Dialogic Learning

Collaboration amongst students is central to the programme. There is considerable evidence to indicate dialogic learning raises students’ levels of achievement. Studies consistently show benefits to learning when compared to classes where the students study individually.

In line with the research, the trials of the programme revealed that students could learn from one another and were less reliant on the teacher as the 'source of all knowledge’. Many students developed a ‘can do’ attitude towards mathematics.

Through participating in the programme, teachers develop a range of interrelated pedagogies that promote dialogic learning in the classroom.

Teachers learn about how to initiate and sustain discussion through:

  • Inviting students to speak

  • Listening silently to student discussion
  • Introducing ‘ground rules’ of student discussion
    - consider all opinions
    - reach consensus
    - share ideas
    - encourage continued     

  • Focusing students' talk on the task

Lead teachers from the Maths-for-Life programme explain how they think about dialogic learning. 


Teacher strategies to promote dialogic learning 

Teacher pedagogies 

Hexagon shape showing text with different teacher pedagogies

Characteristics of student talk

Hexagon showing types of student dialogue


Five key pedagogies

Collaborative working

Working together towards a common goal

Guidance document (PDF)

Models of structure

Representations that provide insight into mathematical structure

Guidance document (PDF)


Drawing a lesson to a close to ensure shared understanding 

Guidance document (PDF)

Cognitive conflict

Being challenged by new information that contradicts prior ideas

Guidance document (PDF)

Formative assessment

Assessment that provides information on what to do next

Guidance document (PDF)


These teacher strategies seek to foster joint learning through student dialogue characterized by five dimensions:

  • Collective - learning tasks are addressed together
  • Reciprocal - participants listen to each other, share ideas and consider alternative viewpoints
  • Supportive - participants articulate their ideas freely, without risk of embarrassment over ‘wrong’ answers and they help each other to reach a common understanding
  • Cumulative - participants build on each others’ contributions and chain them into a coherent lines of thinking
  • Purposeful - talk is structured with specific learning goals in view

Challenges for teachers

From the trials, we found teachers had pressing concerns about a number of aspects of dialogic learning, these are listed below. These very real concerns are explicitly addressed throughout the programme.

Time pressures

It's a gallop to the main exam, we don't have time for discussion.

Students will waste time in social talk. They would rather talk about what's on TV, rather than maths.



What will other teachers think of the noise?

What if they stray off the point of the lesson?


Personal insecurity

What if they start asking questions I cannot answer?

My students are too afraid of being seen to be wrong.


Views of the students

My students cannot discuss this.

My students are too afraid of being seen to be wrong.


Views of the subject

Answers are either right or wrong - there is nothing to discuss.

If they understand there is nothing to discuss, and if they don't, they are in no position to discuss anything. In fact they may even spread their own misconceptions.


Views of learning

Mathematics is a subject where you listen and practice

Learning is a private activity




Centre for Research in Mathematics Education
School of Education, University of Nottingham
Jubilee Campus, Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB