Reconceptualising teacher-child dialogue in early years education: A Bakhtinian approach
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis argues that a Bakhtinian dialogic approach holds possibilities for reconceptualising and re-enacting teacher–child dialogue interactions in early years education. It accepts education as open-ended, with children as active participants and frames teacher–child dialogues as unique encounters, which can go beyond children’s neoliberal enculturation in the world. Neoliberal discourses have exerted an important influence on early years education, emphasising universal “best evidence” strategies and narrowly defined learning “outcomes” which can lead to technicist approaches to teaching and learning. The study explores the dialogic interactions between children aged from 3½ to 5 years and their teachers in two early childhood settings. In a dialogic methodological approach, two of the teachers and myself as a researcher critically engaged in collaborative discussions of selected video recordings of the teacher–child interactions. A Bakhtinian concept of moral answerability applies to the collaborative dialogic approach between teachers and researcher. It goes beyond teaching as a technical approach with universal strategies, to provide guidance for teachers in the unique lived experiences with their students. A dialogic reflexivity, which is employed both pedagogically and as a methodological approach in the study, is aligned with Bakhtin’s philosophy of praxis in everyday life experiences. A second Bakhtinian notion of polyphony explains how each person accesses multiple voices in response, which are shaped simultaneously by unique previous experiences and the encounter itself. In educational dialogue, polyphony can open up a view of dialogue as open-ended and providing different possibilities; it can allow for more meaningful responses by students and more respectful listening from teachers. Furthermore, young children’s carnivalesque utterances are viewed as challenging authoritative, monologic discourses when analysed through a Bakhtinian lens. For Bakhtin, subjectivity is not only shaped in and through dialogue; it also in turn shapes present and future dialogue. Dialogue is therefore inevitably intertwined with subjectivity. Findings show that teaching in early childhood settings involves a complex mix of both monologic and dialogic acts. Dialogic processes can provide alternative understandings of children and teachers as agentic and unfinalised. At times, children were engaged in carnivalesque acts, resisting authoritative teaching through their play, chanting and non-verbal communication, thereby making visible the institutionalisation of children and teachers in early childhood settings. It is suggested that children who are active participants in their education need to be given opportunities for carnivalesque responses. Furthermore, when early childhood teachers have opportunities to critically reflect on children’s utterances in a collaborative dialogue with colleagues, they can gain a more complex understanding of teacher–child dialogue, enabling them to answer morally to the children in their care. Ongoing dialogic encounters with the teachers provided multiple perspectives of the data, resulting in changes to their teaching practices and routines. The findings of the study hold important implications for teaching and for in-service and pre-service teacher education. I suggest that respectful dialogic approaches between teachers and researchers hold pedagogical and methodological potential and, when used thoughtfully, can counteract neoliberal, technicist interventions. In relation to both pre-service and in-service teacher education, the study speaks to the importance of teachers being equipped to engage in open-ended dialogue with children and collaborative dialogues with peers. Drawing on Bakhtin’s concept of moral answerability, this thesis is an utterance asking for an active response not only in everyday teacher-child dialogues, but also in the ongoing, open-ended dialogue about early childhood education and, in particular, teacher–child dialogue. It leaves unfinalised not only children and adults, but also the subject of teacher- child dialogue. There is no first utterance and no last word; Bakhtinian dialogue views both children and adults as becoming.