Talking About Books: A Phenomenological Study of Teachers’ and Children’s Perspectives Across Grades Janine Certo, Kathleen Moxley & Kelly Reffitt National Reading Conference, Austin, TX November 29, 2007 The Larger Study (2-year mixed methods design in one urban elementary school) Students’ perceptions of their literature circle experiences across grade and ability levels Students’ executive functions, including social skills and leadership skills, that mediate or moderate reading outcomes for children participating in literature circles Elementary teachers’ perceptions of their evolving roles in literature circles and how they negotiate offering texts and the approach within a strictly-dictated district literacy curriculum. Methods and data sources include Piaget’s clinical method for interviewing children (1979), the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functions (BRIEF; Gioia, Isquith, Guy, Kenworthy, 2000), subscale items from the Behavior Assessment System for Children Second Edition (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004), existing aggregate and individual student standardized test data, interviews with teachers, and researcher field notes. Why this analyses? Most studies at the elementary level have been: conducted within single classrooms conducted at single grade levels (middle elementary) (e. g. Allen, Möller, Stroup, 2003; Burns, 1998; Evans, 2002; Goatley, Brock, & Raphael, 1995; Hadjiaonnou, 2007; Hauschildt & McMahon, 1996; Kong & Fitch, 2002; Martin, 1998; Raphael, Gavelek, & Daniels, 1998) (e. g. Allen, Möller, Stroup, 2003; Almasi, 1995; Almasi, O’Flahavan, & Arya, 2001; Berry & Englert, 2005; Burns, 1998; Evans, 2002; Goatley, Brock, & Raphael, 1995; Hadjiaonnou, 2007; Hauschildt & McMahon, 1996; King, 2001; Kong & Fitch, 2002; McMahon & Goatley, 1995; Raphael, Gavelek, & Daniels, 1998) with limited early readers’ participation (Frank, Dixon, & Brandts, 1998; Martin, 1998; McIntyre, 2007) This work is informed by. . . Researcher interest and funding targeted at teacher professional development and learning communities (similar to work of Raphael and Florio-Ruane (2000) and their associates with the Teacher Learning Collaborative). A belief that meanings created in social interactions provide a foundation for learning (Dewey, 1916; Rogers, 1969; Piaget, 1947; Vygotsky, 1978). Reader response theory (Rosenblatt, 1978, 1983) as students negotiate meaning alone and together. Gee’s (2001) argument for participation in learning “social languages” (in this case, learning how to talk in a group about a book) that are connected to social activities (literature circles). A situated cognition perspective (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989) that suggests learning about comprehension strategies can be embedded in discussions about texts. Gaps in the research In studies conducted on classroom discussion students are rarely asked about their perceptions or interpretations of their own talk within literacy discussions groups (Evans, 2002, Erickson & Schultz, 1992; Alvermann, 1996). Studies that consider and juxtapose students’ perceptions across grade level and multiple settings. Studies where individual students are interviewed privately to explore their own perceptions that they may be ill at ease revealing within small group contexts (Evans, 2002). Studies that consider teacher viewpoints in conjunction with students’ viewpoints. Research Questions 1. What are the perceptions of the teacher role in literature circles? 2. What are students’ attitudes toward group discussions of literature? 3. What are the perceptions of student learning in literature circles? Context and Study Site: Otto Elementary School Western PA metropolitan area Thirty-five percent of students received free/reduced-price meals 54% White, 33% Black, 9% Asian and 1% Hispanic 8% English Language Learners 12% received special education services Reading First initiatives and district-mandated literacy activities Use of a commercial basal dominated language arts instruction Pattern in classrooms was dominated by an I-R-E discourse pattern (Cazden, 2001) Collaborative Intervention & Professional Development Voluntary teacher participation Four half-day workshops across two years Weekly, differentiated consultation, observations and in-class support Principal and teacher input into larger study design Literature circle groups met 1-2 times a week for 20-40 minutes. Participants - Students Grade Total 1 6 4 3 7 4 5 N=24 African American White Other Students with Learning Disabilities English Language Learners Students Identified as Gifted 2 1 3 2 1 2 0 5 2 1 3 3 2 2 2 5 1 4 2 3 0 1 0 2 6 5 1 1 5 0 2 0 2 M F Participants - Teachers Grade/ Assignment Total Years Teaching Experience Highest Degree Earned 1 3 2 3 15; 25 6, 15, 17 4 5 4-5 1 2 1 3 6; 12 30 MA in progress 1 20 MA BA; MA MA; BA; BA BA; MA MA Reading Support Librarian N=10 Data Collection, Analysis & Strategies to Monitor Credibility and Dependability Interviews with all teachers; stratified random sample of students (n= 24) Semi-structured audiotaped interviews -Teachers -Students Prolonged field work and use of a field log Use of Hyperresearch© data management and analysis software program Cross-examination of data by two researchers Audit trail THEMES Role transformation (T, S) Modeling and Scaffolding (T, S) Enjoyment (T, S) HELPING Learning how to talk in a group about a book (S) Writing improvement (T, S) Responding to literature and using comprehension strategies Questioning (T, S) Connecting (T, S) Summarizing (T, S) Noting important information (T, S) Clarifying (T, S) Predicting (S) Imagining (S) Decoding (S) Findings: What are the perceptions of teachers’ roles in literature circles? TEACHERS Reported difficulty relinquishing control of the teachinglearning process Traditional roles transformed to that of leader, modeler, facilitator, and observer. STUDENTS Students across grade and ability levels described a variety of teacher roles sitting and listening to groups discuss books, helping students read unfamiliar words, selecting books, keeping students on task, clarifying confusing questions, and evaluating group performance Findings: Modeling & Scaffolding TEACHERS Reported modeling and scaffolding for: -group discussion behavior (“You don’t have to raise your hands.”) -reading for meaning -preparing for discussion (different forms of writing) Initial use of “roles” or “jobs” to scaffold discussions/7 teachers eliminated them once they were internalized. Agreement that modeling was vital, especially how to journal/make notes to prepare for discussions and asking good questions. [We modeled] what the discussion does look like, so far as good questions, and then we modeled asking really bad questions, [and] let the kids pick out the bad questions. Then we talked about what makes a good question. [The students] would take some notes in their journals and then…they © would be expected to write, on their Post-It notes or in journals some good questions. (5th grade teacher) Findings: Modeling & Scaffolding STUDENTS Initial anticipation and excitement about jobs and roles across grade levels. Three students (grade 1, 3 & 4) reported being “scared” or “nervous” at first to come to literature circles. One student receiving special education support wanted more help from his teacher in preparing him for literature circles. Fourth and fifth graders preferred coming to literature circles with writings and jottings from their logs. Ike, a fifth-grader reported “if you're always on the job, then it’s directing your discussion for you ... last year, we did literature circles and the jobs were the only thing that we did ... it wasn’t as fun as this.” Findings: What are the perceptions of students’ attitudes toward literature circles? Enjoyment TEACHERS Teachers perceived that students found the texts they read in literature circles “much more pleasurable for them because they weren’t worried about answering questions as they read.” “They got very excited about the reading…and they anticipate what job they’re going to be assigned, and so, they just love it.” -3d grade teacher Perceived student excitement about reading chapter books and pride in having their own copy of the book. Reports at the fourth and fifth grades that students’ reading and discussions continued outside of literature circles. Findings: Enjoyment STUDENTS 22 students preferred “literature circles books” over their “reading book” [commercial basal program]. Upper elementary students articulated the richness of an authentic novel: Well, the reading book only gives you part of the story, not the entire story, and the one that was actually published, gives you the entire story of what happened. – Jeff, fourth grader Students overwhelmingly reported they enjoyed coming to group discussions, referring to it as “fun” and characterizing it as the best part of language arts. Three students above grade level reported that, although they enjoyed literature circles, “it would be ok if they [LC] went away” because they just liked reading. Students at all levels cognizant of changing classroom discourse pattern. 50% of students reported picking up and reading more books and/or discovering a new genre, author or series. Findings: What are the perceptions of student learning in LC? Learning how to talk in a group about a book STUDENTS From 1st to 5th grade, children who initially did not know how to respond to texts become proficient at participating in literacy conversations In this study, there was evidence of this from first to fifth grade, and it was even true of students identified as gifted. Tammy, a first grader reading on grade level, reported how literature circles helped her discuss books, “I learned how to talk about a book because I didn’t know what to say, and now I do.” Fifth grader, Allen, who attended a center weekly for Gifted Education “learned how to talk in a group ... I never really talked in a group about a book. I usually just think about it myself, and now I realize how to talk with a group of people, and how they can help me with the book and stuff like that.” Writing Improvement TEACHERS Fourth and fifth grade teachers reported that writing improved across the curriculum. Across all grade levels teachers perceived longer, higher quality writing. The teacher of special needs students reported, “students who struggled in writing in previous years were writing the longest and most quality responses to literature that I’ve ever seen and I know it’s because of the amount of writing we do in literature circles.” Findings: Writing Improvement STUDENTS Every student reported that writing helped with discussion, even if they did find it difficult. One first grader, Asia, reported, “I like to do the writing because sometimes we do it [the writing] like from one day, we do it [the discussion] like in the next week sometimes, and it’s too long, and you might forget.” Evan, a third grader with special needs commented, “Yeah, I hate all that writing , but it [writing] helped me not to look like a fool. It helped me to ask a good question from Case of the Bad Stripes (Shannon, 2004) like ‘What made her eat lima beans at the end?” Responses to Literature: Questioning TEACHERS Perceived that over time, with modeling and practice, students were asking more