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What Is the Role of Discourse in Education?

By E. Reeder
Updated May 23, 2024
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Discourse refers to communication between people that is either spoken or written. In education, discourse allows people to express ideas and thoughts and to figure out complex problems. Without discourse, there would be no such thing as education, because ideas must be shared and explored for learning to happen.

One of the functions of discourse in education is to allow teachers and professors to communicate academic subject materials to students. Educators must be able to explain and discuss the ideas and concepts that they are to get across to students, whether those concepts involve elementary school reading skills or astronomy at the university level. They must be able to talk to students, listen to them and answer their questions. This can be verbal or in written form.

Within any educational setting, another role of discourse in education involves students' ability to read texts and to learn from them. Written discourse is important because students must be able to read texts, such as basic math texts, thought-provoking works of literature and informational websites, to gain the knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in school. Developing skills in discourse also will help students in life and in the workplace.

Discourse in education is needed so students can communicate their ideas in writing. The ability to write proficiently and fluently on homework assignments, essays, research papers and tests is part of becoming educated. With the advent of technology in education, students also might be responsible for creating written responses to prompts and responding to posts from other classmates and their teachers on message boards, chat rooms or other educational activities on the Internet. Creating written discourse about a subject they have studied and researched in a course is one way to help students learn and to communicate what they have learned with their teachers and peers.

Another way in which discourse in education is essential is that spoken discourse is necessary so students can communicate with one another and with their teachers and professors. Students must be able to learn and to verbalize what they have learned. They must be able to engage with their classmates and their instructors in conversations about the subject matter they are responsible for learning. In various classes, students might be asked to participate in seminars, answer questions verbally, make formal and informal presentations, and explain their reasoning and analysis of various problems or cases in different academic disciplines.

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Discussion Comments

By browncoat — On Aug 05, 2013

@Iluviaporos - Even better than the Socratic method is learning through inquiry, where the students have to come up with their own questions.

The teacher acts as a facilitator, rather than the fount of all knowledge and guides the students in projects that interest them and which can be used for learning different subjects.

There is a lot of discourse between students and teachers, between students and students and between students and the wider community. It's difficult to pull off, but wonderful when done properly.

By lluviaporos — On Aug 04, 2013

@indigomoth - I guess people don't think about the fact that students spend a huge chunk of time at school. If they can't learn to talk there, where can they learn it? I suspect if they arrive at school with difficulty speaking in the first place, they aren't likely to be able to learn it at home.

I actually think we need to look back at ancient practices, like the Socratic method to help our classrooms today. If students are given a lot of relevant, thoughtful questions and actually expected to carry out a real discourse with the teacher, they learn so much more.

By indigomoth — On Aug 04, 2013

One of the things I didn't realize until I taught very young students, was that it's really necessary for them to talk a lot with each other and to learn how to talk well.

It's amazing what a range of abilities will show up in different five year olds. Some of them will be perfectly capable of carrying on a conversation and some will struggle to even put a sentence together.

And yet, in many classrooms, they will barely get a chance to talk. The teacher does all the talking and the students are expected only to listen. I can definitely see how they might develop learning difficulties, when they aren't allowed to practice this most basic of abilities.

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