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Passivity in the Classroom

Original post made by Hanna on Jul 16, 2010

Social Significance Of Patterns Of Questioning In Classroom Discourse
Students need to feel that the classroom is a safe environment which welcomes their inquiry and supports the entire process of learning, and not just the resulting bits of knowledge which constitute "the right answer." The imbalance of power inherent in the IRE model (teacher Initiation-student Response-teacher Evaluation) is not conducive to this feeling. Also, students need to feel that their own knowledge is as valuable as the knowledge possessed by the teacher. This is not to say that students should be encouraged to perpetuate uneducated misconceptions or should be rewarded for inaccurate information; however, students must be allowed to express their ideas by initiating comments and clarify confusion by initiating questions. Also, students should not feel that they will be penalized for "the wrong answer" during the learning process, or they will never gain the confidence to actively participate in the search for gaining understanding

I have spent a lot of time in public classrooms lately, and noticed a strong degree of passivity required by teachers of students. I think this is sad and wrong. The Initiation Response Evaluation model is the model commonly seen in U.S. schools of a teacher initiating a question (with a predetermined 'right' answer in mind) the student responding, and the teacher evaluating the response. Young children associate having the 'right' answer with being 'good' and 'smart'. Sometimes a child will offer a very intelligent answer, but because it wasn't the answer the teacher was looking for she make the child feel wrong. I was talking to a group of third graders at recess who thought they had found gold. I asked a little boy what he was going to do with it. He said, "Buy a school." I asked what he was going to do with a school. He said, "Blow it up."

Comments (1)

Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 16, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Is there also a 'horizontal' element to this issue, as well as the 'vertical' one? That is, are some students reluctant to ask questions or express opinions not because of the reaction from the teacher but for fear of the reaction from their classmates? "If I ask for an explanation from the teacher, will the others in the class think I'm stupid?" "If I express an opinion that may not agree with the mainstream thinking, will others think I'm weird?" "I don't want to be put down, so I'll just keep my mouth shut."


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