Most teachers keep control over the direction of discussions in the classroom. In fact, most classroom discussions follow the pattern of:
a. teacher question
b. student answer
c. teacher evaluation.
Such a sequence is frequently referred to as IRE sequence or Initiate-Respond-Evaluate (Bloom, 2006; Cazden, 1988). Such a sequence allows for no divergences. Classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school follow this pattern… a dead-end pattern. It doesn’t really enhance student learning. And, promotes rote memory and an attitude of “playing the game.” As students get older, they expect this game. Those who are interested in getting good grades, become quite good at playing this game. And, those who are not interested in grades, who are often the rebellious and brilliant, resist playing this game. They see through it and aren’t interested in playing.
The IRE pattern kills creativity, curiosity, insight, deep learning, complexity, and REAL discussions that are meaningful and relevant to the students. Teachers hold to the IRE sequence out of habit or out of fear that they will lose control or some combination of these and other factors.
But, divergences are where the action is. Discussions that spin out into recursive circuits of interconnections, fantasies, and personal experiences can become intense learning situations that promote creativity and insight. There are teachers (and I’m one of them) who keep a look out for those divergences and keep providing opportunities for them to arise. To promote divergent discussions, one has to ask different questions and avoid evaluating student comments at all costs. Teachers have to stop talking so much and defer to students. Student arguments and free-flowing discussions need to be encouraged.
“Invite chaos, trust complexity” (Bloom, 2006)
Bloom, J. W. (2006). Creating a Classroom Community of Young Scientists (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Cazden, C. B. (1988). Classroom Discourse: The Language of Teaching and Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.