Segal, A. & Lefstein, A. (2016). Exuberant, voiceless participation: an unintended conse-
quence of dialogic sensibilities? Contribution to a special issue on International Perspectives
on Dialogic Theory and Practice, edited by Sue Brindley, Mary Juzwik, and Alison Whitehurst.
L1-Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 16, p. 1-19.
Corresponding author: Aliza Segal. Ben Gurion University of the Negev; The Hebrew Universi-
ty of Jerusalem. Hechatzav 9B, Beit Shemesh 99590, Israel, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2016 International Association for Research in L1 Education.
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION: AN UNINTENDED
CONSEQUENCE OF DIALOGIC SENSIBILITIES?
ALIZA SEGAL & ADAM LEFSTEIN*
* Ben Gurion University of the Negev
One approach to dialogic pedagogy focuses on the interplay of voices: Whose voices are expressed and
attended to in classroom discourse? And how do these voices play off of one another in creating new
ideas and meanings? In particular, to what extent are students empowered to express their own voices,
rather than reproducing the teacher or textbook’s authoritative discourse? Building on Bakhtin, Hymes
and Blommaert, we argue that realizing voice involves (a) opportunity to speak, (b) expressing one’s
own ideas, (c) on one’s own terms, and (d) being heeded by others. Employing this framework in an
analysis of Hebrew language lessons in two Israeli primary schools, we identify patterns of exuberant,
voiceless participation: students enthusiastically contribute to lively classroom discussion, often framing
their contributions as dialogically responding to and building on one another's ideas, but at the level of
voice the discussion is for the most part univocal since most student contributions are aligned with the
official voice of the teacher and curriculum, and the rare independent student voices fall out of the
Keywords: Dialogic pedagogy; Voice; Classroom discourse; Linguistic ethnography; Hebrew
2 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
A common criticism of current classroom discourse practices – often expressed by
teachers, administrators, and researchers – is that the teacher does too much of
the talking. Critics would like to hear more student voices, and for longer turns at
talk. Such student participation is seen as crucial for learning, and its relative ab-
sence is often interpreted as evidence of a transmissive teaching style and an op-
pressive classroom regime. Proponents of dialogic pedagogy, in particular, abhor
such asymmetrical classroom talk, and call for empowering student voices.
This paper describes one of the ways such criticism can seep into and transform
classroom culture: a phenomenon we are calling “exuberant, voice-less participa-
tion” (cf. Rampton, 2006, p. 62). Students in our study of seven language arts class-
rooms in two Israeli primary schools frequently announce their intentions to ex-
press new ideas and to build on one another’s contributions, and such dialogic
speech acts are actively encouraged by the teacher. However, upon examination,
these declarations seem hollow and ritualistic, since the students are in most cases
animating the teachers’ voice rather than offering independent or original perspec-
tives. We discuss this phenomenon through microanalysis of a classroom event,
and argue on the basis of this analysis that educators and researchers committed
to dialogic pedagogy can benefit from paying close and careful attention to voice
and processes of its realisation.
This article is organized in four sections: first, we build upon Bakhtin and Hymes
to construct a framework for examining voice in classroom discourse; next, we pre-
sent the study from which the data have been taken, and our selection and analysis
of the episode in this article; third, we investigate this episode, illustrating and
elaborating the phenomenon of exuberant, voice-less participation; finally, we con-
clude the article with a discussion of the implications of this study for dialogic ped-
agogy research and practice.
1.1 Dialogic pedagogy: creating conditions for the realization of voice
A broad range of teaching and learning practices can be loosely grouped under the
labels dialogic pedagogy, teaching or education. Scholarship in the field is multiple
and varied, with different approaches foregrounding different issues and concerns,
including, for example, discourse patterns, epistemologies, relationships, power,
and an inquiry stance (see Lefstein & Snell, 2014). The inspirations and justifica-
tions for dialogic pedagogy are also varied. Many educationalists draw their inspira-
tion from philosophical dialogue, and seek to bring Socratic questioning and doubt
into the classroom (e.g. Billings & Fitzgerald, 2002; Haroutunian-Gordon, 2009).
Some scholars, building on Vygotskyan ideas about the centrality of interpersonal
communication for intrapersonal development, view joint inquiry and negotiation
of meaning as critical means of learning (e.g. Mercer & Littleton, 2007; Alexander,
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 3
2008). Considerable evidence has begun to emerge about the effectiveness of such
academically productive talk (Resnick, Asterhan & Clarke, 2015). Other scholars
emphasize the capacity of dialogue to transform classroom and social power rela-
tions (e.g. Freire, 1986). Still other scholars critique such instrumental views of dia-
logue, instead proposing an ontological dialogic pedagogy in which the educational
goals, contents and processes are necessarily open, to be determined together by
the participants (see, especially, Matusov, 2009).
Central to much of this scholarship is a concern with the expression and interac-
tion of student voices. For example, Scott, Mortimer and Aguiar (2006) distinguish
between authoritative discourse, in which the teacher focuses attention on the
disciplinary or school point of view, ignoring or dismissing student voices that do
not contribute to its development, and dialogic discourse, which is characterized by
an “interanimation of ideas” (voices attend to, respond to, build upon and interact
with one another). Scott and colleagues see both authoritative and dialogic dis-
course, and the tension between them, as important for meaningful disciplinary
engagement in science. They argue, “Students need to engage in the dialogic pro-
cess of exploring and working on ideas, with a high level of interanimation, within
the context of the scientiﬁc point of view” (p. 622).
Similarly, Nystrand and colleagues (1997) distinguish between the prevalent
“monologically organized instruction”, in which the voices of the textbook and
teacher dominate classroom discourse, and “dialogically organized instruction”, in
which “teachers make some public space for unofficial student voices; consequen t-
ly, the discourse is more balanced so that the teacher’s voice is but one voice
among many, albeit a critical one” (p. 15).
What does it mean to create public space for unofficial student voices? What
does exercising voice involve? At a most basic level, expressing one’s voice would
seem to be a simple matter of taking advantage of an opportunity to speak. How-
ever, building on Bakhtin and Hymes’ careful analyses of voice and its realization
(respectively), we argue that such an opportunity is only a small part of a much
more complicated process. In sum, voice involves (a) opportunity to speak, (b) ex-
pressing one’s own ideas, (c) on one’s own terms, and (d) being heeded by others.
In what follows we explicate, and to a certain extent also complicate, these issues
(parts of this section are adapted from Lefstein & Perath, 2014 and Lefstein & Snell,
Voice as opportunity to speak. We use “speak” here broadly, as a metonym for
all forms of expression (oral, written and via other modes or people). Opportunities
to speak can be limited by constraints upon access to the floor, sign system, media
or means of representation. In classrooms such constraints are common, with for-
mal rules and informal norms limiting the times at which students can talk, the top-
ics they can legitimately address, and the ways in which they can express them-
selves. For example, in many Anglo-American classrooms students are allowed to
speak only after raising their hands to bid for a turn and being nominated by the
teacher. Deviation from these norms – e.g. students calling out answers without
4 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
officially receiving the floor – often results in the teacher ignoring the student’s
contribution and/or admonishing them for their misconduct (see, e.g. Edwards &
Voice as expressing one’s own ideas. Voice is not just about activating one’s vo-
cal chords but also implies using them to express one’s own intentions and ideas.
Hence, relaying someone else’s message, or animating their voice in Goffman’s
(1981) terms, would not be considered a realization of voice – unless the messen-
ger were to infuse the original author’s words with their own particular stance, e.g.,
with mocking or sarcastic delivery. Prevalent recitation-style classroom discourse is
often criticized precisely because students are called upon to reproduce previously
taught answers or guess what the teacher has in mind. Maybin (2006) describes the
“more formal teacher-pupil dialogues” in her data set of Year 6 and 7 (10-12 year
olds) classroom recordings:
… usually tightly structured and heavily controlled by the teacher, so that the very act
of taking part in them appears to express acceptance of the discursive positioning they
offer, compliance with the institutional authority they encode, and commitment to the
ways of talking about procedures and knowledge which the teacher is modelling.
Whether they are concerned with classroom management or curriculum content,
these kinds of dialogues essentially entail children repeating and appropriating the
teacher’s voice and thus expressing commitment to her evaluative perspective. (p.
While teachers’ requests for student reproduction of official voices are usually
readily identifiable, the question of what constitutes an authentic student voice is
tricky, since the boundaries between one’s own and another’s voice are not at all
clear cut. Moreover, appropriating the voices of the teacher or textbook – i.e. de-
veloping an academic voice – is an important educational aim. How can we distin-
guish between Vygotskyan mediation and monologic silencing? Bakhtin’s work on
the inherent dialogicality of language is helpful for thinking through this issue (e.g.
Bakhtin, 1981, 1986). According to Bakhtin, every utterance, every voice, every
thought is related dialogically to the utterances, voices and thoughts to which they
respond and to which they are addressed. As such, multiple voices interact (or “in-
teranimate”, “refract one another”) within each utterance: that of the utterance’s
author, those to whom the author is responding, and those of the addressees,
whose responses the author attempts to anticipate.
Hence, Bakhtin (1981) writes, “our speech is filled to overflowing with other
people’s words” (p. 337) and “the word in language is half someone else’s” (p.
294). In that case, what could speaking in one’s own, authentic voice mean? Bakh-
tin describes the becoming of individual consciousness as a site of “intense strug-
gle” between others’ voices and our own, between “authoritative discourse” (such
as that of the Church, the State or the school) that is imposed upon us from with-
out, and “internally persuasive discourse” that we freely accept, and have populat-
ed with our own intentions and unique contexts.
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 5
[C]onsciousness awakens to independent ideological life precisely in a world of alien
discourses surrounding it, and from which it cannot initially separate itself; the process
of distinguishing between one's own and another's discourse, between one's own and
another's thought, is activated rather late in development. When thought begins to
work in an independent, experimenting and discriminating way, what first occurs is a
separation between internally persuasive discourse and authoritarian enforced dis-
course, along with a rejection of those congeries of discourses that do not matter to
us, that do not touch us. (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 345)
In Bakhtin’s account, the immersion in and assimilation of authoritative discourse is
a precondition for the development of internally persuasive discourse. What are
the implications of such an account for the classroom? One possible interpretation
is to accept that school is necessarily a site of authoritative imposition (Bakhtin,
1984, writing in a very different era and socio-political context, seemed to assume
as much), and that students’ struggle against this imposition, and the consequent
development of independent voices, will take place in extra-curricular spaces. An-
other interpretation, which we advance here, is that the classroom can become a
place in which students are allowed and even encouraged to begin to experiment
with official discourse, struggle against it and ultimately reproduce in their own
accent and in a fashion that serves their own purposes. So, to return to the ques-
tion – how can the mediation of academic discourse be distinguished from authori-
tative imposition – our answer is that it depends on (a) process: cf. Scott, Mortimer
and Aguiar’s alternation of authoritative and dialogic discourse in science teaching;
and (b) framing: is the official discourse forcefully imposed, as the only possible
way of speaking, or is it framed as one, very useful possibility, to be played with,
juxtaposed against and mixed with other voices?
