Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Literacy and Technology: Integrating Technology with Small Group, Peer-Led Discussions of Literature

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Literacy and Technology: Integrating Technology with Small Group, Peer-Led Discussions of Literature

Article excerpt


This review examines research of computer-mediated small group discussion of literature. The goal of this review is to explore several instructional formats for integrating print-based and new literacies skills. First, the theoretical foundations for the shift from teacher-led to student led discussion are outlined. Research exploring ways in which technology has been infused into several common elements of literature discussion groups are presented next. Benefits and challenges of such integration are highlighted and suggestions for future research are presented.

Keywords: Subjects: Educational Technology; Adolescent Literature; Computer-Mediated Discussion; Collaborative Learning, Discussion Groups


The purpose of this article is to provide a review of the literature concerning integration of literacy and technology in the context of small group, peer-led literature study. First, an overview of key studies outlining the rationale for moving from teacher-led to peer-led discussions will be presented and the theoretical foundations for such a shift will be put forth. Next, the literature describing the common key principles and components of several peer-led literature study structures (literature circles, book clubs, etc.) will be presented alongside their benefits and challenges. Third, current practices and applications of the integration of technology with these structures will be examined in light of the emergent theory of the new literacies. Suggestions for further research will be discussed.

Peer-Led Discussion of Literature

A variety of terms and structures have been used when referring to peer-led discussion of literature. Eeds and Wells (1989) introduced the concept of grand conversations to describe their proposed goal of the discussion of literature. They called for a departure from teacherled interactions that followed a pattern of teacher initiation, student response, and teacher evaluations, otherwise known as IRE, toward small, student-directed literature study groups. Several scholars and practitioners put forth different terms and models to promote similar structures of organization to use in pursuit of these grand conversations. Short and Pierce (1990) and Daniels (2002) call such groups literature circles. Wiencek and O'Flahavan (1994) use the term conversational discussion group while Raphael and McMahon (1994) call their literature discussion groups book clubs. At the heart of each is a belief that peer discussion holds a central and valuable place in literacy development (Almasi, O'Flahavan & Arya, 2001). This belief is supported by and rooted in Vgotsky's (1978) theory of social development which regards teaching and learning as interactive and social in nature and highlights the role of talk in sharing knowledge and constructing meaning. Such practices are also consistent with Rosenblatt's (1976) transactional theory of literacy that suggests meaning resides not in a text, but in the reader and how the reader interprets it.

Though there are a number of differences between these various literature study groups, at their core they share a number of key principles and practices:

1. Small discussion groups are organized around (student) chosen texts.

2. Written or drawn notes guide reading and discussion.

3. Discussion groups meet, where the students lead and the teacher serves as facilitator.

4. Readers share learning with a wider audience.

There is a large body of research focusing on the benefits of peer discussion of literature. Research supports the idea that small-group, student-directed discussions of literature can increase comprehension, engagement, and critical thinking skills (Almasi, 1995; Eeds & Wells, 1989; Klinger, Vaugh, & Schumm, 1998). Short (1997) noted that literature circles promote positive attitude toward reading as well as an increased ability to read critically.

Peer-discussion of literature is not without its challenges. …

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