Dialogic Texts - Part 2

This morning, one of my students asked for an extension on her essay assignment. Clearly, not a very unusual occurrence. However, what made a very strong impression on me was the reason she used. She politely informed me that she needed more time because her classmates have not yet finished commenting on her first draft. Consequently, she argued, she was not ready to proceed because her first draft was still being discussed online. "I'm afraid," she said, "that I will miss something important if I just go ahead and not wait for more comments." And all this from a thirteen-year-old!

This was one of the most exciting moments of my teaching career. I continued the conversation to find out as much as possible about her perception of the role that her peers play in our online community of writers.

Her initial comment and some of her subsequent responses made it very clear that, in her opinion, the community is there to help her write a better essay, become a better writer. In other words, she seems to understand Bakhtin when he says that

No utterance in general can be attributed to the speaker exclusively; it is the product of the interaction of the interlocutors, and, broadly speaking, the product of the whole complex social situation in which it has occurred.

This reminds me of a specific feature of Bakhtin's concept of utterance, a feature he himself termed "responsivity." Bakhtin claimed that a listener takes an active and responsive attitude towards the utterance he or she is presented with. This, in turn, is eventually echoed in the subsequent utterances of the listener. The listener, in other words, having absorbed the utterance, will incorporate it into his or her next communicative act.

The listener then becomes the speaker and his utterances are both shaped in anticipation of a response and are, at the same time, responsive to other communicative acts that preceded it. Bakhtin claims that "any utterance is a link in a very complexly organized chain of other utterances."

That is exactly what I am hoping to achieve with my classroom blogosphere. This morning, my student helped me realize that, as a community of writers, we are gradually moving towards that goal.