Voice as speaking on own’s own terms. Voice is not merely a matter of speaking
one’s mind, but also of making oneself heard and understood in one’s own terms,
i.e. in the genres and other ways of speaking to which one is accustomed (Blom-
maert, 2006, paraphrasing Hymes, 1996). Cazden demonstrates this aspect of voice
in a discussion of the role of narrative in university seminars. She paraphrases, for
example, a native Alaskan woman’s reflections on discourse norms in Harvard
When someone, even an undergraduate, raises a question that is based on what some
authority says, Prof X says ‘That’s a great question!’, expands on it, and incorporates it
into her following comments. But when people like me talk from our personal experi-
ence, our ideas are not acknowledged. The professor may say, ‘Hm-hm’, and then pro-
ceed as if we hadn’t been heard. (Hymes, 1996, p. 111)
Here the woman vividly describes events in which participants are granted an op-
portunity to speak, (presumably) have something to say, but because they express
their ideas in a foreign genre – personal experience narratives rather than analytic
claims based on the research literature – the discussion proceeded “as if [they]
hadn’t been heard”. Having a voice in such University courses entails speaking in
certain ways: using academic language, citing the right references, speaking in an
argumentative genre, relatively formal register, etc. The capacity and authority to
6 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
speak in such a way, or repertoire, is unevenly distributed throughout society. Note
that the woman specifically referred to “people like me”; in reflecting on this and
Cazden’s other examples Hymes (1996) remarks that “the right to think and ex-
press thought in narrative comes to be taken as a privilege, as a resource that is
restricted, as a scarce good, so that the right to unite position and personal experi-
ence in public is a badge of status and rank” (p. 119).
Voice therefore arises from the interaction of social position, communicative
repertoire, and social context. Exercising voice often involves speaking in ways that
are deemed appropriate, and expressing ideas that one’s interlocutors can under-
stand and accept as legitimate. If speaking in such a way diverges from one’s habit-
ual ways of communicating, or demands speaking from a position in which one is
not comfortable, having voice in such a context may entail compromises between
what and how one would like to speak and what others are willing to hear. Hence,
for example, communicative ground rules designed to maximize opportunities for
dialogic expression and responsiveness may be experienced by students from non-
middle class backgrounds as oppressive since they do not allow student expression
on their own terms (see Lambirth, 2006; and Mercer & Littleton, 2007, pp. 97-99).
Voice is about being heeded. Voice is relational: we express our voices in order
to be heard and attended to, in order to participate in the conversation. Dismissing,
ignoring or otherwise not engaging with someone’s voice is another way of silenc-
ing it. Alexander (2008, p. 104) approvingly quotes Bakhtin (1986, p. 168) in this
regard: “If an answer does not give rise to a new question from itself, then it falls
out of the dialogue” (p. 168). Having voice is ultimately about staying in the dia-
logue. Yet, Alexander notes, most classroom discourse in English primary schools is
marked by “an emphasis on participation at the expense of engagement and the-
matic continuity” (p. 105). In order to try to address this state of affairs, Alexander
included in one of his five principles of dialogic teaching the idea that classroom
talk be cumulative: “teachers and children build on their own and each other’s ide-
as and chain them into coherent lines of thinking and enquiry”.
According to Alexander, this principle is that which teachers find most difficult
to enact. Whereas most of his other principles relate to the ethos and dynamics of
classroom discourse, cumulation relates to the content. It furthermore requires
greater teacher responsiveness, flexibility and judgement. Cumulation also pre-
sents numerous practical dilemmas to teachers who try to meet the conflicting
demands of both chaining discourse into a coherent line of enquiry while also mak-
ing space for independent student voices. Inasmuch as teachers follow the multiple
threads and tangents that interested and critical students generate, they risk com-
plicating and even disrupting the topical coherence of the discussion (see Lefstein
& Snell, 2014, chapter 5, for an example).
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 7
2. RESEARCH METHODS
The data featured in this article were collected in the context of a relatively large
scale study of discursive and pedagogic practices in Israeli primary school class-
rooms (see Pollak, Segal and Lefstein, 2015, for a full account, and Lefstein, Israeli,
Pollack & Bozo-Schwartz, 2013). We conducted ethnographic fieldwork in seven
classrooms (third to sixth grades) in two Israeli secular Hebrew primary schools
during the 2012-2013 school year. These State public schools serve middle class
populations, and attain average to above-average achievement. We considered for
participation in the study only schools whose educational program was aligned
with Education Ministry standards and aims (excluding schools with unique peda-
gogical agendas, such as Democratic Schools). In addition to video or audio-
recorded observations of 112 lessons, we participated-observed in activities within
the broader school context, collected documents, and conducted semi-structured
in-depth interviews with the participating teachers.
We conducted focus groups with twelve groups of teachers in six schools span-
ning a broad range of socio-economic contexts. Each group was shown two video
clips of classroom episodes, and participants were asked not only to react to the
episodes themselves, but to comment on the ways in which the episodes did or did
not reflect familiar classroom practices. Participants reflected upon their own prac-
tice, as well as the demands placed upon them by students, parents, and policy.
The focus groups thereby also revealed teachers’ educational beliefs, commitments
and conceptions as well as the constraints that they perceive as inhibiting their full
realization. Though we did not specifically design or instruct the focus groups to
discuss dialogic pedagogy, the teachers frequently raised issues relating to class-
room talk and dialogic relations in discussing their practice, expectations and frus-
Data analysis included systematic observation and descriptive statistics (dis-
course and activity in 28 lessons); detailed micro-analysis of select case study les-
sons; and thematic analysis of focus group data. This article uses one case study
episode to explore in detail the phenomenon of exuberant voice-less participation,
which emerged early in our discussions of field-notes and recurred in numerous
case studies. This episode, comprising four minutes and forty-five seconds of inter-
action in one fourth grade classroom, was selected for several reasons. It features
activities, participation structures and modes of interaction which appear promi-
nently throughout the data. In particular, it exemplifies a common way in which
teachers introduce a new topic by soliciting and constructing, in recitation mode,
students’ knowledge about that topic (recitation mode took up 32.9% of the time
devoted to whole class interactions). We selected this specific case as one in which
multiple conditions for voice, as discussed above, come to the fore individually and
in interaction with each other, within a relatively compact and accessible segment
8 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
Our analysis of the episode draws upon a variety of linguistic ethnographic co n-
cepts and methods (see e.g. Rampton, Maybin & Roberts, forthcoming; Snell &
Lefstein, 2013). Specifically, our analysis proceeded through the following stages:
1) We repeatedly watched and listened to the video-recorded episode, tran-
scribed both verbal and other communicative activity in detail, and brain-
stormed about what was happening and what we found interesting.
2) We used micro-analytic methods to analyze the sequential unfolding of the
event. Such analysis involves proceeding slowly through the recording, ask-
ing at each line, “What is the speaker doing?” “Why that, now?” “How does
this turn at talk respond to what came before?” “What else might have
been done here but wasn’t?” etc. (Rampton, 2006).
3) Focusing specifically on the issue of voice, we built upon Goffman’s (1981)
decomposition of the speaker (into author who selects the ideas and
words, animator who emits the sounds and principal who bears responsibil-
ity for the message) to examine whose voices were being communicated
and in what ways.
4) We looked at the textual trajectories (Blommaert, 2005) of discourse across
the episode (and in the lesson from which it was taken). This involved
tracking the appearance of key ideas and words and looking at how they
were taken up, repeated and/or inflected over the course of the episode.
The original language of the episode is Hebrew, and we have worked from the He-
brew recording and transcript throughout the analysis. In translating the transcript
to English for this article, we have strived for balance between translation that is
exact, or literal, and translation that is loyal to the sense of the utterance and its
2.1 Research context: classroom discourse in Israeli primary schools
Alongside testing and a top-down curriculum, Israeli education is shaped by a rela-
tively strong democratic, dialogic undercurrent, which calls on teachers to provide
students with opportunities to speak, reduce teacher talk, and favor the co -
construction of knowledge over its transmission. Public discourse decries direct
instruction that is frequently (and, from the perspective of our data, mistakenly)
associated with rote learning, while Ministry of Education guidelines encourage
classroom discussion and emphasize the need for students to respond to one an-
other’s ideas, as exemplified in a curricular guide for teachers:
The purpose of this activity is to instill in the children statements that are customary in
discussion: I agree/disagree with, I would like to add, I object to the opinion of, I don’t
think like, In contrast to what was said by, I agree with part of what was said by, I want
to support what was said by. It’s worthwhile to write these statements on the board so
the children will be able to use them during a discussion. Throughout the discussion,
remind the children to use them as a link to what has already been said. (Israeli Minis-
try of Education, undated, p. 6, our translation)
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 9
These guidelines reflect the influence of approaches which associate specific dis-
course moves, or speaking formulae, with promoting dialogue, and therefore advo-
cate implementing communicative ground rules (e.g. Mercer & Dawes, 2008;
Michaels, O’Connor & Resnick, 2008). In the classrooms we observed, emphasis of
form over content was not unusual when it came to these dialogic moves. To offer
but one example, a teacher halted a student response (“Stop there”) to involve the
whole class in critiquing the response (“What would I have expected, who is Hagit
speaking like now?”) for its omission of the formula connecting the current speak-
er’s contribution to that of a previous speaker. The teacher proceeded to offer the
complete expectation and its rationale: “I would have expected of you, if you're
really listening to each other, to say – I think the same as Guy. Because there's no
benefit in repeating the same answers, it doesn't take us forward.”
We encountered in the classrooms a pleasant and mutually respectful environ-
ment, with students actively and willingly participating. In our statistical analysis of
the discourse data, we found that the ways of seeking and attaining speaking rights
also suggest an environment in which students are eager to participate and in
which teachers do not enforce stated turn-taking policies such as hand-raising (see
Table 1). 33.6% of student turns are taken in response to direct teacher nomina-
tion, while another 11.6% are out-of-turn interjections that gain post hoc legitimacy
through acknowledgement and inclusion in the discussion, with only 3.5% of stu-
dent interruptions being censured. Furthermore, we have found a prevalent partic-
ipation structure in which a question is addressed to the entire class, and multiple
students call out their responses. A full 34.6% of student speaking turns are taken
in this manner, reinforcing the sense that students are eager to speak, or to have a
voice, in the Israeli classroom, and that the discourse regime and participation
structures facilitate this.
Table 1. Students accessing the floor (n=6,538)
Means of attaining the floor (students)
Explicit nomination by the teacher
Following general teacher address to the class
Interjection that is legitimated by the teacher post hoc
Interjection that is ignored by the teacher
Interjection that is reprimanded by the teacher
The focus group data further reflect stated allegiance to – or a perceived policy
environment that demands – constructivist principles and democratic dialogic im-
10 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
peratives. The participating teachers sharply criticized the “ping-pong” of recitation
patterns, while also acknowledging that these patterns afford tighter teacher con-
trol that is often necessary for classroom management and curricular coverage:
“You want there to be silence, that everything will be in order” (group #4). They
rejected fact-seeking questions in favor of open questions that “invite dialogue”
(group #2) and talk that they characterized as a means to “promote thinking”
Teachers in the focus groups also promoted the use of communicative ground
rules to encourage dialogic interaction, suggesting formulae such as “What do you
think of his answer?,” “Do you have something to add?,” and “Do you disagree with
what he said?” (group #9). In this model, the teacher “mediates and directs in or-
der to encourage discourse among the students” (group #9). They also expressed
an orientation towards the co-construction of knowledge: “Most of the time, in a
dynamic in which you want to attain some kind of meaningful learning, you can’t
be the source of knowledge, and also be the one who runs the lesson, and also the
one who evaluates…” (group #6).
Both the policy environment and specific classroom practices foster ostensible
dialogic opportunities for students to make their prior knowledge and experiences
part of the shared knowledge of the classroom and to debate, develop and refine
that shared knowledge. However, as we have discussed theoretically above and
demonstrate empirically in the case analyzed below, opportunities for talk do not
necessarily lead to the realization of student voice.
2.2 Case study: In the teacher’s voice
This segment finds Mali’s fourth grade class, comprised on this day of 28 students
(13 girls and 15 boys), in the middle of a unit on the environment. The environmen-
tal unit is geared towards exploring such ideas as conservation and safety in peo-
ple’s interaction with natural resources and spaces. The unit is characterized by a
focus on current events, such as an impending court ruling regarding construction
on a hilltop rich with protected wildflowers, and practices familiar to students from
their own lives, such as the national pastime of hiking in Israel’s desert areas. In the
current segment, the class is poised to begin a unit on floods. In preparation for
reading the texts on this topic, the teacher, Mali, opens with a discussion of floods,
asking the students to “tell me what you know about floods,” or “define what a
flood is”. The ensuing discourse follows typical recitation patterns:
1) Mali: But before that I want you to tell me what you know about floods, or
let’s just define what a flood is. Dan, what’s a flood?
2) Dan: A flood, that’s if a ton of snow falls, and everything
3) Mali: Specifically snow?
4) Dan: Uh, rain.
5) Mali: Yeah?
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 11
6) Dan: Everything uh…everything’s water and it’s impossible to walk and it’s
impossible to go outside.
7) Mali: Impossible to go outside? Okay, you said an abundance of rain, you
started off well. An abundance of rain, you started off well, what’s a flood
The dual framing of the question, as both an invitation to students to share their
knowledge about floods and a directive to generate a definition of a flood, may
explain the varied ways in which students contribute. The first student, however, is
directly asked to offer a definition: “Dan, what’s a flood?” (1). His response (2, 4, 6),
is repeatedly interrupted by the teacher’s evaluations, in the form of questions
expressing dissatisfaction with aspects of the response (“Specifically snow?”, “Im-
possible?” 3, 7). Mali ratifies part of Dan’s response (“you said an abundance of
rain, you started off well” 7), and turns to another student, Amir, continuing the
In this exchange, the student is guided towards a response that the teacher is
seeking, as she adopts and adapts his contributions. Dan follows the teacher’s
prompt to modify “snow” (2), both a weather condition and a substance, to “rain”
(4), a weather condition, and then shifts to “water” (6), a substance. He then goes
on to discuss the limitations placed by the flood upon routine activities, “it’s impos-
sible to go outside” (6). Mali remains focused upon the weather condition towards
which she has prompted Dan, rain, attributing to him terminology that he did not
use: “Okay, you said an abundance of rain” (7), whereas his contribution began as
“there’s a ton of snow” (2).
While Dan has spoken words, and has arguably exercised an opportunity to
speak, his voice by the end of the exchange is limited to the very word that the
teacher prompted to begin with, “rain,” and his actual contributions – that rain is
an instance of the substance of water (allowing for the notion that some floods
may involve water that is not rain) and that floods impact upon people’s freedom
of movement – do not become part of the ratified and shared discourse.
Amir, however, seems to follow through on the notion that rain is but one i n-
stantiation of flooding waters:
8) Amir: There’s also a flood from the sea, which is like a tsunami.
