Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

What’s the difference between dialogue and discussion?

The word “dialogue” was sorely misused in the ‘60’s, and is often misunderstood as meaning a conversation between two people.  In fact, its Greek roots are dia (meaning “across”) and legein (to “speak”), while the Latin roots of the word “discussion” are dis (meaning, “apart”) and quatere  (to break) (Partridge, 1958). Discussion provides the benefit of taking things apart for better understanding, and helps us decide, to “murder the alternative” (Isaacs, 1999, p. 45. In the context of social change, I argue that the ability to speak across models is higher order, more creative work than is the ability to break others’ positions while defending one’s own. While it isn’t particularly important to make sure students understand the difference in these words, it is important for the learning experience that students understand the distinction between the two types of conversation and their outcomes.

The best book I’ve seen on dialogue is Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, by William Isaacs (Doubleday, 1999). It has informed how I think about the use of discussion in the classroom.


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This entry was posted on October 19, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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