3 Research Methodology

CHAPTER THREE:  RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

This study is an empirical research on EFL classes, which was conducted as a study of the relation between student interaction and foreign language acquisition, to reach results relating to explore, if literature circles facilitate foreign language acquisition through the stimulation of student interaction in EFL classes.

This chapter, which is about the methodology and the study design of the research, firstly explains why the ‘qualitative-quantitative philosophy of education research methodology’ was particularly preferred for the research on literature circles in EFL classes. Furthermore, the specifications of the participants and the reasons why they were selected are explained and the rationale for the use of the determined sample size is defined in detail. Moreover, all tools and instruments used in the study and included in the appendix section are precisely described. What follows, is the detailed report of how the research is actually carried out, and the procedure for the collection of the necessary data. Finally, a step-by-step data analysis procedure of the study is explained, which is accompanied by a summary of the research design and methodology as conclusion.

 

Introduction

The introduction here gives a short summary and the comparison of the available methods and the reasons behind the choice of the preferred method for the study on literature circles in EFL classes.

The deductive approach is defined as a testing of theories. The researcher proceeds with a set of theories and conceptual precepts in mind and formulates the study’s hypothesis on its basis. Following from that, the research proceeds to test the proposed hypotheses (Marcoulides, 1998). Conclusions of this type of approach emerge logically from available facts.

The inductive approach, on the other hand, starts with the collected empirical data and proceeds to formulate concepts and theories in accordance with that data (Marcoulides, 1998). This type of approach moves from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories and the conclusions are based on gathered facts.

Quantitative tools are used for the production of statistical data which proceeds from numbers and statistical methods. It moves from theory to confirmation and tends to be based on deductive reasoning to test casual hypothesis (King, Keohane, & Verba, 1994., p. 3). Considering the procedures like sampling strategies and experimental designs involved in quantitative research, the researcher’s role is to observe and measure and objectivity is of utmost concern (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992, p. 6).

In comparison, qualitative researchers seek to make sense of personal stories and the ways in which they interact. Qualitative inquiry is an umbrella term for various philosophical orientations to interpretive research like ethnography, case study, participatory research, etc. (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992, p. 1). Qualitative research builds the theory through inductive reasoning, moving from observations to theory. Qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret phenomena in terms of the meaning people bring to them (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p. 2).

On the other hand, the qualitative-quantitative research methodology conceptualizes a wholistic approach which closes the gap between the deductive and inductive reasoning and completes the cycle between the hypothesis and theory (Newman & Benz, 1998, p. 21).

Although formal experiments are widely used to collect evidence on language learning and use, they are comparatively rare in genuine classrooms which have been constituted for teaching purposes, not for the purpose of data collection (Nunan, 1992, p. 92).  This research intends to observe the interaction among students in EFL classrooms during the discussions in literature circles, which involve the social use of language to enact regular activity structures and to share systems of meaning among the teachers and students  (Lemke, 1985, s. 1). For this reason a flexible qualitative method, which allows greater adaptation of the interaction between the researcher and the participants, was decided to be the best method for class observation, which is followed by a semi-structured interviewing among such a small group of participants. By doing so the researcher would be able to ask more open-ended questions when necessary and the participants would be free to respond in their own words.

Ellis states that an ethnographic study of interaction would be suitable for the classroom interaction and L2 acquisition, to test a number of hypotheses relating to how interaction in the classroom contributes to L2 acquisition and to explore which types of interaction best facilitate acquisition (Ellis, 1990, p. 15). In this way, the participants respond more elaborately and in greater detail and the researcher also has the opportunity to respond immediately to what participants say. While not questioning the effectiveness of the other research methods, I concluded that, a qualitative research would be the best for such a study and besides I believe that the newly generated ideas and hypotheses could be the base of a future quantitative study.

To put it briefly, the methodology of the research is based on qualitative reasoning, which in turn involves the study of the results derived from the semi-structured interviewing, whose groundwork is done according to the issues raised by the stimulated-recall sessions following the classroom observations on student interaction related to variables defined by Bale’s Interaction Process Analysis.

Hypothesis.

