Alphabetical literacy does not have to be a barrier to engagement and learning: Supporting children’s understanding through talk, digital technologies and dance

Twiner, Alison; Littleton, Karen; Lucassen, Mathijs; Tatlow-Golden, Mimi and Whitelock, Denise (2022). Alphabetical literacy does not have to be a barrier to engagement and learning: Supporting children’s understanding through talk, digital technologies and dance. In: Cambridge Assessment International Education Symposium on Educational Dialogues in Multilingual Classrooms, 22 Mar 2022, Online.



This presentation reports on a line of research we have been developing since 2009, exploring the complementary interweaving and multimodality of educational dialogue – through talk, technologies and dance – to support contextualised meaning making. A multilingual element was not a focus initially, but we found the dance and digital mediation and interaction was particularly helpful for children who spoke English as an additional language (Author, et al., 2010). Specifically, the intentional attention to multimodal engagement within multilingual classrooms supported alternative ‘ways in’ to understanding, that did not rely on verbal or written literacy, but offered means to develop and make salient the negotiation of meanings around which vocabulary and verbal communication could be contextualised, communicated and understood. The approach allowed all to participate, and built bridges across linguistic barriers. In this we still view talk as a central communicative tool, used to integrate aspects conveyed through other communicative modes, whilst opening the space for communication that is mediated without words.

This research trajectory began with the lead author’s PhD, working with classroom teachers and dance specialists in three London-based schools, piloting a programme to support cross-curricular teaching and learning using regular pedagogic tools (such as talk) alongside dance and digital technologies (interactive whiteboards and Sony PSPs). This thread was continued more recently, using talk and dance to support children’s understanding of different emotions: Dancemotion. Participating classes included children (aged 5-9) speaking a range of first languages, in some cases ten languages in classes of 20 children (Author, et al., 2010; Author, under review), as is common in English schools and particularly within London (Strand, et al., 2015).

We report on three projects working with teachers and children in five classrooms (three in 2009-10; two in 2020), and five workshops with education practitioners to explore wider appetite for such an approach (2020-21). Specific aims shifted over time – with explicit inclusion of digital technologies in early work, explored across curricula; and explicit focus on exploring understandings of emotions in later work, aligned to the Personal, Social and Health Education curriculum, through talk and dance. Common aims across the work include opening and maintaining a multimodal dialogic space (drawing on Wegerif, 2007) for children to make their own meanings, where language is not the only means of developing and expressing understanding. Common aims across the research around the work include developing a methodology – combining sociocultural discourse analysis and multimodal analysis – to explore how teachers and learners worked together, using dialogue, dance and other resources, to engage and enrich their own and each other’s understanding in the moment and over time (Author et al., 2014; 2021). It is important to state that Dancemotion is about education for all, not therapy, whereby a mental health practitioner supported planning and monitoring of all Dancemotion lessons.

Through this line of work we argue that harnessing dance as an interpretive and improvisational tool, within a multimodal sense of dialogic meaning making, can encourage all teachers and learners in multilingual classrooms to engage, explore, and express developing understandings.

Author et al. 2010
Author et al. 2014
Author et al. 2021
Author et al. under review
Strand, S., Malmberg, L. & Hall, J. (2015). English as an Additional Language (EAL) and educational achievement in England: An analysis of the National Pupil Database. Education Endowment Fund & The Bell Foundation. Available at:
Wegerif, R. (2007). Dialogic, education and technology: Expanding the space of learning. Springer.

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