Harvard Educational Review
  1. Sharing Words

    Theory and Practice of Dialogic Learning

    By Ramón Flecha

    Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. 128 pp. $60.00, $23.95 (paper)

    In Sharing Words: Theory and Practice of Dialogic Learning, Ramón Flecha provides a unique example of the theory and practice of dialogic learning. By mixing educational and social theory with literature, life narratives, and personal accounts, Flecha creatively narrates the practice of dialogic learning in a seemingly utopian reality: a literary circle in which low-literacy adults enjoy reading books by authors like Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and García Lorca.

    The book opens with an extensive theoretical introduction to the foundations of dialogic learning, providing a comprehensive synthesis of current developments in social, human, and educational sciences relevant to the dialogic approach. Drawing from an interdisciplinary approach, Flecha’s theoretical framework includes the works of sociologists such as Catells, educators such as Freire, psychologists such as Vygotsky, and philosophers such as Habermas. It also includes a critique of authors such as Althusser, Derrida, Foucault, and Heidegger. Flecha uses this theoretical debate as the foundation for what he describes as the seven principles of dialogic learning: egalitarian dialogue, cultural intelligence, transformation, instrumental dimension, creating meaning, solidarity, and equality of difference. This introduction also sets the stage for the rest of the book, as each chapter guides the reader to a deeper understanding of one of the seven principles.

    The central topic in Sharing Words is the promotion of reading. In the literary circle described in this book, people with diverse educational backgrounds come to enjoy reading classical literature and to engage with others in dialogue regarding issues of history, politics, friendship, family, love, and multiculturalism. Most participants are people without a high school or university background; in fact, most of them are attending a school for adults or are people whose children or grandchildren are in school. Keeping that in mind, the author wrote this book to be accessible to a wide audience, from practitioners and scholars to the very participants in the literary circle he describes.

    Through the book’s seven chapters, readers can explore different aspects of an uncommon learning experience and see how people who are often labeled “illiterate” come to understand and enjoy reading books like The Odyssey, Ulysses, or Don Quixote, which even some teachers and professors find difficult to read. Sharing Words narrates the learning experiences in the reading group in a profound and subjective manner that enables us to see how these individuals are transforming their cognitive, social, and emotional development. Flecha does this by focusing in each chapter on one of the seven participants: Manuel, Lola, Chelo, Rocío, Juan, Rosalía, and Antonio. We see two very different women (an educator and an unlettered woman) express their consent and dissent about various feminist matters. We also witness a member of the Gypsy community contributing to the circle’s dialogic learning, some urban citizens’ search for meaning, and the story of a school dropout who overcomes seemingly insurmountable barriers to learning.

    It is difficult to classify a book like Sharing Words as belonging to a specific type, genre, or discipline because it crosses many borders. It highlights both theory and practice; it is both expository and narrative; and it refers as much to educational and social science works as to classical literature. In this way, Sharing Words may be an example of a new way of writing about educational theory and practice, one that results in a captivating and enjoyable experience that invites the reader to share and comment with colleagues, students, and friends.

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