4 Findings and Discussion

CHAPTER FOUR:  FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

Findings

Throughout the observation year I kept notes about the performances of participants during the discussions. For the classification of the interaction patterns that occur in literature circles I chose Bales’ Interaction Process Analysis (IPA) categorization (See Appendix C, p. 66), which is the result of his research on interaction in small groups during the 1940s and 1950s and has been used ever since. His system classifies interaction into twelve categories so that each item has to do with a specific pattern of interaction (Bales, 1999). While designing and choosing classroom observation forms and participant survey-questionnaires, these twelve categories were taken into consideration to have a more systematic observation procedure. The content of the observation forms and survey questionnaires used for this research are all based on these twelve interaction pattern of IPA by Bales.

One of the forms I used for classroom observation was “Teacher Checklist for involvement in Social and Thinking Skills in Literature Circles” (See Appendix B, p. 64), which was originated from Daniels’ work (Daniels, 2002, p. 240). To fill in this form, I observed if these social and thinking skills are easily applied by each participant during the discussions. The detailed results are presented in (Appendix M, p. 102). Below, I present a summary of the results in Table 3 categorized under four major titles as “Girls vs. Boys” and “Teenagers vs. Young adults”. As clearly seen in this table, it is difficult to make a distinction between the rates of involvement in terms of either gender or age group.

 

 

Table 3 : Involvement Rates of Participants – General Figures

 

The following Graph 1 presents the graphical illustration of the data derived from the Social Skills Involvement Form. As observed during the literature circle discussions the girls seem to be more involved than boys by 13%. On the other hand teenagers have a slightly higher involvement rate in social skills than young adults by only 3%.

 

Graph 1: Involvement rate of participants in Social Skills

 

The next Graph 2 below demonstrates the graphical illustration of the data derived from the social thinking skills involvement. The left part comparing boys’ and girls’ involvement rates in thinking skills during literature circles gives only a 2% difference in favor of girls. The right part, on the other hand, introduces the comparison of teenagers’ and young adults’ involvement rates. Young adults are observed to be 6% more involved in thinking skills than teenagers.

Graph 2: Involvement rate of participants in Thinking Skills

 

When the first half of the school year was over, I conducted a survey which consisted of four sections. The criterion for the choice of the questionnaires was Bales’ Interaction Process Analysis system (See Appendix C, p. 66). For this purpose I found the “Literature Circles in Action – Lesson Plans” questionnaires the most appropriate (Erlendson & Antifaiff, Literature Circles in Action – Lesson Plans, 2004) (See Appendix N, p. 104). The four sections of the survey each focus on a different area of the study. These include questionnaires related to: self assessment of the participants; assessment of discussion groups; evaluation of the literature circles; and an evaluation guide for the discussion group with two open-ended questions. While evaluating the results, the averages were calculated over 40 participants’ responses.

The first questionnaire was the “Self assessment of the Participants in Discussion Groups” which included ten statements (See Appendix N1, p. 104). The participants preferred one of the three choices (very good, satisfactory, needs improving) to assess their performances in their discussions.  The statements given are as follows:

  1. I shared my ideas and offered my suggestions
  2. I spoke clearly and slowly enough
  3. I answered others questions
  4. I remained on topic and helped the group stay focused
  5. I encouraged others to participate
  6. I disagreed without hurting others feelings
  7. I summarized or repeated my ideas when necessary
  8. I gave reasons for opinions
  9. I listened courteously and effectively
  10. I tried to understand and extend the suggestions of others

The results of this questionnaire gave us an overview of the self-confidence level of the participants in discussion groups (See Appendix O1, p. 108). It is apparent from these results that participants feel quite self confident especially about answering others’ questions, disagreeing kindly and listening courteously and effectively. They also feel safe about keeping focused on topic, summarizing their ideas when necessary, and extending the suggestions of others. But on the other hand, it is also significant that they need to improve their skills of encouraging others to participate, giving reasons for their opinions, offering their suggestion and speaking clearly enough. To see some sample responses of participants please refer to (Appendix P1, p. 116). To give an idea of the process, some of the completed participant questionnaires are also included in (Appendix Q1, p. 126).

The second questionnaire was about the “Assessment of the Discussion Groups” which included five statements (See Appendix N2, p. 105). The participants were asked to share their opinions (yes, no, sometimes) on these statements to assess the specific discussion group environment. The statements are as follows:

  1. Everyone participates and shares in the discussion process. Communication is interactive.
  2. The group is supportive of its individual members. Group climate promotes friendliness.
  3. Group members often ask questions for clarification or elaboration.
  4. The group discussion stays on topic, or on directly related issues.
  5. The group is energetic and enthusiastic.

