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[xmca] IRF pattern

I haven't had a chance to look at this article either, and I'm not sure of
the context but from my own classroom research I have found something

Recently at the JALT conference in Shizuoka Japan, I did a talk on the
discourse analysis of a classroom where IRF was not the predominant form of
discourse. I have been looking at the classroom from a different perspective
- where the scaffolding takes on a different form and the students are the
ones asking the questions and the teacher is not necessarily the one
answering. The familiar F is virtually non existent as it usually perceived
as - such as Jay points out as the T is the judge of the students answers to
questions. Instead the discourse is no longer an easy to recognize simple
1-2-3 pattern and it no longer fits the Sinclair Coulthard model for
analysis. My talk focussed on this aspect of 'scaffolding' as in the form of
negotiation for meaning and how it relates to the zpd. The scaffolding that
occurs in the classroom is not from the teacher providing hints to the
student on how to continue, but instead the scaffolding comes from lack of
knowledge and negotiation of meaning using limited available language in
order to gain more language. The IRF pattern where the teacher plays the 'I'
can't be very effective in language internalization.

>From my perspective, the classroom needs to move from the IRF pattern of
focus on knowledge to one of learning how to mean and the focus on using
English as a tool for communication. I recently published a paper on the use
of this Socratic elenchus in the EFL classroom and its virtual trap for the
teacher and how this form of question and answer strategy doesn't belong in
the EFL classroom.

The Japanese in their English language classrooms have predominantly used
the IRF pattern as the basis of their teaching methodology.

I think the real answer to removing this ubiquitous IRF discourse structure
from the EFL classroom is to begin to remove teaching from the classroom and
turn it into self discovery or meaning making. I have done a bit of
discourse analysis on this sort of classroom and found that the IRF pattern
disappeared and in its place a very jumbled form of discourse, difficult to
follow and difficult to analyse. I've had a number of talks with Gordon
Wells over Skype and although there are a few questions that still need
ironing out, creating a new model for discourse analysis as well as
analysing the discourse using functional grammar - combining Halliday with
Vygotsky may give some answers as to what actually happens in the classroom
and how language is acquired when language is no longer explicitly taught. I
do believe that there is a link between language acquisition and classroom
teaching methodology using the concept of the zpd as the basis for how the
classroom is managed.


On Nov 28, 2009, at 12:45 PM, Jay Lemke wrote:

I may wait to see the article and the specific context of the discussion,
but on the whole, I think I can assure David that SOMETHING, for which IRE
or IRF is a common placeholder term, is quite a pervasive and specific mode
of dialogic discourse in many sorts of classrooms.

If you look only at the "bare bones" definition of it, then, yes, there are
analogues in other kinds of discourse, and you can even, in its broader IRF
form fit it, as David suggests, to many kinds of dialogue.

But the real discourse phenomenon is not the bare bones form, it is the more
extended speech genre, which has a lot of other regularities to it, and a
rather horrifying ubiquity in classrooms where informational knowledge is
taken as the main objective, and where there is a basic power relationship
in which T is authorized to question and judge S answers to questions.

As Gordon Wells has pointed out, IRE can be used to do some good in
teaching, though in my experience it tends to pull things back towards the
focus on informational knowledge. I have seen it used brilliantly to
stimulate students' thinking, but not often.

And there are many other discourse patterns in classrooms, and some kinds of
classes which downplay IRE in favor of alternatives.

Nothing else, however, is quite like it. The closest comparison of which I
am aware is to known-answer questioning of witnesses in some legal
proceedings, but even that really has a very different guiding goal. I think
that one of the most interesting things about IRE analysis is the
relationship of form and function, and while the form has a certain austere
elegance, the functions are not usually so pretty.


PS. The Socratic elenchus makes for another interesting comparison.

Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093
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