9) Mali: Okay, you gave some kind of natural phenomenon that’s certainly a
type of some kind of flood. What is this tsunami? It’s essentially an erup-
tion of water, a natural phenomenon that comes from the sea, that floods
the coasts, the closest areas. That’s a type of flood but more serious. Let’s
relate to the flood itself.
Amir’s response, citing tsunami as a type of flood (8), is expanded upon by the
teacher but then implicitly rejected as irrelevant: “Let’s relate to the flood itself”
(9). That is, the teacher’s definition of a flood, one that is caused by rain, precludes
further contributions relating to other flood etiologies. The flood paradigm with
which Mali is working, a desert flash flood caused by rain, becomes “the flood it-
self,” and cannot include another “kind” or “type of flood.”
12 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
We find here a potentially dialogic moment, in which one student builds upon
the ideas of another. However, the teacher again silences contributions that do not
voice her own script. This script is related to the broader curricular aims of the unit,
as the discussion of floods provides a segue between learning about protecting
nature and learning about safe interaction with it. In the local context, the floods
that are common, dangerous, and from which students are potentially able to pro-
tect themselves are those that occur in otherwise dry desert stream beds during
the rainy season. The teacher’s assumption that when asked to share what they
“know about floods,” students will engage in the co-construction of knowledge
related to this type of flood , and not a tsunami that makes headlines from halfway
around the world, reflects an understanding that the local context is what is most
immediate, relevant and accessible to the students. This conflation of local context
with personal experience perhaps does not take into account the students’ expo-
sure to media, in which reported tsunamis receive more airtime than the occasion-
al local report of desert flash floods. However, it does help us to understand the
teacher’s script and the democratic and dialogic ideals that motivate and ultimately
2.3 Appropriating the student’s voice: “like she said”
After Mali’s rejection of the tsunami, a third student, Shirli, offers a response that is
met with great enthusiasm by the teacher:
10) Shirli: It’s an abundance of rain that collects in one place
11) Mali: Great, you’ve already given me some kind of, collects, okay
12) Shirli: Collects into one place, and when it reaches its banks/rim
13) Mali: Its banks, great. Here’s another word, its banks/rim. Yes?
14) Shirli: That in the end it overflows
15) Mali: It overflows, great words, I’ll find the formulation already. Overflows,
reaches its banks, let’s take a cup of water, let’s take a cup of water. I took
a cup, I filled and filled and filled and filled it, and I continue to fill and then
what happens? What happens?
16) Students: The water flows.
17) Mali: The water fl- goes out. So that essentially says that like she said, the
cup reaches its rim and it, the water already begins to spill, right? So that’s
already some kind of type of inundation. More, yes?
Shirli opens by animating the teacher’s voice: “an abundance of rain,” as spoken
twice by the teacher in line 7 (in the guise of Dan’s voice) and then by Shirli in line
10. Having discursively demonstrated that she is on-script, she offers a definition
conceptualizing a flood as a situation in which the rain “collects” (10), reaches the
“banks/rim” (12) of the collection area, and “overflows” (14). Mali interrupts to
ratify each phase of the response and especially to praise the use of terminology –
“great”(13)/”here’s another word”(13)/”great words”(15) – which she writes on
the board, making Shirli’s contributions a part of the shared knowledge.
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 13
During this exchange, Mali has stood close to Shirli’s desk (which is at the front
right corner of the room and opposite the portion of the board on which the
teacher has been writing) and has maintained eye contact with her. At this point,
while still talking, she moves to the front center of the room and addresses the
entire class. Perhaps taking this to be a signal that the exchange with Shirli has
ended and the floor is available to another speaker, Noa raises her hand.
Mali, however, continues to relate to Shirli’s response, adopting and expanding
upon it. She illustrates Shirli’s answer with an example of her own, a cup of water,
soliciting further student response and then returning to yet another endorsement
of Shirli’s contribution. The teacher relates to the student’s voice (“like she said”
17), seemingly marking her own contribution as dialogic by evoking communicative
ground rules. At the same time, one may wonder whether she is actually ap propri-
ating Shirli’s voice for herself.
2.4 Dialogic performance: “I have [something] to add to what Shirli said”
In the meantime, Noa’s hand has remained in the air, and she is recognized at the
end of Mali’s speaking turn (“More, yes?” 17):
18) Noa: I have [something] to add to Shirli
19) Mali: To what Shirli said
Noa’s response begins, “I have [something] to add to Shirli” (18). This utterance
serves two important functions. First, it serves to explicitly align the speaker with
what has been demonstrated to be the o fficial and ratified voice. However, beyond
merely linking herself to a winner, Noa engages in a performance of dialogicity that
in and of itself constitutes an officially sanctioned move. Indeed, she repeats word-
for-word the formulation offered by the curriculum guide discussed above. The
way she frames her contribution, therefore, is itself an animation of the authorita-
tive voice of the curriculum writers. Further attention is drawn to this marker of
dialogicity as the teacher corrects it: “to what Shirli said” (19). However, the con-
tents of Noa’s contribution do not bear out the promise of her opening:
20) Noa: Meaning, when it overflows, it comes apart and moves houses.
