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[xmca] Re: xmca Digest, Vol 54, Issue 29


When I had analyzed the discourse in my classrooms, there were some IRF
exchanges, but most of them were student initiated. When I delved further
into the discourse and went into areas where the discourse was based on an
idea or a discussion of one student's question, the discourse was not the
typical IRF but a much more complex round of dialog. In my analysis I
compared the IRF patterns to my discourse patterns and show that within the
IRF exchange it is more than likely obvious to a listener even within one
exchange as to what the students are talking about.

But with more complex dialog, a listener wouldn't be able to decipher what
the dialog was about after listening to a small part of the dialog. I
labeled the IRF pattern as contextual dialog, meaning that even isolating
one IRF pattern out of a regular classroom series of many IRF patterns
following one another, the listener could identify easily what the discourse
topic was about. Even looking at Prabhu's book, the transcripts clearly show
(even though it is labeled as TBL) that the IRF pattern prevails and the
three part exchanges clearly show what the dialog is about even if you were
to isolate just one IRF exchange.

But looking at the dialog from a classroom where the students have control
of the dialog - there is a much larger exchange that needs to be looked at.
In some of my classroom data, a single contextual exchange could take as
much as 20 exchanges.The entire discourse is needed to understand what the
students are discussing. And within that discourse there is evidence of
scaffolding, meaning making and the teacher not standing in the way of the
student! Of course this is in an EFL context so it is slightly different
than the discourse that Gordon Wells was looking at, but I'm anxious to see
what's in your book. I think there could be something very useful to extract
from your work to see if it is effective in the kinds of classrooms I'm
managing at the moment.



Mark and all,

Yes, it certainly sounds like you are on a productive track with this

The ubiquity of IRE dialogue in classrooms has many contributing
factors. Some are ideological, and even once progressive, as for
instance the effort to replace lecture by more interaction, despite
students' lack of knowledge about the topic to be discussed. Some are
based in authority and power relationships as often mentioned. Some
are based simply in the fact that in classrooms there is not much else
going on except talk; they are activity-poor environments.

Taking learning outside the emptiness of classrooms, into activity-
rich and artifact-rich environments, allows students and teachers to
DO things together, in the course of which IRE just dwindles because
it is not functional for the discursive support of complex activity.
Observe teachers and students in a science lab, or on a field trip to
a nature preserve, and you find (except for novice or poor teachers)
much less IRE and a lot more "authentic dialogue". You can also get
this in classrooms if teachers ask students not about textbook
knowledge but about students' actual experience.

The case of student-initiated dialogue, which I also discuss in
Talking Science, can be a very powerful learning mode for students,
but it is much harder to control in terms of curriculum sequencing.
One question just leads to another, and the dialogue quickly diverges.
I once observed a teacher over an extended period in which he
regularly gave time for students to ask him questions. This grew to
the point where he could no longer "cover the curriculum", but the
students were more excited about learning than I have seen in most
classrooms. The mass-education model, in which we expect 30 or more
students to all learn the same thing at the same time, also
contributes to reliance on IRE. If students are given the initiative
in learning, they will not follow parallel paths in groups of that size.


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
www.umich.edu/~jaylemke <http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke>

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

On Nov 28, 2009, at 10:08 PM, Mark de Boer wrote:

> 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
> different.
> 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.
> Mark
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