The results of this questionnaire gave us an understanding of the effectiveness of literature circles as discussion groups (See Appendix O2, p. 111). Data from this questionnaire reveals that participants believe that the group members often ask questions for clarification and the group discussion stays on topic. There is also a shared idea that the members should participate more and that they should be supportive of each other by encouraging their friends in need. What is interesting about these results is that nearly one fourth of the participants believe that the groups are not energetic and enthusiastic. To see some sample responses of participants please refer to (Appendix P2, p. 117). To give an idea of the process, some of the participant questionnaires are also included in (Appendix Q2, p. 130).

The third questionnaire was the “Literature Circles Evaluation” which gives a specific insight of the general values in literature circles (See Appendix N3, p. 106). The participants chose one of the three responses (need to improve, do it, do it well) to assess the specific characteristics of the literature circles.  The statements are as follows:

 

  1. preparation work done in notebook
  2. literature book at school, not at home
  3. reading completed
  4. ask questions to others
  5. offer my own ideas
  6. encourage and respect others’ opinions
  7. make eye contact with others
  8. keep my voice at arm’s length (not to disturb other participants)

The results of the third questionnaire make the participant’s performance qualities clear in literature circles (See Appendix O3, p. 113). From this data it is apparent that most participants are careful about the literature circle materials like the books or the journals. We also see here that, nearly all participants read their parts completely and keep eye contact with others during the discussions. In contrast, it is clear that there is an urgent need to improve students’ question asking skills. Similarly the participants do not feel at ease encouraging and respecting their group members’ ideas and they also agree that they should lower their voices. To give an idea some of the student papers are included in (Appendix Q3, p. 133).

The fourth questionnaire was the “Discussion Group Evaluation Form” which has two major open-ended writing tasks to find out what skills do participants believe that they are good at and most importantly, what skills do they think that are most crucial for literature circle discussions (See Appendix N4, p. 107). The two open-ended writing tasks included are as follows:

  1. My overall rating of myself is as follows:
  2. I think the person who worked the hardest in my group is … because:

The results of this questionnaire shows us firstly, the areas or skills that students feel most confident about and secondly what skills do they most value during the literature circle discussions. Some sample responses of participants are included in (Appendix P3, p. 122). To give an idea of participant papers, some are included in (Appendix Q4, p. 136).

Discussion

The discussion part of the dissertation, which I believe is strongly connected to the results section, explains and evaluates the data presented in the findings section. Therefore the findings and the discussion sections were kept in the same chapter. This part of the study does not only share the researcher’s point of view but also gives a constructive and critical analysis of the research findings. This part is intended to be the interpretation of the outcomes presented in the previous section and aims to make the results and their significance clear. The issues raised in this section relate the findings to the broader frame of book clubs and transfer them from paper to the real and practical life.

This first part is the reflection of the classroom observations during the literature circles experience we had with the eighth and twelfth graders throughout the 2009-2010 academic year. Although I implemented the method to various classes, the focus of the study was specifically on these two classes.

In the beginning, conducting literature circles instead of the regular extensive reading classes was strange and worrying for the students, but from the first day, they enjoyed even the seating arrangement we had in small groups. In regular extensive reading classes we usually had a set book which everyone read at home and did related comprehension tasks in the classroom so that we made sure everyone read his or her part and learned the new language structures. It was also interesting at first but later the repeating pattern of the comprehension tasks caused weariness among the students. They found all these repeating patterns boring; similar word matching exercises followed by gap filling cloze tests; sentence completion tasks for the use of English part; and finally open ended questions about the reading.

Since the aim of literature circles is not only reading books and discussing among friends but practicing language skills, the materials used, preparation assignments, and the discussions had to be carefully planned and controlled. Deciding on the dates of discussion and sharing the roles are the most important parts of literature circles. For this reason we used the schedule (See Appendix G, p. 79) provided with the reading circles book we used. Forming the groups and sharing the discussion roles are two other important points for preparation. I had small-sized classes which could form two groups of five or six students each. For literature circles, you have to define specific roles which the group members exchange for each discussion. You can find sample defined roles in Daniels’ (2002) book or Furr’s (2009) reading circles series. These roles assign students to achieve tasks working on the given text.

