Sr. Kieran Sawyer, S.S.N.D. shares information on how to promote meaningful dialogue in classroom discussions.

Dialogue in a religion classroom is an important element of an effective lesson. The interaction between students, whether on a one-to-one basis, in small groups, or in a large classroom discussion is an important part of forming faith. As teacher, you are both a facilitator of discussions and sometimes a participant as well.

Some dialogue is light and fun. When so, its purpose is to break down barriers and to build mutual understanding and enjoyment. It also carries over and makes serious dialogue possible. Serious dialogue, the heart of discussions in a religion course, helps students to share with one another topics revolving around their dreams and hopes, their questions and doubts, their values and goals, and their faith and prayer.

The dialogue process is based on several assumptions:

  • that faith is already present in each person, and that dialogue helps to surface, affirm, and strengthen that faith
  • that each person is a source of truth and wisdom, and that the truth of each individual is meant for and needed by the all the students in class
  • that all people, especially teenagers, want to open their hearts and share their deepest beliefs and doubts; all they need is listeners who care
  • that talking about the deepest values in a person’s life helps to clarify and strengthen them for the speaker; a person understands better what he or she has tried to articulate to another;
  • that the faith of the listener is also strengthened by the dialogue process; one of the most effective ways of alerting a person to the action of God in his or her own life is to hear about God’s action in the life of another
  • that dialogue creates common meanings and values that enable those who participate in it to become a community of faith.

Dialogue of the sort described here can only happen in an atmosphere of openness and trust. To establish such an atmosphere is to a large extent your responsibility as a teacher. But it is also true that dialogue itself can create such an atmosphere. Teenagers learn to share deeply with one another (and with adults) by dialoguing. Your role is to make it easy.