After reading a recent article, I was introduced to a term (new for me) that sparked my interest and sent me off googling for more knowledge and examples. The term was “co-generative dialogues,” sometimes called “cogens.” In an ASCD post titled, 7 C’s for Effective Teaching, Christopher Emdin describes co-generative dialogues—or cogens— as “structured exchanges in which students and their teacher co-develop strategies for instruction that focus on the students’ socioemotional and academic needs. The dialogues enable open communication concerning both the teacher’s and students’ perspectives on schooling.” That description certainly aligned for me with the coaching and facilitating I have been engaged with around student agency.
Emdin provides this example of a cogen: “A teacher asks four students to meet after school—a student who has high exam grades, another who has failed a few exams, a student who is highly verbal in class, and another who rarely says anything. The teacher thanks the students for coming and tells them that they are part of an advisory group to help the teacher be more effective. The teacher assures the students that their perspectives are valuable and sets down three simple rules: no voice is more important than another, everyone will have equal turns to talk, and all students will create a plan of action together for improving their next class.”
Keith Tobin (Transforming Urban Education: Urban Teachers and Students Working Collaboratively) states that the meaning of co- in cogens is together. It communicates that participants talk about shared experiences and in the process collaborate to reach shared understandings and generate outcomes. The goal is for each session to end being able to answer the question, “What did we cogenerate today?”
The WeTeachNYC (Dept of Education) website describes that participants in cogens jointly construct a plan of action for improving the classroom experience, including classroom culture and instruction. “The shared classroom experiences of teachers and students provide the material from which cogens start, as teachers invite students to discuss something that they all know about — their thoughts about the classroom. The invitation is extended as part of the teacher’s concern for the students and the classroom environment. It is not a requirement, a punishment, or a plea for help. It is a call for the students to share their opinions and expertise in a joint effort to understand.”
When students are agents in their learning, they are more likely to have “learned how to learn”– an invaluable skill that they can use throughout their lives.
Benefits of Cogens
This short video clip from the National Science Foundation illustrates the benefits of implementing co-generative dialogues among high school students learning from workplace scientists. The scientists learned ways to enhance their teaching while students gained learning skills and responsibilities.
Emdin identified these benefits.
“These discussions foster positive relationships among students and between students and their teacher. Strong relationships foster positive emotions, which create a more powerful connection to the content. Students will likely take more pleasure in working with the content because they’re emotionally connected to it. They will also connect more strongly to the person teaching the content, and to the space where it’s taught. By consistently having these discussions, teachers connect with their students in ways that allow for more powerful teaching to happen in the classroom. Further, teachers learn to mold instruction to the needs of all their students.”
Instructional coaches and principals using cogens
Principals and instructional coaches can introduce the concept of cogens to teachers and encourage and support teachers’ initial experimentation with the process. An example might be working with a teacher’s class for a period while the teacher held a cogens session with four or five students: perhaps once a week for six weeks. That teacher’s experience could be shared with other staff members and alternative scheduling possibilities explored.
I can also envision an instructional coach establishing a few co-teaching lessons with a teacher and together using a co-generative discussion with a small group of students after each lesson. I am thinking there would be value in the coach modeling vulnerability along with the teacher. This would be a valuable learning experience for a coach who was interested in introducing cogens to a staff.
Principals may also implement co-generative dialogues with a small team of teachers. Like the recommendation that the teachers invite students who differ in grades and engagement, principals can invite teachers with differing views and practices. The principal would need to assure the teachers that their perspectives are valuable and reinforce that no voice is more important than another, everyone will have equal turns to talk, and they will create a plan of action together for improving the school.
I envision a benefit of teacher agency similar to the benefit of student agency from the practice of co-generative discussions. I’d love to hear from those of you with experiences in co-generative dialogues.
(This site provides 20 questions and responses about co-generative dialogues.)