Independenceor interdependence? dialogue-theoretical problems of "independent" learning

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This paper is a theoretical paper that highlights some implications of a dialogic ontology in educational research. However, for the sake of clarity we will very succinctly setting off to describe the background which is our empirical point of departure. The aim of our current empirical study is to explore how 12 adult students in a Swedish secondary school interpret the school task of doing ‘independent’ project works, addressing the questions of how students talk and reason about their own processes and values of the activity-specific task. In brief, the method is focus group conversations (three participant groups) and the result reveals the fact that the participants appreciated their common teacher, who was considered as a very successful guide. The teacher systematically provided orders, instruction, feedback and, most importantly, planning and staging in a stepwise fashion. In doing so she paradoxically also indirectly fostered her students to be even less independent, that is, more easily adapted to the institutional requirements without bothering too much about how to manage the tasks themselves. Project work is commonly described as a self-regulated form of the task; a common mode of student work in Swedish schools (Eklöf, Nilsson & Ottosson, 2014). As Bergqvist & Säljö (2004) highlight, it could further be conceived of as a disciplining, student-centered practice that is widely used to produce self-organizing learners. Although the students are supposed to work independently, they are considerably dependent on the instructional, organizational and evaluative work of the teachers (Åberg, 2015).


Drawing on a sociocultural perspective on learning, as we do, the notion of individualistic independency is well-known as a problematic stance (e.g., Wertsch, 1998). In the sociocultural version of dialogism social interdependence is a dialogic premise on both the epistemological and ontological level (Linell, 2009). Wegerif (2008) describes how the functional role of difference between learners’ voices is of significance to the Bakhtin-influenced take on multi-voiced dialogue (cf. Kullenberg & Pramling, 2016; Lefstein & Snell, 2014). In such a dialogic framing the teacher is not striving to overcome these differences between, for example, the student’s and the teacher’s opinions. Such recognition holds interpersonal difference seriously and moreover address a fairly uncommon approach to the educational notion of intersubjective agreements (Matusov, 1996, 2015; Wegerif, 2011).


This dialogic approach stresses the issue of student agency and, thus, democratic values of teaching acts. When respecting and promoting students’ own voices a genuine interaction of consciousnesses is possible to create throughout the pedagogical dialogues (cf. Bakhtin, 2004; Matusov, 2015). Hence, what constitutes a genuine interaction is the other-orientation toward the difference of the other, recognizing the learning potentials of the gap between distinct consciousnesses. Philosophically speaking, it further suggests the conceptual need to stress alterity in other-orientation (cf. Linell, 2009).


Recalling our examined students, they report a situated learning that is basically grounded in a “teacher-pleasing relationship” (Matusov, 2011). While working successfully they are heavily dependent on their teacher’s agency rather than developing their own. Indeed, as sociocultural scholars we might notice that there exists a considerably confined teacher agency as well; an agency which is clearly bound to pre-determined institutional goals. This contextual condition did not facilitate the student (and teacher) opportunity to learn and experience something radically unpredicted, for example, being dialogically surprised or challenged by the genuine other. The students in our study do not neither regard themselves as truly independent nor creatively personalized. Due to a Bakhtinian approach to education, independency is an illusion anyhow, but being personalized, rather than socialized, in and through education is a central dialogue theoretical issue (Lobok, 2014).


In our fully elaborated paper we will dwell upon the dialogue philosophical issue on other-orientation and the role of alterity, briefly described above. In addition we intend to provide a more detailed sketch of our study and the implications for dialogic pedagogy, informed by Bakhtin and educational scholars within the field.







Åberg, M. (2015). Doing project work: the interactional organization of tasks, resources, and instructions. Diss. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet.

Bakhtin, M. M. (2004). Dialogic origin and dialogic pedagogy of grammar: Stylistics in teaching Russian language in secondary school. Journal of Russian & East European Psychology, 42(6), 12-49.

Bergqvist, K. & Säljö, R. (2004). Learning to plan: A study of reflexivity and discipline in modern pedagogy. In J.V.D. Linden & P. Renshaw (Eds.) Dialogic learning: Shifting perspectives to learning, instruction and teaching (pp. 109-124). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Eklöf, A., Nilsson, L.-E., & Ottosson, T. (2014). Instructions, Independence and Uncertainty: student framing in self-regulated project work. European Educational Research Journal, 13(6), 646-660.

Kullenberg, T & Pramling, N. (2016). Learning and knowing songs: a study of children as music teachers. Instructional Science, 44(1), 1-23.

Lefstein, A., & Snell, J. (2014). Better than best practice: Developing teaching and learning through dialogue. London: Routledge.

Linell, P. (2009). Rethinking language, mind, and world dialogically : interactional and contextual theories of human sense-making. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publ.

Lobok, A. (2014). Education/obrazovanie as an experience of an encounter. Dialogic    Pedagogy: An International Online Journal, 2, S1-S5. DOI: 10.5195/dpj.2014.84.

Matusov, E. (1996). Intersubjectivity without agreement. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 3(1), 25-45.

Matusov, E. (2011). Authorial teaching and learning. In E. J. White & M. A. Peters (Eds.), Bakhtinian pedagogy: Opportunities and challenges for research, policy and practice in education across the globe (pp. 21–46). New York: Peter Lang.

Matusov, E. (2015). Comprehension: A dialogic authorial approach. Culture & Psychology,   21(3), 392-416.

Wegerif, R. (2008). Dialogic or dialectic? The significance of ontological assumptions in research on educational dialogue. British Educational Research Journal, 34(3), 347–361.

Wegerif, R. (2011). Towards a dialogic theory of how children learn to think. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 6, 179-190

Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind as action. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.



StatusPublicerad - 2017
Evenemang17th Biennial EARLI Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction, EARLI, Finland, Tampere -
Varaktighet: 1980-jan-01 → …


Konferens17th Biennial EARLI Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction, EARLI, Finland, Tampere
Period80-01-01 → …

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