Gordon Wells
Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
Rebeca Mejía Arauz
ITESO, Mexico
Publicado julio 24, 2018


There is increasing agreement among those who study classrooms that learning is likely to be most effective when students are actively involved in the co-construction of meaning through discussion of topics that are of significance to them. This paper reports the results of an extended collaborative action research project in which teachers attempted to create the conditions for such discussion by adopting an inquiry approach to the curriculum. A quantitative comparison between observations made early and late in the teachers’ involvement in the project showed a number of significant changes in the characteristics of teacher-whole class discourse, with a shift toward a more dialogic mode of interaction. Nevertheless, the frequency of stretches of “true discussion”, as defined by Nystrand et al. (2002), remained low. When the same observations were examined qualitatively, however, there was clear evidence of an increase over time in the teachers’ success in engaging students in co-constructing accounts and explanations. The paper concludes with a reconsideration of the purpose of “dialogue” in the classroom and of teachers’ goals and strategies in trying to achieve it.

KEYWORDS: Classroom discourse - Activity theory - Teacher research


Existe cada vez mayor acuerdo entre aquellos que estudian los salones de clase en que es más probable que el aprendizaje sea más efectivo cuando los estudiantes se involucran activamente en la co-construcción del significado a través de la discusión de los temas que son relevantes para ellos. En este artículo reportamos los resultados de un proyecto de investigación-acción colaborativa a largo plazo, en el que los profesores y profesoras intentaron crear las condiciones para la discusión por medio de la adopción de un enfoque de indagación en el currículo. Los resultados de una comparación cuantitativa entre las observaciones hechas al inicio y posteriormente a la implicación de los maestros en el proyecto, mostró un número significativo de cambios en las características del discurso entre el/la maestro/a y la clase, con un giro hacia un modo más dialógico de interacción. A pesar de ello, la frecuencia de momentos de “verdadera discusión”, tal como la definió Nystrand et al. (2002), fue baja. Sin embargo, cuando las mismas observaciones se examinaron cualitativamente, se encontró clara evidencia de un incremento a lo largo del tiempo en la habilidad de los maestros/as para facilitar que los estudiantes generaran comentarios y explicaciones en forma co-construida. El artículo concluye con una reconsideración del propósito del “dialogo” en el salón de clases y los objetivos y estrategias de los maestros/as al tratar de lograrla.

PALABRAS CLAVE: Discurso en el aula - Teoría de la Actividad - Docentes investigadores


Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (Y. McGee, Trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Barnes, D. (1976). From communication to curriculum. (2nd edition 1992), Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Heinemann. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

Bereiter, C. (1994). Implications of postmodernism for science, or, science as progressive discourse. Educational Psychologist, 29 (1), 3-12.

Bereiter, C. and Scardamalia, M. (1996). Rethinking learning. In D. R. Olson and N. Torrance (Eds.), The handbook of education and human development (pp. 485-513). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Bernstein, B. (1971). Class, codes and control Vol.I: Theoretical studies towards a sociology of language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Bernstein, B. (1982). Codes, modalities and the process of cultural reproduction: A model. In M. Apple (Ed.), Cultural and economic reproduction in education (pp. 304-355). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Berry, M. (1981). Systemic linguistics and discourse analysis: a multilayered approach to exchange structure. In M. Coulthard and M.

Montgomery (Eds.), Studies in discourse analysis (pp. 120-145). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Brown, A. L. and Campione, J. C. (1994). Guided discovery in a community of learners. In K. McGilly (Ed.), Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 229-270). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books.

Cazden, C. (1988). Classroom discourse: The language of teaching and learning. (Second edition, 2000). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Chi, M. T. H. (1997). Quantifying qualitative analyses of verbal data: A practical guide. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 6 (3), 271-315.

Cobb, P. and Bowers, J. (1999). Cognitive and situated learning: Perspectives in theory and practice. Educational Researcher (March), 4-15.

Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge, MA: The Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Davis, G. (2001) A comparison of student-led discussions: Class meetings and novel discussions. In G. Wells (Ed.) Action, talk and text: Learning and teaching through inquiry. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dawes, L; Mercer, N. and Wegerif, R. (2000). Thinking together: Activities for children and teachers at Key Stage 2. Birmingham, UK: Questions Publishing.

Donoahue, Z. (1998). Giving children control: Fourth graders initiate and sustain discussions after teacher read-alouds. Networks, 1(1)

http://education.ucsc.edu/faculty/gwells/networks/journal/Vol%201(1).1998sept/article4.html (retrieved: 18 November 2005)

Driver, R. (1983). The pupil as scientist?. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press.

Edwards, D. and Mercer, N. (1987). Common knowledge. London: Methuen/Routledge.

Eggins, S. and Slade, D. (1997). Analysing casual conversation. London: Cassell.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Galton, M; Simon, B; and Croll, P. (1980). Inside primary schools. London:


Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning. Portsmouth,

NH: Heinemann.

Goodlad, J. J. (1984). A place called school: Prospects for the future. New York: McGraw Hill.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning. London: Arnold.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1993). Towards a language-based theory of learning. Linguistics and Education, 5, 93-116.

Halliday, M. A. K. and Hasan, R. (1985). Language, context and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective. Geelong: Deakin University (Republished by Oxford University Press, 1989).

