Middle school students engaging in literary discussions online
Elizabeth Baumann Kelso, New York University, United States
New York University . Awarded
For this research I designed a qualitative study to characterize how seven middle school students engaged in literary discussions online using an Internet web board. All students were enrolled in English classes in which I was the teacher, but all were not enrolled in the same class section. Online discussions supplemented face-to-face classroom experiences over a period of five weeks. Classroom events, teaching notes, student writing, and online conversations provided descriptive data of what took place both in the classroom and online.
Analysis of students' experiences revealed themes that characterized issues that emerged when middle school English students shared and examined their literary responses in public spaces among peers. Prior held notions of literary response, learning and communication were challenged, as these students participated in conversations where their understanding of the text and each other evolved. Through transcripts of their conversations and written reflections, students came to see themselves, each other and the text in new ways through their collaboration online.
Student confidence, acceptance of social and intellectual risks and comfort with uncertainty in learning impacted how students participated and wrote to each other. These issues enabled some students to be active learners who perceived the shared conversations as opportunities to learn from others and to explore questions that interested them. Some students did not assume active roles online and remained outside the group's conversations. Some preferred the privacy of a journal to the discussion board or struggled with the text, which, in turn, shaped their sense of confidence and involvement in online conversations. A continuum based on findings characterized the different ways students handled literary discussions online and provide a framework for interpreting students' experiences.
The analysis of students' experiences segued to the analysis of the teacher's experiences discerning conversation and student engagement online. The Rubik's Cube provided a structure and image for conceiving of online discussion as a multifaceted complex model after a prolonged period of seeing discussion solely as it was linearly ordered by time and the spatial proximity of replies. Findings descriptive of both students' and the teacher's experiences may be used to guide teaching practice.
Kelso, E.B. Middle school students engaging in literary discussions online. Ph.D. thesis, New York University.
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