Chattering classes

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Unravelling the jargon of educationspeak

Learning conversation. This is a high-concept, state-of-the-art technique for acquiring and disseminating information. Broadly speaking it works like this: you want to find something out; you know someone who has the information; using the verbal resources available to you, you interrogate him or her on the subject; he or she in turn, using appropriate sound-based language skills, provides an answer; as a result of this exchange, which experts call a "conversation", you've learnt something. You've had a learning conversation.

Amazingly, most people do this many times a day without realising it. In schools especially it has reached epidemic proportions, with the almost ceaseless flow of questions from "Is it break time yet?" to "What colour was King Canute's white horse?" invariably provoking appropriate replies.

Learning conversation is another example of the modern mania for dressing up something perfectly ordinary by giving it a fancy name and then having conferences about it. Surely it is only a matter of time before somebody decides to call reading "educative perusal" and sets up an evening course.

Ironically, the word conversation was dumped years ago in favour of dialogue, which is now used to describe everything from a chat in the corridor to negotiations for world peace. So any explanation of what a learning conversation actually is inevitably reaches for the D-word and launches into a soupy mixture of management-speak and new age self-improvement. It is motivational; it facilitates more efficient use of time spent interacting with colleagues; it enables deeper reflection and heightened awareness; it broadens our understanding of ourselves and others; it makes you want to go and lie down.

A learning conversation does not necessarily involve other people. This is called internal dialogue and is positively encouraged. As you get better at having learning conversations with yourself, you will develop a clear, non-judgmental voice within you, helping you to grow into a better person and have more effective and fruitful dialogues with those around you.

Except that there won't be anybody around you, ever again. They've got quite enough rubbish to put up with already, thank you, so you can have the staffroom all to yourself.

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