I think the most annoying phrase I can pull out of my childhood is: “You don’t know everything, Samantha.” Yes, I can admit this (and I could back then too)–I don’t know everything. However, I knew growing up that there were a few things I DID know, and when I asserted my knowledge, I was normally met with the above answer. Granted, sometimes I would spout out my knowledge at the wrong times, say, when my mother and I were arguing or I was in trouble at school, but the point is I wasn’t always being a facetious child. A lot of the time, I was relating to what was being said to me in the only way I knew how; I was showing what I knew personally about the subject we were discussing. Johnston’s chapter in Choice Words definitely gave me a few flashbacks to my adolescence, in good and bad ways.
When Johnston mentions the IRE method in classrooms, a few of my old teachers admittedly come to mind. The intense Q&A was always off-putting to me, and to my friends. Johnston says about it, “This sequence is very controlling for a couple of reasons. First, the underlying premise is that the teacher already knows what needs to be known and therefore takes the role of judging the quality of the student’s response…” (54). I can’t express how accurately Johnston describes this scenario, as I’m sure anyone who went through elementary school can attest. In a sense, when we fire off those rounds of what I call “check up” questions (because all we’re doing is making sure they know what we taught them before so they can pass a test or some other form of assessment on it) we essentially are putting students in a Jeopardy contestant seat. Now if we think about this rationally, contestants for Jeopardy study and prepare for months, if not YEARS, to excel on that show. Why do we expect students, especially children, to behave in the same manner?
Some of the ways that Johnston says we can break out of IRE I agree with. There are a few that give me pause, however. Johnston’s phrase, “Would you agree with that?” (57) scares me a little. Just going off my own childhood, the word “agree” almost feels as if it carries negative connotation. I think it comes from calling the little fits children sometimes have with their parents “disagreements.” I get the idea Johnston is trying to convey, but I think a more appropriate way to get the same response would be to ask, “What do you guys think about that?” Thinking is always a good thing to promote in the classroom, and it opens the doorway for a child to disagree with the opinion already given, while taking away the gravity of the situation.
One phrase that I absolutely adore is Johnston’s, “Thanks for straightening me out” (57). I can’t deny that a part of me loves it due to a personal anecdote. In the first grade, I had a teacher that used to snack a lot during our class. This was the age I was beginning to learn the “dinner table etiquette,” and one day at the end of our class, as my teacher was talking, I realized she was chewing with her mouth open. I remember exactly what I was thinking, and it was no less innocent than this–I always got in trouble for chewing with my mouth open, and if my teacher didn’t know it was bad, how much trouble was she going to be in since she was an adult? So I raised my hand and informed her of her plight. My teacher’s response was to inform me that she was an adult and she could do what she wanted.
I’m sure you can see why, after that personal story, I love the idea of a teacher acknowledging that they have faults and can be wrong sometimes too. Johnston says, “The comment implies that a student has done what in most classes would be unthinkable: evaluated the teacher’s comments. This teacher’s response, however, tells the child that not only is it acceptable in this classroom, but that helping others correct misconceptions is something to be encouraged” (57). I think it is very important for students in the classroom to feel as if their opinions and observations matter. Yes, there needs to be some authority for the teacher to run the classroom, but I think students would be more open to learning if they realized it was a joint effort and not just a personal obstacle to overcome.
Johnston says, “…nobody has a corner on truth and that authority should always be questioned, checked, and warrants sought” (60). If I try and think about it, I’m sure I could come up with a great follow up comment for that. But really, how much more plainly, or truthfully, can someone really state it after that?