Graph 3: Reading Circles – Discussion Roles
(Daniels, 2002)

Each of these roles focus on different aspects of the text like: summary, vocabulary, preparing questions, determining cultural items, focusing on specific passages and making real life connections. To help students achieve these tasks some role sheets (Appendix F, p.71) are offered as a guide for the preparation. These handouts help students organize their study and also come in handy during the discussions. The role sheets at the beginning were quite useful for checking how to get prepared. But later they become insufficient. The students started arranging everything before the presentations so that everyone knew what to ask and whom to ask. Although these handouts are really useful for the first stages of literature circles and getting used to the discussions, after some time they might become a hassle as students start losing them or when you see the old ones all around the place. That was when we adopted the idea of ‘student journals’ (Daniels, 2002, p. 154).  These journals undertook the task of role sheets but this time without any limitations or restrictions. Student journals are notebooks, where students keep record of the task-related data. Now record keeping was more organized and open ended.

As an EFL teacher, I am primarily responsible for the language learning process of the students. For this reason, setting up the scene with the groups and books and leave them to themselves as they discuss the stories did not seem reasonable to me. Small groups performing at the same time in the classroom are problematic for EFL classes as the students might be using L1 during their conversations and the teacher would hardly be aware of that. That is why we started ‘group presentations,’ which were held in front of the classroom like an open book discussion. In this way I was able to videotape the discussion and the other students had a chance to observe their friends. The problem with these presentations was that the groups had to do it in turns, which was time consuming. But the other students, who were watching, had more time to get prepared.

After these presentations we watched the discussion video together with the students pausing for mispronounced or wrongly used vocabulary or grammar items. The best thing about these stimulated-recall sessions was being able to discuss the interaction patterns as well. We talked about how to get the speech ground, interrupt friends or ask polite questions and disagree without hurting your friend’s feelings. It was rather like Community Language Learning (CLL) where the teacher acts like a consultant and helps students use the language according to their needs (Larsen-Freeman, 2000, p. 90). During these stimulated-recall sessions (Nunan, 1992, p. 94), while we were watching the recorded video, we could talk about the students’ errors and needs and they were so motivated about learning to say something in the best way or the right way of pronouncing a challenging word. In this way I had the opportunity to observe their interaction patterns and the reasons behind them.

Literature circles can get problematic for foreign language classes if the teacher sticks to a specific procedure and not changes it. When the teacher uses such a mechanic structure the students would tend to do what they have to and nothing more. For example they would get prepared for their part of the text and present it in the group and not respond to their friends’ statements as they have not read the whole text. These students would not interact with the rest of the group and damage the enthusiastic atmosphere in the group. Another thing such students tend to do is, arranging who asks which question to whom, so that they do not have to read and study the whole text.

The teacher’s role is just like the one in community language learning method. The teacher is like a consultant who helps whenever necessary. The students read stories or novels instead of course books. After that, they discuss the characters, events and consequences just like a group of teenagers coming out of a movie theater discussing the film they watched. As can be seen here these discussions provide them with an environment similar to the real-life conditions. They decide what to tell, who to ask, how to respond and even agree or disagree. In this way, the students become more aware of their needs and incompetency and take more responsibility of their own learning. Thus the teacher acts like a counselor recommending different ways of expressing their ideas, giving vocabulary support and most importantly modeling as an expert.

Actually, literature circles are quite flexible in terms of organization, because the activities and student-roles can be adapted to any age group or language level. They are perfect for mixed-ability classes as the roles can be achieved with different levels of competency. We had mixed ability groups and the weaker tried to start talking among others while the others assisted and encouraged them. The students did their tasks according to their level of English, provided they improve it throughout the literature circles. In this way the weaker students felt more comfortable as they could say only a little and that it was okay. These students were encouraged to take part in the discussions no matter what their English levels were. For example, while more proficient students compare the characters of two heroes from the story, weaker ones talked about the physical appearances.

As we had small number of students in class we had two or three groups in each class. Each time a group has a discussion in front of the class, the rest usually listened passively or prepared their part of the speech. Later I asked the listeners to carefully take notes and later make comments about their friends’ performances. It was especially very fruitful with twelfth-graders. During the first discussions as the roles are shared and everyone knew what to do, they arranged the questions and vocabulary part among themselves in such a way that during the conversation everybody knew what to say and when. It was more like a theatre play than a discussion. At first it may seem like cheating but it took them so much preparation that the preparation itself was a lesson for them. Another initial problem we had in the class was socially nervous students, who could not speak in front of public and have real difficulty talking even among small groups. That was a difficult task to be dealt with each student individually.

During the first days of the presentations the students were shy because of being in front of the class and maybe the camera. But later they got over this as they became more self-confident. They even started making use of their body language, and they took eye contact into consideration as well. What is more, because some of the group presentations were being video recorded, the students felt the urge to be ready for the presentations. Besides verbal language, they practiced their body language and fluency as well. They started using fillers and conjunctions better than before.