Before moving on to the research hypothesis in detail, it would be appropriate to mention that the first sparkle for this research study has been the successful implementation of the reading circles in L1 classes in North America. After reviewing the related literature, other successful practices of literature circles in EFL classes around the world has provided the stimulus to find out the interaction patterns perfected within these discussion groups.

Although the study is designed to be a qualitative one, an aimed hypothesis is structured, which attempts to explain how the discussions in literature circles increase student interaction which leads to better learning of foreign languages and the way how language can be integrated into the activity routines of the classroom.

Taking all these into consideration, the main research hypothesis suggests that, as a balanced element of the school curriculum, literature circles can provide an exciting way to promote student engagement in social interactions and improve foreign language learning by means of cooperative learning and collaborative work and offer the potential to promote reading for pleasure.

Research questions.

Another significant issue was the formulation of the research questions derived for the above hypothesis. Wendy C. Kasten believes that literature circles promote peer discussions, negotiation of ideas, and the expression of comprehension. The expression of comprehension is a feature that is most common in literature circles (Kasten, p. 70). As it is clear that classroom interaction and social learning will appeal to teachers and researchers who have an interest in classroom discourse, this research tends to find out more about the extent and importance of literary discourse in foreign language acquisition and the need and importance of literary texts for a comprehensive attainment of higher levels of language skills.

The main focus of the research was on the responses and findings of the following major research questions: What language interactions and classroom discourse are taking place in literature circles and how might this affect the language development of foreign language learners? The intended research further aims to discover if teaching of literature or literary texts makes language acquisition more ‘use-focused’ instead of ‘form-focused’ and if it is beneficial to include literature or literary texts in EFL curriculum at all the stages of language learning in general.

Some other research questions specific to foreign language learning were: Is there an effective way to use literature in the EFL classroom? How much the student interaction in an EFL class could be encouraged through literature circles? How literature circles stimulate the social interaction among language learners and promote the collaborative learning in the EFL classroom.

Objectives.

In relation to these questions, the research objectives that urged to conduct a study can be mainly defined as the aim to find out more about how teachers can increase the student interaction and adapt literature circles into EFL classes to increase foreign language competence. Apart from this, the research also aims to define the interaction patterns developed by literature circles in EFL classes, so that the foreign language teachers can adapt literary texts to their classes according to these patterns and make language learning more enjoyable for learners. Even the foreign language teaching materials and curriculums can be designed according to these principles so that teaching and learning a foreign language would be much easier both for learners and teachers.

Participants

This section of the study explains the specific details about the participants of the research, like why they were chosen or their learning backgrounds. The rationale for the choice of the small sample size is also clarified in this section.

Considering the sample size for a qualitative research, Patton states that, “The sample should be large enough to be credible, given the purpose of evaluation, but small enough to permit adequate depth and detail for each case or unit in the sample” (Patton, 1978). While selecting participants for our specific research study, sample size was kept reasonably small in order to provide rich evidence to make best use of the resources available for intensive research (Ritchie & Lewis, 2003). Within the context of this study, the participants were primarily picked to provide a realistically available authentic classroom atmosphere to be observed and evaluated.

The research is conducted on students from two different age groups at a private high school in Sofia, Bulgaria. The first group consists of 34 fourteen-year-old teenagers from eighth grade and the second group includes 33 eighteen-year-old young adults from twelfth grade.

The main reason behind the choice of eighth grade students for the research was the age group they belonged to.  According to Piaget, formal operation stage (11-12 years and beyond), was when children can logically think about abstract propositions and test hypotheses systematically. It means that before these ages children are not capable of understanding things in certain ways (Lloyd, 1995, p. 16), which would not be appropriate to have discussions on literary excerpts. This theory of Piaget has mainly been used as the basis for scheduling the school curriculum. What is more, eight-grade is the English Language preparatory year in language-profile high schools in Bulgaria, with more than 20 hours of English language instruction weekly. This was another advantage of having eight-graders as participants to this research.

On the other hand, the formal operation stage is said to last until about 16 (Catell, 2000), so the twelfth-graders, who are 18 in average, are the closest age group to the start of adulthood in a high school. What is more, they start studying English literature intensively in twelfth- grade and begin dealing with more academic tasks while getting ready for university entrance exams.

