dialogue among small group of students and teacher “to identify and review what seems to work and what does not” (p.7) work in the classroom. Collectively the students and teacher establish new classroom rules, roles and responsibilities to accomplish the change. I also had many dialogues with my students regarding what worked and what did not work in our classroom. To receive best results of conversation with the students I invited students with diverse interests, ethnicity, academic achievement, and gender orientation. I was very much interested in the students who did not follow direction, talked, laughed, and were disruptive during lessons. To my surprise the students came to our firs meeting. I began the dialogue by identifying issues that concerned me as a teacher. I addressed the difficulty of teaching when students come late for class, talk, laugh, eat while I teach, and do not bring homework. I did not encourage the students to state their perspective of the flow of the class, topics I taught, and my teaching style which were a big part of setting the structure of the classroom. During the meeting the students did not open to talk and got annoyed with the same schema of teacher-students power struggle as it took place in our classroom. During the meeting the students talked over, argued among each other and left the meeting. My goal to meet with the students was to create a classroom where teaching and learning took place and I hoped that the students wanted the same. We did not overcome our power struggle. I did not listen and they gave up on talking.
    To be successful during the meetings I needed the theory of cogenerative dialogue to make sense of my actions and understand the process of cogenerative dialogue. Martin uses Sarah-Kate LaVan (2004) definition of cogenerative dialogue as a dialogue between two or more people getting together to talk about shared events or experiences. What I did fail to do during the meetings with the students, was doing the research with the students to talk and learn about what worked in the classroom, what did not, and why. In contrast, of doing the research, I did research about the students and their actions not allowing us to learn about each other’s perspectives, collective motives and individual goals to create a teaching and learning environment.
    Through many experiences during meetings with students, I realized that successful communication with the students makes teaching and learning more enjoyable and productive. Martin describes cogenerative dialogue as a collaborative effort to identify and implement positive change in classrooms. I wanted to make a positive change and continued to talk with the students on what they liked, learned or wanted to modify in a lesson. I continued inviting students to participate in sharing our emotions and ideas for improving the lessons. However, often students did not want to stay after class and talk. They found excuses to leave the room right after the class, gave excuses of being busy or avoided me entirely. I think that the culture of having a discussion or conversation with a teacher about their teaching style was something that was not practiced often by the students through their academic career. Therefore, communicating our shared motives was difficult. Tobin uses goals in cogenerative dialogue as creating solidarity (Derrida) grounded with a respect for difference and willingness to learn from others. The individual actions and contributions need to be accomplished with the collective. However, the collective motive of having more effective teaching did not correlate with the individual goal of learning in my classroom.
    My motivation to continue the dialogues was to create a cultural of teaching and learning in and out of classroom. After many unsuccessful approaches to have a dialogue with the students, I was unable to improve our communication (teacher/student). I observed that the students came closer to one another and created solidarity. Students who rarely spoke to one another shared common goals and produced a positive mood. They sat together in the classroom, shared lunch and interacted to create social bonds. Their belonging to a group produced positive feelings for the students and shaped their identity in the structure of the classroom.
    Rowhea Elmesky and Gale Seiler (2004) define this behavior as solidarity based on Randall Collins research demonstration that an individual movement that is valued within the collective creates greater possibilities for successful interaction between the participants by producing shared emotional mood within the group. According to Elmesky and Seiler, the collective/students motive was to stand against my teaching style and inability to reach them. The students in my classroom did not pay attention to what I was saying. They talked and laughed while I was teaching, making me feel uncomfortable and incompetent as a teacher. Jonathan Turner (2002) in this book, Face to Face mentions that emotions are a central part of enchanters. Defense mechanism is one of them. He describes defense mechanisms as “mitigating the effects of negative sanctions and failure to realize expectations” (p. 89). My defense mechanism was to protect myself from the negative perception I had about my teaching. At first, I withdrew from talking to the students. I would come to a classroom and start teaching a lesson. The students would not react to my teaching and in many occasions became more disruptive and disrespectful. I fulfilled their expectations of seeing teachers doing the same schema and practice as giving up on making change. The days of teaching were even more painful and difficult. I had to change again. Turner (2002) says, that when individuals protect themselves from pain, they do it unconsciously and their attempt to do so is a by-product of being emotionally committed to others and social structure. The students’ motive enacting resistance made me become stronger. Yes, I was committed to teach the students and I wanted to maintain my status of a teacher who cares and is committed to teaching. I decided to continue with the cogenerative dialogue and get better in doing so by revisiting my actions, reading the research, and applying it in the classroom.
    I understood that, I enacted agency by creating structure in my classroom of a teacher who held the tools as grades, reports, and even the key to the classroom. I had the power to produce and reproduce an atmosphere to teach and learn which was familiar to me. I expected the students to listen and do what I said. It took me a while to realize that the students also had their agency – power to act. Their resistance demonstrated lack of respect for teachers who set a structure of power relation in the classroom. They spoke over me, did not pay attention, and ate during lessons. The learning that took place in our classroom, using a Bourdieusian perspective, was based on capital production that accrued in a field as culture was enacted that is produced, reproduced and transformed, during encounters among the participants, myself, and the students.
    The culture of teaching and learning from each other and open discussions were built on constructive criticisms. My goal for the class was to establish cultural identity. Hall (1990) defines cultural identity as grounded in historical experiences in what we have become, “belonging to the future as much as to the past”(p.304). The cultural identity is constantly changing and is transformed through diaspora as creating home away form home. My students and I were changing the structure of the classes by creating new field, avoiding being other, build solidarity and synchrony during teaching and learning. As a teacher I had to shift in my schema and practice to produce and reproduce new teaching, culture and goals in the classroom. I had to be open to know whom my students were, respect them, have conversation with the students and share my perspectives on teaching. To be successful we had to establish new culture based on common goals with the respect for difference.
    I learned that cogenerative dialogue is not only a theoretical frame work, but it is a tool that helps me to develop a relationship around shared experiences, such as co- participants in the classroom between teachers and students. In my response I used an example of my first year of teaching. Having the theoretical framework then, it would make me a better teacher on the first day of teaching. Over the time I see the value of theory not only directly towards teaching but also towards learning.
    Elmesy, R., & Seiler. G. (2006). Movement Expressiveness, Solidarity and the (Re) Shaping of American Students’ Scientific Identities. Manuscript submitted for publication in Cultural Studies of Science Education.

    Hall, S. (1990). Cultural Identity and Diaspora. From J. Rutherford (ed.), Identity: Community, culture, difference, Lawrence & Wishart: London, 1990, pp.222-37.

    Martin, S. (2006). Where practice and theory intersect in the chemistry classroom: Using cogenerative dialogue to identify the critical point in science education. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 1(4), pp. 693-720.

    Tobin, T., & Roth.W-M. (2006). Teaching to Learn: A view from the field. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

    Turner. J. H. (2002). Face to Face: towards a sociological theory of interpersonal behavior. Stanford, California. Stanford University Press.

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