What is SEAs4ALL?
SEAs4ALL is an Erasmus+ project promoting ‘Successful Educational Actions for Inclusion and Social Cohesion’ (SEAs) in England, Cyprus, Italy and Catalonia. SEAs are innovative pedagogical strategies that have been shown to improve social cohesion, inclusion and attainment, and to reduce early school leaving. Based on Flecha’s principles of dialogic learning, SEAs are in use in over 600 schools in Europe and Latin America and have proved successful in a wide variety of contexts, with all age groups and in challenging social and economic circumstances.
We suggest that SEAs, and the opportunity to participate in ‘egalitarian dialogue’ in the classroom, could pre-empt the disillusion and mistrust allegedly underlying the widespread, anti-establishment votes of recent months. We suggest also that such disillusion may be a consequence of the unintended exclusion many children experience in the classroom, given decades of evidence of teacher-dominated classroom interaction in which only a small proportion of those present actually speak. Teaching that requires learners to be passive, to speak in chorus or to answer actual questions in short, memory –based utterances can build resentment that lingers into adulthood, potentially damaging lives and communities.
SEAs4ALL offers solutions through dialogic approaches that value everyone’s contributions and encourage community participation. SEAs4ALL responds to four CPRT priorities – equity, voice, community and pedagogy – and has obvious parallels with the joint CPRT/University of York project on dialogic teaching and social disadvantage. Our arguments are not new, but one strength of dialogic learning, is its affordances for what Louis Moll calls ‘funds of knowledge’ from family and community to penetrate the exclusive epistemic climate created by the bank of knowledge known as the national curriculum.
The SEAs4ALL project
SEAs4ALL is an extension of the EC-funded INCLUD-ED: Strategies for inclusion and social cohesion from education research, directed by Professor Ramón Flecha at the Community of Research on Excellence for All (CREA, University of Barcelona), between 2006 – 2011. INCLUD-ED worked in 14 European countries to find and trial educational actions that succeeded in improving social and academic factors, with emphasis on the inclusion of vulnerable groups such as migrants, cultural minorities, women, youth and people with disabilities. The research demonstrated that SEAs work with children and adults, in mono- or multi-ethnic, urban or rural, rich or poor settings – unlike context–specific ‘best practices’.
Two SEAs, ‘Dialogic Literary Gatherings’ (DLG) and ‘Interactive groups’ (IG), were adopted by six primary schools in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Peterborough in the ChiPE project (2013-15) led by Dra. Rocío García Carrión. The positive outcomes resulted in three schools extending their SEAs to more classes in 2016. In SEAs4ALL, two lead schools, The Spinney Primary School, Cambridge, and West Earlham Junior School, Norwich, are using SEAs, supported by Cambridgeshire Race, Equality and Diversity Service (CREDS).
What does SEAs4ALL involve?
Both DLG and IG exemplify Ramón Flecha’s principles of dialogic learning. The first principle is of Egalitarian Dialogue which ‘…takes different contributions into consideration according to the validity of their reasoning, instead of according to the positions of power held by those who make the contributions’. Giving children the same right to speak as the teacher – who chairs the DLG to ensure order and fair turns – removes the ubiquitous ‘follow-up’ or ‘feedback’ move from IRF, thus allowing the dialogue to develop. Secondly, the principle of ‘cultural intelligence’ accepts that every person has intelligence to share, whether abstract, practical, homegrown, certificated or book-based.
In DLGs, each child takes home an age-appropriate edition of a classic text (such as The Odyssey, Great Expectations, Don Quixote), reads an agreed section that everyone can read with help if necessary. While reading, participants choose an idea from the text and note the reason for their choice. In the ‘Gathering’, the teacher, children, TAs and parents (if participating), sit in a large circle. The teacher (usually) chairs the session. Participants offer to share their choice, and when invited, read their chosen excerpt (phrase, sentence or paragraph) and explain their choice. Other participants comment on the choice and reason, agreeing/disagreeing (surprisingly politely), presenting new arguments and extending the original idea with their own ‘funds of knowledge’. Difficult topics such as honesty, love, death, friendships, racism are common, and last 5 – 10 minutes. The children express moral and ethical arguments, in long utterances – 40 words or more. Some children change their thinking during the dialogue. Critically, the children choose the topics, control the content of discussion, and have their ideas respected. Our observations show consistently that children do over 80 percent of the talking, with over 75 percent contributing. Most surprising is that the teachers say little and listen.
IGs can be used in any curriculum area, and frequently in mathematics and language learning. The class is divided into four or five mixed ability groups. The teacher prepares a 15-20 minute task for each group on the relevant theme. An adult volunteer (e.g. parent, grandparent, community member, support staff, trainee teacher) sits with each group to introduce the task and then ensure that the children help and explain the work to each other. The volunteer does not teach, but facilitates the children’s supporting each other. After about 15 minutes the children move on to the next task with another volunteer, such that they have done all the tasks by the end of the session. The teacher observes, monitors, ensures smooth circulation, and might ask the class to analyse their learning before each change. Children’s evaluative comments reveal their view that, often, other children explain the task better than the teacher.
IG and DLG allow Flecha’s ‘dialogic learning’ to flourish. Both demonstrate ‘egalitarian dialogue’ and capitalise on each child’s ‘cultural intelligence’. Both are completely inclusive. They transform children’s and teachers’ opinions about each other and about knowledge. They improve literacy, numeracy and oracy skills. They offer solutions to the problems posed in two Cambridge Primary Review research surveys
- Children’s social development, peer interaction and classroom learning (Christine Howe and Neil Mercer, 2010)
- Children’s lives outside school and their educational impact (Berry Mayall, 2010)
In relation to CPRT’s priorities, these SEAs:
- help to close educational and social gaps (equity),
- give children the floor (voice)
- involve parents and community at home and in the classroom (community)
- develop teachers’ listening abilities and foster high quality talk (pedagogy)
For more information about SEAS4ALL
Linda Hargreaves is Reader Emerita in classroom learning and pedagogy, University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education.
Rachel Snape is Headteacher of The Spinney Primary School, Cambridge, a national leader of education, head of the KITE Teaching School Alliance, Cambridgeshire, and a member of the CPRT Schools Alliance.
To learn more about SEAs4ALL contact coordinator Maria Vieites Casado firstname.lastname@example.org