Another problem we had at the beginning was that the students found it very difficult to listen to others in the group and respond, but as they improved their skills and got rid of the nervousness it became more challenging and interactive. When the students were concentrated on what they were going to say next or how they were going to respond, it was nearly impossible for them to listen effectively and ask questions or respond to what is told by others. As the students’ speaking skills improved, the allocated time was not enough for them.  This time, they had a lot to say and some other issues were raised related to this like struggling to get the speech ground, interruptions and politeness issues. As a result, students’ skills to make a speech without preparation improved. Eventually, students started building up complicated sentences to express their ideas and ask questions to get information, and their interest towards literature in English grew enormously.

Sometimes even the students themselves invented activities related to these discussions. For example, after presenting the vocabulary they gave the definition of a word and asked for the actual word. It was a beneficial activity, which motivated them to listen to their friends more attentively. In this way, the students accepted the preparation procedures for the literature circles not only as a regular homework they had to do but as a presentation among their social group where they feel like boasting about their roles. They were even painstakingly careful about their physical appearances as well.

Yet, another student-generated activity was the organization of a bookworm competition and at the end of the semester the winner, who read the most books, was awarded. This is just an example of how they assimilated the concept of reading in a foreign language. At first they were looking up every new word they come across the pages which was a depressing task. Now, they are aware of the fact that it is more productive by not looking up every word but just the ones that prevent them from understanding the text. For this reason the students now, try to read without interruptions and as much as they can.

During the period we studied in literature circles the students became aware of the importance of pronunciation and intonation and learned how to study it. They tried to improve their fluency by trying not to have pauses or speak flatteringly. At first the most challenging part was to understand the idea behind the discussion roles. After sometime, together with the students we decided to make the process more challenging. This time they had to prepare all the roles for discussion in their student journals and the roles were distributed randomly right before the discussions. This element of surprise was also interesting for them. Besides, they did not have the chance to arrange which questions to ask whom. This literature circles idea was something new for them as teenagers, sitting around a table and talking seriously like adults. They enjoyed it and had fun especially when they were well prepared or were not nervous. When the students were quite experienced about the group discussions, they were able to attend the speech and make contributions actively even though they are not well prepared for the task.

The idea of reading circles was really useful in that it was not something theoretical which is usually the case for literature classes, but it was a task based approach where the end product—the discussions in our case—was very important. The students learned speaking extemporaneously about more academic issues, asking questions, summarizing, giving reasons, making a point interruption, etc. As their discussion skills improved the focus of attention moved from the events to the characters and the social issues covered in the literature.

When it comes to young adults, they prefer making their preparation at school rather than a homework assignment. So, when we had double lessons, they used the first hour to get prepared together with their friends using dictionaries etc. and the second hour for the presentation. They had more difficulty in keeping journals or records compared to teenagers. We generally had literature circles with this group in the afternoons and for that reason they sometimes felt bored and sleepy.

The students who had already been reading books enjoyed the literature circles a lot. The authentic texts extracted from novels were really challenging for them but they managed to learn a great deal of vocabulary from these texts. While some of them preferred focusing on characters and events, some others were interested in discussing the social background of the short story or excerpt.

Although they were nervous during the video recordings, some of them told me that it improved their public speaking and presentation skills. Some of them also claimed that video recordings paved the way for more serious preparations before the reading circles.

During the first discussions, until the task was clearly understood, they were so concentrated on their own performances that they could not listen to the other members in the group. But as time passed, they got used to the procedure and gained self-confidence. It was then that they started listening actively, asking questions, expressing their agreement or disagreement and encouraging others to take part.

Being able to assist each other keeping the conversation going on is very important for them. During the first discussions it was mostly monologues but later in time it became more like a conversation or discussion. Some of them enjoyed reading the text aloud during the preparation period.

The ones who were not used to speaking in front of people complained about the dominant students who kept talking all the time. Later as they assimilated the idea of a literature circle, they shared the roles and formed the groups themselves and had no problems conducting the discussion. Most importantly, during the period when they had literature circles, they became aware of their weaknesses. They realized that there are some structures they cannot use proficiently. They became aware of the vocabulary they need to learn and other language items such as how to express their ideas, agreements or disagreements. They improved their summarizing skills as well. During the preparation sessions they used the dictionaries actively and sometimes made further research on the topic at home. While it was nervous and stressful for them at the beginning, later they enjoyed the discussions and now think that literature circles are a very valuable form of language practice.

The discussion part presented here tried to explain and evaluate the data given in the findings section in the light of my classroom observations. Besides my point of view derived from the observations, I tried to give a constructive and critical analysis of the research findings as the interpretation of the outcomes presented in the previous section. I believe that the issues raised in this section relate the findings to the broader frame of book clubs and transfer them from theory to practice.