Open classroom climate. Dialogue as a tool for the development of citizenship skills (Francesca Fioretti)


Schools and classrooms are “communities of practice” (Torney-Purta et al., 2007), where students can experience and practice democracy (Flanagan, 2013; Nieuwelink et al., 2016; Maurissen et al., 2018), and where they gain participatory skills in debates and collaborative decision-making processes (Godfrey et al., 2014). In this scenario, words become tools for knowledge acquisition and they represent a bridge of shared meanings, through which it is possible to act both on the level of knowledge’s active co-construction by students and on the level of citizenship education (Ferrero, 2021).

Dialogic pedagogies emphasize the word’s role as a conduit for relationships and cultural transmission. It has been shown how the human unfolding is founded on possession of language as a means of participation in democratic life, because the individual realizes himself only if he can dialogue with others (Granata, 2018). The ability to communicate is closely linked to the ability to listen: in particular, one of the conditions for dialogue to take place is active listening, that requires the overcoming of an egocentric perspective and an emotional neutrality to the listener, as his positive or negative emotions may alter communication’s interpretation (Merritt, 2021). Through such elements, what Buber (1993) calls “authentic dialogue” is realized, i.e. the form of dialogue where each participant understands the others in their uniqueness and, in this way, creates a living reciprocity (Buber, 1993) and a state of intersubjectivity (Rommetveit, 1985; Wells, 2006).

Thus, dialogue is configured as a tool for the development of citizenship skills and democratic values in the learning environment, because it allows to create a classroom climate characterized by free and respectful sharing of opinions among students and teacher (Scheerens, 2009; Scheerens, 2011; Torney-Purta and Amadeo, 2011; Torney-Purta and Barber, 2011; Reichert et al., 2018). Specifically, open classroom climate could be defined as the atmosphere in the classroom (Scheerens, 2016) and it represents the major element for the development of critical consciousness, since it permits students to improve the awareness of themselves as active members of a civil society (Godfrey and Grayman, 2014). A relevant body of research demonstrates how open classroom climate, measured by students’ individual perceptions, enables them to improve «a sense of themselves as members of a political community and as effective civic actors in that community, developing a sense of efficacy because proximate authorities listen and pay attention to them» (Flanagan et al., 2007, p. 423).

This aspect has been investigated in every civic and citizenship education’s survey conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) from 1971 to 2016. In these studies, a positive correlation between an open classroom climate and students’ civic knowledge outcomes has been established (Campbell, 2008; Schulz et al., 2010; Schulz et al., 2016). The 2016 International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) survey confirms how students’ perceptions of openness to dialogue at school have a direct impact both on citizenship skills and knowledge and on the willingness to engage in public activities. Data indicate a positive perception of a supportive climate to discussion within schools, with average values across the 24[1] participating countries in the ICCS 2016 study between 44% and 85% (Schulz et al., 2016) for the various aspects examined[2] in the student questionnaire.

In accordance with these studies, the open and democratic classroom climate coincides especially with the opportunity to freely debate contentious issues in class, accepting others’ different viewpoints. In this way, it is possible to act on the perception of the student who feels he can express his thoughts in a climate of mutual respect and active listening, even in the presence of an asymmetrical relationship such as the one with the teacher. Thus, teachers, through the systematic use of classroom debate, can create chances for conversation, and support students’ engagement and motivation in the learning process (Maurissen et al., 2018). Consequently, the school becomes the primary environment where the students feel to be effective members of a community and develop a civic identity. Attention must be paid to the relational dimension not only because it contributes to the subject’s well-being, but also because it holds the learning potential that must be identified and recognized (Castoldi, 2011).



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[1] Belgium (Flemish), Bulgaria, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong SAR, Italy, Korea, Republic of Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany), Norway, Peru, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Sweden.

[2] Some of these aspects are teachers’ encouragement of students to develop and express their own opinions, and teachers’ tendency to present different views on the topics.


Francesca Fioretti is a PhD Student in Contemporary Humanism at Lumsa University (curriculum Education).

Paper presented at the Conference “Dialogo a tutto campo” organised by the Catholic Forum Roma.