21) Mali: Okay, so meaning instead of moves, instead of, right, the result of it is
that it destroys. Instead of
22) Students: Destroys them
23) Students: Pushes them
Noa further indexes Shirli’s contribution by using one of the vocabulary words that
garnered so much praise, “overflows” (20). Yet she jumps from discussing the defi-
nition of a flood, within the parameters established by Mali, to talking about the
effects of a flood, a move attempted earlier by Dan and rejected by the teacher.
This is hardly an addition to Shirli’s comment; consequently her performance is
hollowed of its ostensibly dialogic role.
The teacher engages at this point in a performance of engaging with and devel-
oping a student’s voice, but in effect ends up silencing it. Pointing out that Noa has
14 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
cited a “result,” she seeks to substitute alternative vocabulary (saying “instead of”
three times in line 21). However, the teacher is not in fact seeking a different or
more exact way to express Noa’s idea about the destructive effects of floods. Ra-
ther, more than a response to Noa’s contribution, the teacher pulls the discourse
back to the conception of a flood that she seeks to promote, and from student
knowledge about floods to a definition she has in mind.
As Mali seeks the right word, students recognize and exuberantly respond to an
opportunity to participate, as they attempt to animate the teacher’s voice (22, 23).
Their lack of success in arriving at the term of her choice leads the teacher to en-
gage them in an even more explicit game of guess-what-I-am-thinking, as she
writes on the board the two key letters of the Hebrew root for “floodverb,” which
differs from the term for the noun “flood” that has been in use until this point
24) Mali: There’s, I’ll give the root and you find the word [writing the root on
25) Students: Float [the same root as “floodverb,” conjugated differently]
26) Student: floodsverb
27) Mali: floodsverb [correcting student pronunciation], excellent. The water
floodsverb certain areas, there’s an eruption of water, there’s a surplus of
water, right? And this surplus of water creates a flood. More, yes?
Here the teacher introduces a root that she has actually used twice previously in
the lesson, as a verb (line 9) and as a noun (line 17). This brief exchange illustrates a
central tension that emerged from the study, between co-construction of
knowledge and presentation of information, as discussed above regarding the
prevalence of recitation over explanation. In the case under discussion, we suggest
that the desire to elicit knowledge from the students is ultimately responsible for
the teacher’s insertion of words into their mouths.
2.5 Student voices and connections: “like what happened…”
For the remainder of this segment of the lesson, the students continue their enthu-
siastic participation by offering instances of flooding with which they are familiar
from news reports or personal experience. It is here that we find expression of the
second aspect of the teacher’s dual framing of the activity (line 1), “tell me what
you know about floods”, after engaging in the quest to “define what a flood is.”
Coming on the heels of the teacher’s clear explanation of the phenomenon at hand
(line 27) and her solicitation of further student contributions (“More, yes?”), this
bout of participation through instantiation is not directly elicited or prompted by
the teacher. Yet the students offer no fewer than four different cases:
1) A hurricane in the United States
The different words used here are ףיצמ(translated here as floodverb), which shares the same
root as הפצה (translated above in turn 17 as inundation), and ןופטש(the noun for flood that
was used in turns 1, 2, 8 and 9). The verb also appears once earlier, in line 9.
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 15
2) Flooding of a road in Tiberias
3) Flooding of the Ayalon Freeway in Tel-Aviv
4) Flooding of a mall in Modiin
Here we may find potential for a wonderfully dialogic moment, in which authentic
student voices build upon one another as they continue to define and refine their
understanding of the flood. It is important to note that the teacher praises and
continuously solicits further student contributions, without asking the types of
closed questions that would limit the possible set of responses. At the same time,
the appeal to authoritative discourse remains close at hand.
One of the cases cited by students, the hurricane, garners explicit teacher rejec-
tion. The student citing the hurricane adopts the teacher’s language to offer that
“There was a flood and all the houses were made of wood, so they were flood-
edverb, there was no electricity,” but the teacher remains within the paradigm of
local floods caused only by rain, and instructs the student not to confuse the two,
as “a hurricane has to do with wind.” Similarly, the case of the mall flooding is
questioned as being off-paradigm, as Mali argues for a fundamental distinction
between an “external flood” and one caused by plumbing difficulties. Thus every
student voice is evaluated for its fealty to or compatibility with the authoritative
paradigm of a desert flash flood.
The remaining two cases, which relate to flooding of roads and occur between
the hurricane and the mall, are offered on the heels of a general, accepted, but
undeveloped comment that floods can cause car accidents (34-35):
34) Student: It also makes an accident of cars.
35) Mali: It can cause accidents, okay. Great. Yes?
36) Tamar: I want to add to what Shirli said.
37) Mali: Yes?
38) Tamar: Uh, there was something like this in Tiberias, when the downpour
came, so in the stream it was, it went too high.
39) Mali: Okay
40) Tamar: And the whole road was floodedver b
41) Mali: Okay, so that caused the flood
42) Tamar: It reached its banks
43) Mali: And a lot of times it harms all kinds of places, in residential areas, in
transportation areas, along traffic arteries, on streets. A flood can be
formed almost anywhere, but it depends if the area is vulnerable, quote
unquote, to floods. Yes?
44) Student: That’s like there was on the Ayalon
45) Mali: Okay, what happened on the Ayalon Freeway?
46) Student: That all the water penetrated onto the road
47) Mali: Right, there was, a flood was formed and people were really stuck,
they couldn’t continue with their cars and there was a need to come and
gather the water and create some kind of, some kind of solution. So other
16 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
than what you’ve said, what else do you know? You said fantastic things.
