Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Capitalizing on Social and Transactional Learning to Challenge First-Grade Readers

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Capitalizing on Social and Transactional Learning to Challenge First-Grade Readers

Article excerpt

As I reflected on the ways my students learn about literature, I decided to seek something that would allow my independent readers to think and talk more deeply about the stories they were reading. I have used guided reading groups in my classroom for several years now, however, I realized that I end up doing a majority of the talking about the text following reading. As a result of this realization, I aimed to nurture my students' engagement and learning independence by focusing on our responses to reading.

The focus of this research is to explore a group of first-graders' engagement in reading from the social learning and transactional/reader response theoretical perspectives in literature circle contexts. Literature circles appear to be a worthy literature response activity due to their social learning attributes. I used the following questions to guide my efforts: How might social learning and reader response activities associated with literature circles impact the reading engagement of the accelerated readers in my first-grade classroom? What are the observed literacy behaviors and perceptions of firstgraders involved in literature circles? The intent was not to look at what they were learning, but how they learned and their views of reading experiences as participants in literature circles.

Defining Literature Circles

It was necessary to define literature circles in order to determine how to implement them into my first-grade classroom and answer my first research question. I used practical guide-books, research articles, and information retrieved from teaching websites to do so. As a result, this study was framed by Harvey Daniels' (2002) approach to conducting literature circles. This structured approach provides the scaffolding my students and I needed to get started. In this model, each group member is assigned a role (e.g., passage picker, word wizard, artful artist, etc.) to give students a purpose for reading and to help them bring thoughts to the discussions that follow readings. The cycle then repeats itself using a different piece of literature and different roles.

Guiding Theories and Research

Many reader response learning experiences, like literature circles for instance, are grounded on Vygotsky's (1978) sociocultural theory of learning. Through this framework, learning is social, or influenced by interactions with others. Children are actively engaged in knowledge construction while immersed in social learning contexts. The teacher considers the zone of proximal development of the students in order to determine just how much instructional support each needs. Essentially, the teacher provides an abundance of support early on and slowly draws back as the students gain efficacy. As the teacher relinquishes responsibility, peers continue to support one another through text discussions.

Louise Rosenblatt's (1978) Transactional Theory, or Reader Response Theory, sheds light on the way students respond in literature and how they bring their own knowledge to group discussions of what they have read. According to this theory, it is believed that an individual reader may have a unique understanding of a text that is different from the understanding of other readers due to his/her varied background knowledge of the text's content (Tracey & Morrow, 2006). The reader actually brings meaning, as a result of individual background knowledge and experience, to the text and constructs understanding during and after reading through aesthetic and efferent responses (Rosenblatt). Efferent responses indicate that the reader's attention is on the information presented in the text, whereas aesthetic responses are more focused on what Hancock (2008) describes it as, "feelings and thoughts that flow through the reader's mind and heart as she or he reads" (p. 8). Furthermore, Rosenblatt believed that most readers slide on a continuum between the efferent and aesthetic stances as they engage in the reading process (Hancock). …

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