CHEER’s collaborative work with the YMCA Linkages to Learning Program at four Elementary Schools in the Long Branch area (New Hampshire Estates, Montgomery Knolls, Rolling Terrace and JoAnn Leleck) gives us an opportunity to meet with community members/parents. In these meetings we use a “dialogical” approach to form a culture circle. This is a discussion group with a facilitator that uses representations and themes from the participants' everyday lives to initiate critical dialogue. Through dialogue and collective reflection, the group of participants transform their various observations and opinions into critical knowledge.
The dialogical approach to learning abandons the lecture format and the banking approach to education in favor of dialogue and open communication among participants and the facilitator. According with Paulo Freire (a well-known Brazilian educator), in this method, all teach and all learn. The dialogical approach contrasts with the anti-dialogical method, which positions the facilitator as the transmitter of knowledge, and maintains a hierarchical framework that silences participants' knowledge and past experiences.
This means that true comprehension can only be fashioned through conversation, questioning, and sharing one's interpretations with all persons in the group discussion. Within this concept, Freire calls for an equal playing field or "mutual humanity". Education in the post-modem society has become the backbone, the foundation for the persons of that society that will one day hold power.
We have been applying the dialogical method in community discussions for the last 2 years and in response to the following question: “How does dialogic teaching affect the participants’ social interaction?” We can say that:
Critical discussions motivate the participants to welcome mental challenges and activities making education more dynamic. In this way, they take on more group-setting responsibilities through reading and active participation in criticism and evaluation of themselves and others in the process of learning. For example, thanks to Linkages to Learning (LTL) program parents have the opportunity to take classes (English, computer, nutrition) at the LTL facilities. We were told that since the advent of this teaching method, not only the number of participants have increased but also the level of commitment to their studies.
In a dialogic group discussion where the participants are sitting around and have eye contact, the formal relationship will change as everyone has a common duty to study the issue and critically discuss. This also is applied to the facilitator, who states clearly how involved, committed and present s(he) is in the community.
These interactions provide more opportunity for equal communication between participants which leads them to respect the right of other participants. This is especially important for those who have experienced the “culture of silence”, a characteristic of oppressed people in colonized countries who do not have a voice in their own society.
Changes in the method of participation in group discussions, including the way of sitting and learning, allows participants more expression of opinions and cooperation, and forces them into active participation. This process improves the interactions between them and causes more intimacy, understanding, and ultimately, friendship with each other.
These methods change the hierarchy of “speaker” or “facilitator” into a cooperative, interactive, and partnered relationship with participants so that they feel in common with the person leading the discussion. In general, we can say that participants’ increased participation and responsibilities in discussion have improved their social growth as well as enhanced understanding and improved intimacy among fellow group members. It doesn’t end there; these methods also have shown an increase in logical discussion processes while enhancing critical thinking, of which there are six elements: analytical reasoning, cognitive maturity, self-confidence, self evaluation, open-mindedness and truth-seeking.
We know there is a lot more to achieve; the process may be slow but we are always evolving to meet the needs of residents with a goal of eventually preparing a community that advocates for themselves and makes their voices heard.