While previously the teacher silenced student contributions relating to the effects
of floods on daily activity, at this point, once the flood itself has been defined, such
contributions appear to be welcomed. After the car accident comment, we find yet
another student, Tamar, engaging in the dialogic performance found above. In the
earlier instance, Noa was corrected from “to add to Shirli” to “to add to what Shirli
said.” Sure enough, Tamar has assimilated the correction: “I want to add to what
Shirli said” (36). Then, throughout her contribution, Tamar continues to reproduce
the authoritative voice, using vocabulary such as “floodedverb“(40) and “reached its
banks” (42). Tamar has added to the conversation only the specific example of Ti-
berias, and this addition is related to but does not directly follow from Shirli’s con-
tribution over 20 speaking turns earlier. Rather, Tamar achieves participation by
animating the voices of others.
2.6 Exuberant, voiceless participation
At the beginning of this article, we outlined four conditions of voice: (a) opportuni-
ty to speak, (b) expressing one’s own ideas, (c) on one’s own terms, and (d) being
heeded by others. In the classroom episode we have analyzed, opportunity to
speak is a paramount dialogic imperative. Not only are the students encouraged to
speak, which they do with exuberance, they are meant to contribute the
knowledge and express the ideas that will become the shared knowledge repe r-
toire of the class.
It is here that matters get tricky. If knowledge is meant to be co-constructed,
but the student voices do not independently arrive at the official knowledge, the
teacher is in the unfortunate position of dialogically managing a univocal script, one
in which the students guess at the word she is writing on the board as she then
explicitly teaches the material. The very coexistence in the classroom of practices
associated with knowledge co-construction, on the one hand, and those promoting
official knowledge on the other, suggests that Mali is working with two competing
epistemologies at once. There is a relatively absolutist epistemology, according to
which there is an official definition of a flood (based on the prototypical example of
the desert flash flood), and at the same time a constructivist epistemology in which
the teacher is supposed to elicit and work with student ideas.
The focus on terminology throughout the lesson is in consonance with the aim
of seeking a definition. By shaping Dan’s language and praising Shirli’s, the teacher
is engaged in the expansion of the students’ linguistic repertoires. The appropria-
tion of voices is part of the project of inducting students into academic discourse.
That is to say, having students talk the teacher’s language and ideas is a means of
ultimately making those words and ideas their own. At the same time, during this
process it is indeed the official voice that is favored as students are asked to speak
in a voice that is not yet their own. As with the overarching tension between com-
EXUBERANT, VOICELESS PARTICIPATION 17
peting dialogic imperatives, some practices aiming to enhance student linguistic
repertoires may undermine, in the situated moment of enactment, the student
voice that they ultimately seek to bolster.
Do we find in this classroom episode students who express their own ideas on
their own terms? Yes, absolutely. Students talk about all the types and instantia-
tions of floods they have seen on the news, from hurricanes and tsunamis to i m-
passable highways and flooded shopping malls. We have even seen that they build
upon one another’s ideas, in some attempt at interanimation, as Amir (8) implicitly
builds upon the conception proffered by Dan (6) by offering an instantiation of a
flood involving water that isn’t rain. While the framework for the discussion, as
with most if not all classroom discussions, is a topic that has been selected by and
is directed by someone else, one may argue that within the limitations of this
framework, there are glimmers of students achieving voice. However, these poten-
tial realizations of voice are not heeded, and therefore “fall out of the dialogue”
(see Bakhtin quotation above).
The strongest student voices in this episode – the ones that remain part of the
discourse – are ultimately the ones that do not belong to the students at all. Ani-
mating the authoritative voice, be it by speaking the vocabulary that the teacher
has offered them or using the communicative ground rules in a performance of
dialogicity, albeit a somewhat hollow one, is the primary means of being heeded.
Even Shirli, the student who contributes her own ideas on her own terms, is subject
to the appropriation and distortion of her voice by the teacher.
Advocates of dialogic pedagogy discuss the need for students to talk more, and
in ways that foster the interanimation of voices (e.g. Scott, Mortimer & Aguiar,
2006) and students relating to and building upon one another’s ideas (e.g. Alexa n-
der, 2008). This case study has demonstrated the ostensible realization of many of
these ideals, while showing that increased student talk does not guarantee authen-
tic attainment of voice, nor does the implementation of communicative ground
rules in a performance of dialogicity necessarily foster the interanimation of ideas.
Rather, the ostensible realization of these dialogic ideals can in fact result in exu-
berant, voiceless participation.
We have further seen that dialogic imperatives may come into conflict with
each other. Democratic and constructivist principles can play an ironic role in sup-
pressing the realization of voice. We are left with questions that would benefit
from further research attention. One relates to the expansion of student linguistic
repertoires through the appropriation of official voices. What are some possible
stages in this appropriation process, and under what conditions are academic dis-
course and conditions for student voice most compatible or incompatible? Another
issue pertains to the epistemic underpinnings of the various competing practices
surrounding student voice. What are the implicit claims about the nature and
sources of knowledge, as expressed in competing dialogic imperatives? In addition
to raising these and other specific questions, this study highlights the complexity of
18 A. SEGAL & A. LEFSTEIN
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