Classroom Discourse

The traditional Initiate-Respond-Evaluate (Cazden, 2001) interactional sequence or pattern of classroom interaction is a particular speech genre with historical precedents and instructional trajectories. This discourse pattern is closely associated with transmission approach to teaching, placing the control of classroom interactions squarely in the hands of the teacher. In these interactions, teachers take turns at will, pose questions, decide on the direction of the discussion, decide who talks and for how long, what subjects are worthy of being discussed and serves as the arbiter of meaning and correct interpretations.
Bakhtin  delineates between monologic or authoritarian discourse as described previously as a transmission approach, and dialogic or a more democratic discourse (Holmquist, XX). From this perspective, dialogic interactions offers a counter-narrative to the traditional initiate-respond-evaluate (IRE) pattern of interaction or recitation script (Gutierrez, 1994; Mehan, 1979). During dialogic interactions, interpretive spaces are created where students occasionally offer responses that go beyond the literal level of meaning called for by the questions asked during traditional classroom interactions. These spaces are critical junctures (Serafini, 2009) or critical moments (Myhill & Warren, 2005); times when teachers need to recognize the potential during classroom discussions and take advantage of the opportunities provided by students’ inferential and interpretive responses.
Critical junctures are “spaces of possibility”, where openings in the discussion allow students freedom to offer their ideas, control the topics of discussion, and move from literal recall of textual elements to interpretation and critique. When students offer text-based inferences that include evidence of “interpretive merit” there arise opportunities for teachers to capitalize on these “teachable moments” to develop students interpretive repertoires. These interpretive moves by students appear in literary discussions in response to both, open-ended or literal-level questions.


  1. As usual, you create much food for thought for those of us who continue to make reading experiences meaningful for children. I have followed your work for years, visiting your website, reading your books, listening to your podcasts and enjoying your workshops.

    I am particularly interested in revisiting your works in light of the onslaught of all things Common Core.

    Many of us are now catching up with the suggested "shifts" we are to make in our teaching. We are reexamining leveled text, trying to understand what it means to climb the "staircase of text complexity", and engaging in "close reading" activities.

    Leveled text vs. Complex text issue aside, I get it that we have to make sure that students have a diverse menu of literacy experiences. I get it that we have to think about rigor, depth of knowledge, content literacy and vocabulary development through complex text. But as I see novice and veteran teachers jump on the close reading bandwagon, learn about text complexity, and ask students to answer text dependent questions by citing evidence from the text, I can't help but think about what some of the great read scholars have said over the years. Its about the teacher. Its about authentic literacy experiences. Its about intentional and responsive teaching. Things that you and many others have said year after year, and it still resonates. And, perhaps, its even more important to think about these things as teachers are pressured to make these shifts in the face of value added teacher evaluations.

    As I read your post on Classroom Discourse, I was reminded of how important authentic literacy experiences are. Given the recent explosion of studies on motivation, engagement, self efficacy and agency, the call to authentic literacy experiences seems even more urgent. We have moved from reading response that asks students to "retell", "make connections," and "give the main idea" only to move toward basalizing "close reading" by answering basalized "text dependent" questions!

    Teacher and students would be better served if they engaged in the kind of classroom discourse you talk about. We need to help teachers be active participants, and active thinkers WITH our students. Engage in dialogic thinking, find those "interpretive spaces" where collaborative questioning exposes those "critical junctures" where we can foster deep thinking.

    Engaging in "close reading" of "complex text" answering "text dependent questions" by "citing evidence" from the text begins with honest, authentic literacy experiences that are grounded in the kind of "classroom discourse" you speak about.

    Look forward to your blogposts....

    Patrice Bucci
    Reading Specialist


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