Hasan, R. (2002). Semiotic mediation and mental development in pluralistic societies: Some implications for tomorrow's schooling. In G. Wells and G. Claxton (Eds.), Learning for life in the 21st century: Sociocultural perspectives on the future of education (pp. 112-126). Oxford: Blackwell.

Hasan, R. and Cloran, C. (1990). A sociolinguistic interpretation of everyday talk between mothers and children. In M. A. K. Halliday, J. Gibbons and H. Nicholas (Eds.), Learning, keeping and using language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hatano, G; and Inagaki, K. (1991). Sharing cognition through collective comprehension activity. In L. B. Resnick, J. M. Levine and S. D. Teasley (Eds.), Perspectives on socially shared cognition. (pp. 331-348). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kowal, M. (2001). Knowledge building: Learning about native issues outside in and inside out. In G. Wells (Ed.), Action, talk, and text: Learning and teaching through inquiry (pp. 118-133). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lampert, M. (1990). When the problem is not the question and the solution is not the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 27, 29-63.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Leont'ev, A. N. (1981). The problem of activity in psychology. In J.V. Wertsch (Ed.), The concept of activity in Soviet Psychology (pp. 37-71). Armonk, NY: Sharpe.

Matusov, E. (1996). Intersubjectivity without agreement. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 3, 25-45.

McGlynn-Stewart, M. (2001). Look how we've grown! In G. Wells (Ed.), Action, talk, and text; Learning and teaching through inquiry (pp. 195-200). New York: Teachers College Press.

McGlynn-Stewart, M. (2003). Co-researching the researchers: DICEP's ongoing self-reflection. Networks, 6 (1). http://education.ucsc.edu/faculty/gwells/networks/journal/Vol%206(1).2003feb/Interviews.html (retrieved: 18 November 2005)

Mercer, N. (1995). The guided construction of knowledge. Clevedon UK: Multilingual Matters.

Nassaji, H. and Wells, G. (2000). What's the use of triadic dialogue? An investigation of teacher-student interaction. Applied Linguistics, 21 (3), 333-363.

Newman, J. (1987). Learning to teach by uncovering our assumptions. Language Arts, 64 (7), 727-737.

Newman, D; Griffin, P. and Cole, M. (1989). The construction zone: Working for cognitive change in school. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nystrand, M. (1997). Opening dialogue: Understanding the dynamics of language and learning in the English classroom. New York: Teacher College Press.

Nystrand, M. and Gamoran, A. (1991). Student engagement: When recitation becomes conversation. In H. C. Waxman and H. J. Walberg (Eds.), Effective teaching: Current research. (pp. 257-276). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing Corp.

Nystrand, M; Wu, L. L; Gamoran, A; Zeiser, S; and Long, D. A. (2002). Questions in time: Investigating the structure and dynamics of unfolding classroom discourse. Madison, WI: National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement (CELA), The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Palincsar, A. S; Magnusson, S. J; Marano, N; Ford, D. and Brown, N. (1998). Designing a community of practice: Principles and practices of the GIsML Community. Teaching and Teacher Education, 14 (1), 5-20.

Pontecorvo, C; and Fasulo, A. (1997). Learning to argue in family dinner conversations: The reconstruction of past events. In C. Pontecorvo (Ed.), Discourse, tools and reasoning. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Rogoff, B. (1994). Developing understanding of the idea of Communities of Learners. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 1 (4), 209-229.

Rogoff, B; Matusov, E; and White, C. (1996). Models of teaching and learning: Participation in a community of learners. In D. R. Olson and N. Torrance (Ed.), The handbook of education and human development (pp. 388-414). Oxford: Blackwell.

Roseberry, A; Warren, B; and Conant, F. (1992). Appropriating scientific discourse: findings from language minority classrooms. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2, 61-94.

Scardamalia, M; Bereiter, C. and Lamon, M. (1994). The CSILE project: Trying to bring the classroom into World 3. In K. McGilly (Ed.), Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 201-228). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sinclair, J. M. and Coulthard, M. (1975). Towards an analysis of discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. London: Oxford University Press.

Tharp, R. and Gallimore, R. (1988). Rousing minds to life. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1934/1987). Thinking and speech. (N. Minick, Trans.). In R. W. Rieber and A. S. Carton (Eds.), The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Volume 1: Problems of general psychology (pp. 39-285). New York: Plenum.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1981). The genesis of higher mental functions. In J. V. Wertsch (Ed.), The concept of activity in Soviet Psychology (pp. 144-188). Armonk, NY: Sharpe.

Wegerif, R. and Mercer, N. (1997). A dialogical framework for researching peer talk. In P. Scrimshaw (Ed.), Computers and talk in the primary classroom. Clevedon, U.K.: Multilingual Matters.

Wells, G. (1981). Learning through interaction: The study of language development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wells, G. (1985). Language development in the pre-school years. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wells, G. (1993). Reevaluating the IRF sequence: A proposal for the articulation of theories of activity and discourse for the analysis of teaching and learning in the classroom. Linguistics and Education, 5, 1-38.

Wells, G. (1995). Language and the inquiry-oriented curriculum. Curriculum Inquiry, 25 (3), 233-269.

Wells, G. (1999). Dialogic inquiry: Towards a sociocultural practice and theory of education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wells, G. (Ed.). (2001). Action, talk, and text: Learning and teaching through inquiry. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wood, D. (1992). Teaching talk. In K. Norman (Ed.), Thinking voices: The work of the National Oracy Project (pp. 203-214). London: Hodder and Stoughton for the National Curriculum Council.