Palincsar and Brown have applied Vygotsky's theories about dialogue and scaffolding to classroom instruction. They reasoned that if the natural dialogue that occurs outside of school between a child and adult is so powerful for promoting learning, it ought to promote learning in school as well. In particular, they were interested in the planning and self-regulation such dialogue might foster in learners as well as the insights teachers might gain about their students' thinking processes as they engage in learning tasks. In addition, dialogue among students might be especially effective for encouraging collaborative problem solving.
Palincsar and Brown noted that, in contrast to effective adult-child interactions outside of school, classroom talk does not always encourage students to develop self-regulation. Thus, a goal of their research was to find ways to make dialogue a major mode of interaction between teachers and students to encourage self-regulated learning.
Their classroom research revealed increased self-regulation in classrooms where, subsequent to training, dialogue became a natural activity. Within a joint dialogue, teachers modeled thinking strategies effectively, apparently in part because students felt free to express uncertainty, ask questions, and share their knowledge without fear of criticism. The students gave the teachers clues, so to speak, as to the kind of learning they were ready for. For example, one student interrupted her teacher when she did not understand something the teacher was reading. The teacher took this opportunity to model a clarifying strategy. (It also would have been appropriate to have asked other students to model the process.) In a number of classrooms, students freely discussed what they knew about topics, thus revealing persistent misconceptions. Such revelations do not always happen in more traditional classrooms. Furthermore, teachers helped students change their misconceptions through continued dialogue.
One particular application was in reading comprehension for students identified as poor readers. The researchers proposed that poor readers have had impoverished experiences with reading for meaning in school and concluded that they might learn comprehension strategies through dialogue. To encourage joint responsibility for dialogue, they asked students to take increasing responsibility for leading discussion, i.e., to act as the teacher. This turn-taking is called reciprocal teaching.
The four comprehension strategies that are stressed are: predicting, question generating, summarizing, and clarifying. The "teacher" leads dialogue about the text. Predicting activates students' prior knowledge about the text and helps them make connections between new information and what they already know, and gives them a purpose for reading. Students also learn to generate questions themselves rather than responding only to teacher questions. Students collaborate to accomplish summarizing, which encourages them to integrate what they have learned. Clarifying promotes comprehension monitoring. Students share their uncertainties about unfamiliar vocabulary, confusing text passages, and difficult concepts.
Reciprocal teaching has been successful, but only when teachers believe the underlying assumption that collaboration among teachers and students to construct meaning, solve problems, and so forth, leads to higher quality learning. Believing this is only a beginning. Engaging in true dialogue requires practice for both teachers and students. However, the principles of collaborative dialogue and scaffolding for purposes of self-regulated learning ought to be effective across many content areas. What may differ, of course, are the critical specific strategies for different subject areas. For example, defining problems seems critical in mathematics; judging the reliability of resources appears important in social studies; and seeking empirical evidence is essential in science. In fact, Palincsar is currently investigating problem solving in science.