Dialogue and Reading

There are several contemporary and classic resources that address the talk-text-task relationship for learners from age 2 to grade 2 and beyond. Dialogic reading with picture books is a great starting place for children as young as 2. Whitehurst’s work described in the previous blog gives parents and preschool teachers a place to start. But dialogic reading is not just for preschoolers. Recently David Pearson in a video talk titled “Rich Talk and Text” described the importance of “rich talk.” He does not discount the importance of good decoding and word recognition, nor good fluency, nor comprehension skills and strategies (such as “reciprocal teaching” and “transactional strategies instruction”). He goes on to say,

“It’s comprehension, understanding, enjoyment and insight for every child—those are the real goals we have or our reading instruction. Hence the role of rich talk about text….”

He goes on to describe the conversational “roles” assumed, not just by teachers, but by the students that determine the effectiveness and quality of the talk. He uses Freebody and Luke’s “Four Literacy Resources” to describe these roles.

“When you’re dealing with the text at hand, you might say the read is a “decoder.” When you’re dealing with interpretation establishing relationships amongst the idea in a text and relating those to ideas to things you already know about, that’s the “meaning-maker.” And, when you’re getting readers to understand the uses to which a text is put, or you’re trying to get readers to evaluate the moves that the author has made, then you’re in the “user” or “critic” role.”  [I would add the role of “process manager” given the importance of learners understanding the processes involved in choosing and managing text if they are to become independent readers.]

Next Pearson offers support for this framework through a meta-analysis by Murphy based on hundreds of reviews of classroom discussions and research about classroom discussions. These analyses showed that it mattered who did the talking and what they talked about.

“There’s a lot of evidence that you get what you pay for, especially for critical thinking and what this means is that if you emphasized text-based comprehension, kids got better at that; if you emphasized aesthetic and expressive comprehension, kids got better at that. And kids never got better at critical thinking or critical response to a text unless you went for it very, very directly…”

“When a teacher promoted higher level talk about text and here, what I mean by that, is less of the literal stuff and more of the meaning-making and more of the critical analysis, that is always the predicted achievement. It didn’t matter whether it was a first grade classroom or a fifth grade classroom or a sixth grade classroom; it didn’t matter whether it was a rich school or a poor school; we almost always got that relationship….

Pearson offers a chart to show the kinds of conversational moves with definitions and examples that promote these meaning-making and critical analysis conversations. He ends his discussion with advice about the use of “gradual release of responsibility” whereby a teacher moves from explicit instructor to conversational participant.

“….you might say that your role as a teacher is one of a participant—you’re just participating in the classroom environment in those discussions just like everyone else. Then we know that students are taking control of the conversations and responsibility for their understanding of texts.”

This presentation is well worth the time to read (Published 2010)! Here is the link


And here are other links to Dr. Pearson’s work:

http://scienceandliteracy.org/sites/scienceandliteracy.org/files/biblio/pdpearson/Pearson_RichTalkAboutText2009.pdf PP


Coming next, the work of Richard Allington, whose research and writings span more than 30 years, including the article written in 2002 and published by Reading Rockets. The 6 T’s of Effective Reading Instruction.