Instruments

This section aims to describe all the tools and instruments used in the study and included in the appendix, in detail. While conducting such a research, the type and the nature of the required data should be identified first, and the methods which are best suited to collect the identified data is to be selected (Blumberg, Cooper, & Schindler, 2005). The researcher must limit his selection of data collection methods, not to the type of data required, but to the collection methods available to him (Ghauri & Gronhaug, 2005). Apart from the choice of methodology for the research, the most important element would be the instruments used to collect and analyze the data.

According to Merriam, there is no single way to conduct a field study, so a combination of methods, e.g., unstructured interviewing, direct observation, semi?structured or structured interviewing can be used (Merriam, 1998). To reach the goal in this research, three data collection methods were used. Firstly, classroom observation was conducted in the form of video recordings of the discussions in literature circles, to find out the frequency of the usage of the interactive patterns defined by Bales’ Interaction Process Analysis (IPA) system. A classroom observation form which complies with Bales’ criteria was used to mark the frequency of the social and thinking skills by the participants (See Appendix B, p. 64). Secondly, stimulated-recall sessions were held, watching the recordings and talking about the interaction types and patterns with the participants. Finally, semi-structured interviews are designed according to the evaluation of the observations and stimulated-recall sessions conducted.

The textbooks, which were used for this research, were picked according to the age groups of the participants. For the teenagers, Furr’s “Oxford Bookworms Club Reading Circles” (2009) was selected due to its rich graded short-story content (See Appendix D, p. 67).  For the young adults group, Vasseva, Mladenova, & Krispin’s “Insights Through Literature” (2004) was preferred as it contains assorted excerpts from various types of literary work, to be used one for each literature circle (See Appendix E, p. 69).

As might be expected, the underlying data source is primarily semi structured, such as the video recordings of the literature circles, stimulated-recall sessions followed by interviews and questionnaires filled in by students and the researcher’s notes on the discussions conducted in class. The two main variables being observed will be classroom activities like; activity type, participant organization, content, student modality and materials and classroom language like; use of target language, information gap, sustained speech, reaction to code or message, incorporation of preceding utterance, discourse initiation and relative restriction of linguistic form mentioned as the communicative orientation of language teaching by Nunan (1992, p. 99).

Procedures

As for the procedures of this research, the data which was used to test the hypothesis was collected by methods of analyzing classroom interaction which involves the analysis of classroom talk during the literature circles. Later, the data collected was interpreted according to Bales’ Interaction Process Analysis system together with the reflections from the stimulated-recall sessions and was exposed to conceptual theoretical work and eventually led to the development of the semi-structured interview for the final results.

Firstly, I want to give an insight of the literature circles held in L1 classes described by Daniels, where the students have the freedom to choose the books they will read. For every meeting they have to read a specific section of the book and do the tasks that correspond to their roles they share. These discussion roles include connector, questioner, literary luminary, illustrator, summarizer, researcher, word wizard and scene setter. Later they are given some role sheets (See Appendix F, p. 71) with tasks to be completed until the day of discussion. On the day of the discussion they form groups of five and start talking about the part of the book they have read. The teacher just goes around the classroom and makes sure everything is going on well and provides assistance whenever necessary. During the discussions, the students present their work and share ideas with others about the part of the book they have read.

Secondly, I will briefly describe how I started using literature circles in my EFL classes. I have been conducting literature circles in my extensive reading classes for the last three years and the procedure has always been dynamic since the beginning. We started with an EFL-reader collection (Furr, Bookworms Club Reading Circles, 2009) specifically designed for conducting discussions on graded short stories that were presented in volumes each containing seven stories of the same level of difficulty (See Appendix D, p. 67). At the beginning of the year we prepared a chart (See Appendix G, p. 79) where we had the names of the stories to be covered throughout the year and the roles to be shared by the students. In the class the names of students were matched with the stories and discussion roles so that everyone knew how to get ready for each discussion. The stories were followed by some vocabulary and comprehension exercises in the books with repeating patterns. The teacher’s pack included instructions, role-sheets and even badges for the students. The students were assigned some tasks which changed every time they had a discussion. These tasks basically included, preparing questions, studying the vocabulary, preparing a summary, determining the well written parts, discovering the cultural items and making connections to real life. The students had to read the story and fill in the role-sheets (See Appendix H, p. 80) provided by the teacher and get ready for the discussion in the classroom afterwards. Later in the classroom they got together in groups and discussed the issues they had prepared.

