Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Making Meaning with Friends: Exploring the Function, Direction and Tone of Small Group Discussions of Literature in Elementary School Classrooms

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Making Meaning with Friends: Exploring the Function, Direction and Tone of Small Group Discussions of Literature in Elementary School Classrooms

Article excerpt

Making Meaning with Friends: Exploring the Function, Direction and Tone of Small Group Discussions of Literature in Elementary Classrooms

For decades, researchers have argued that comprehension is an active and constructive process. Viewing literature discussions through this lens positions discussion contexts as spaces where students have opportunities to develop comprehension strategies and engage in rich conversations that can help them extend and refine previously held ideas (Aukerman, 2012; Johnston, 2012; Morrow & Smith, 1990). Research has also shown that discussing literature helps readers develop new perspectives about social situations (Franquiz & Martinez- Roldan, 2010), as well as providing spaces where children might learn how to engage critically with peers in ways that facilitate cooperative reasoning around central themes embedded in texts (Almasi, 1995). More recently, scholars have suggested that collaborative discussion contexts also make it possible for children to take on different identity roles as they engage with texts (Moje & Luke, 2009). Despite these claims the tone, direction, structure, and function of talk in classroom spaces continues to be debated, leaving question about which discussion formats are productive in facilitating and making room for critical, collaborative discussions. Further, there are multiple instances of published studies demonstrating conflicting reports about the advantages of particular discussion contexts in contrast to others. One example of such contestation is the function and purpose of small group discussions of literature in relation configurations that facilitate development of content knowledge, deep thinking about texts (Almasi, 1995; Raphael & McMahon, 1994; Short, 1992), and opportunities to explore varied perspectives and interpretations (Clark, Anderson, Kou, Kim, Archodidou, & Nguyen-Jahiel, 2003).

Literature on small group discussion contexts is divided into two sub-categories: those where the teacher is present (centralized groups), and those where the teacher is not present (decentralized groups). Proponents of the teacher-led small groups argue the importance of the teacher in assisting children in meaning making (Evans, 1997; Lewis, 1997; 2001). They contend that when left outside the presence of the teacher children only reach surface level understandings of texts. Further, proponents of centralized small groups suggest without the presence of the teacher students are subject to negative social positioning that can lead to detrimental psychological and emotional outcomes (Lewis, 1997). Others claim the presence of the teacher diminishes the willingness of children to negotiate meaning in unbounded ways; thus, limiting the potential for deeply personal responses to texts (Almasi, 1995; Almasi, O'Flahavan, & Arya, 1995; Martinez-Roldan & Lopez-Robertson, 2001). Scholars arguing from this position maintains that authentic opportunities to discuss texts with peers in classrooms closely mirrors collaborative reasoning that occurs when adults participate in group work settings, thereby providing spaces where children might develop and acquire this set of necessary social skills.

The overwhelming presence of these contrasting reports call for more research describing the organization of particular discussion contexts in order to clarify the functions of these spaces so as to inform classroom practice. Hence, the purpose of this study is to report on implications related to comprehension and social positioning in decentralized small groups. The report below highlights both merits and drawbacks of this context by answering the following research questions:

*What happens when children discuss literature in decentralized small group settings?

*What are the social, emotional, and academic implications of discussing literature in decentralized small groups?

The Merits and Drawbacks of Decentralized Small Group Discussions

As stated above, the merits of decentralized small group discussions have been called into question as research has shown this context to be a space where comprehension breaks down and where negative social positioning occurs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.