Lastly, I will describe the latest version of our procedure for conducting literature circles in class. We still have roles but no restricting role-sheets as the students know what to do very well. Instead, they use their journals (notebooks) to put down the points raised during their reading (See Appendix I, p. 88). The groups are formed by students themselves. Due to the small number of students in classes we usually have two groups of six or seven students. They share the discussion roles themselves provided they change for every discussion. The only thing everyone always has to do is preparing comprehension questions.

The discussions are conducted throughout the school year with the aimed classes who are organized in small groups on the specific literary texts parallel to their language competency levels. The eighth graders now have a choice of graded short stories as they move from elementary to intermediate level through the academic year. Twelfth graders on the other hand have a choice of authentic excerpts (See Appendix J, p. 92) from various novels.

In literature circles, the teacher’s role is quite similar to Community Language Learning (CLL) teacher’s role as CLL is an approach in which students work together to develop aspects of a language they would like to learn. The teacher acts as a counselor and a paraphrase, while the learner acts as a collaborator, although sometimes these roles can be changed. The CLL method was developed by Charles A. Curran, a professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. As Richards explains:

This method refers to two roles: that of the knower (teacher) and student (learner). Also the method draws on the counseling metaphor and refers to these respective roles as a counselor and a client. To restate, the counselor blends what the client feels and what he is learning in order to make the experience a meaningful one. Often, this supportive role requires greater energy expenditure than an ‘average’ teacher. (Richards, 1986, p. 113).

During the study, some of the discussions were video?recorded with the permission of the participants (See Appendix K, p. 95). These videos were later watched together with the class to evaluate overall discussion quality and the language mistakes made. In this way students can clearly see their needs and eagerly plan to improve their rather weak skills. You can find a sample transcription of the discussions in (Appendix L, p. 96).

These discussions at the video recordings are based on Stimulated Recall, a technique in which the researcher records and transcribes parts of a lesson and then gets the teacher and the students to comment on what was happening at the time that the teaching and learning took place (Nunan, 1992, p. 94). It is a particularly useful technique in collaborative research because it enables teachers and students as well as the researcher to present their various interpretations of what is going on in the classroom, and for these interpretations to be linked explicitly to the points in the lesson which gave rise to them (Nunan, 1992, p. 94).

The last thing in this chapter is the step-by-step data analysis procedure which is followed by a summary of the research design and methodology. The handling of qualitative data is composed of several stages, which involve the class observation notes of the teacher, stimulated-recall session, survey questionnaires and the data analysis. Taking the data collection steps and guidelines suggested by (Huberman & Miles, 1994, p. 267), this section shall explain the procedures and processes, thereby clarifying the method by which the primary data for this study was collected and later analyzed.

As may have been deduced from above, the research adopts a conceptual model which builds on qualitative and deductive methodological approaches. Selection of the instruments like the observation and evaluation forms, together with the survey questionnaires were primarily based on Bales’ categorization of the interaction patterns in small groups (Bales, 1999). Given the high number of variables to be observed through a small number of rather regular participants with limited resource constraints, it was decided that the defined methodological approach would best satisfy the targeted goals and respond to the research questions.

It is my belief that this research can be justified on the grounds that, with greater needs on improving foreign language learning and skills development for general language competency and exam preparation, there is a need for a research into the process underlying the performance and literary materials used to stimulate the student interaction in foreign language classes through collaborative work on literature circles. As Nunan states, this kind of research can provide guidance for teacher education, instructional materials, and curriculum development. (Nunan, 1992, p. 43)

From within the structure of the stated methodological approach, the next chapter shall review the findings and discussion of the interviews, primarily focusing on the effect of literature circles on the interactional patterns of students in an EFL class.