open-ended questions. Reported students who emerged as leaders asking good questions to keep the discussion going. STUDENTS Ivan, an advanced third grade reader reported, “other people’s questions made me understand the book more.” Reported at least one student who emerged as a leader asking good questions to keep the discussion going. Other students’ reports echo the cliché of “two heads are better than one” when it comes to question posing and comprehension. Maleek, a third grade, on level reader explained “because you work together and there’s more people. They might have different answers than you so you can get more answers from them.” Ava, a fourth grade, above level reader agreed, “because you answer questions with your friends within those little groups, and it’s easier to try and understand the book when you're doing it with your friends.” Responses to Literature: Connecting TEACHERS Teachers who used roles or jobs reported that students most enjoyed having being the “Connector” in literature circles. When roles were dropped, teachers noticed that students made more personal connections to the text. STUDENTS A particularly powerful connection was made by Yasmine, a fifth grader in the reading support room who reported that Freckle Juice (Blume) related to her because she “usually wants stuff that other kids have. When asked what she wants, she replied, “To live with my mother, because I don’t really live with my mother. . . I live with my grandma who cares about me, and we go to a good school, and I have someone who talks to me.” A first grade student also shared how he made personal connections with books discussed in LC, and how his group learned more about a new student in their classroom. “In this book [points to Honey, I Love], we all talked about places we love and places we’ve gone, and Hon Li was telling us all about Japan. He lived there before he came to our school.” Responses to Literature: Multiple Interpretations STUDENTS A first grade student reported, “. . . if you talk about it to the whole class ... then the teacher would give you ... ideas. I think it‘s better ... getting ideas from ... your- age kids. Lynn, a third grade, on grade level reader reported, “Yeah, you got to understand the book more, you got to actually see the book from their point of view.” Evan, a third grader, realized that interacting with others influenced his thinking and understanding, stating, “You get more ideas, more details to add to yours, and you get to agree with them, and disagree, and change your answers.” Sam, a fifth grade, above grade level reader thinks it is fun to talk about books ... and get different ideas from other people.” Responses to Literature: Multiple Interpretations or Clarifying for Understanding TEACHERS Frog and Toad All Year (Lobel) ... the whole joke is Spring is just around the corner, and Frog goes looking for Spring just around the corner, and Anastasia wrote, “what does he mean?” She didn't get it. So here she’s questioning what’s going on in the story. And I ... happened to walk up and I was listening to her group discuss and she said, “what does he mean?” and then the other boy that was sitting in their circle said, “Yeah, I wrote I don't understand,” and someone else said “Yeah, I put a question mark” because they didn't get the saying “Spring is just around the corner” so they talked about it a little bit and then they went on to say they might see it soon or it’s the next season .... they were having trouble understanding it and then when they came together in the group, they were trying to figure it out themselves. So that was kind of neat. -1st grade teacher Students were arguing about the meaning of the chapter title, Scarlet Deluge. . .[in the historical novel Johnny Tremaine (Forbes) about the revolutionary war]. . .how it could be bloodshed, not just the Red Coats coming in. -5th grade teacher Using Comprehension Strategies STUDENTS Well, while we were reading Shiloh (Reynolds & Moser, 2000), this kid in my group ... didn't really understand why the man would really look for his dog, and she didn't understand why the man didn't think the dog was dead. And I explained because he knew that he was alive because he [the dog] ran away a lot and he always like went over to this kid’s house so that’s why the man was always looking at the kid’s house. Charlie, a first grade advanced reader described how ... Students were also examining or learning new words. . . “Yeah, my friend Stefano, he was reading and he couldn't figure out a word and me and Julian were helping him get the word out. He was thinking it was “Jose [long e],” but we said it was Jose because the Pirates [baseball team] have a player, and his first name is Jose, and that’s how he spells it.” (first grader) Students monitored and adjusted their predictions based on continued interpretations about text. Yagmur, a third grade advanced reader, reported, “Like if you make a prediction about the book and you read it, and you're right, and the prediction was right, it is sort of exciting.” Using Comprehension Strategies STUDENTS Ava, a fourth grade, advanced reader, described her job as summarizer and what she learned about it: “You just sort of summarize it up even if there are details that you can’t really include, just to make it like easier to understand what’s been happening so far It’s hard to discuss like real deep if you don’t get the basic gist.” As one gifted fifth grader reported, “in Hoot (Haissen), it’s hard to keep on track where all the events are happening, because it will change, and then it will change back real fast. I had to keep re-reading it, and try to figure out where scenes stopped ... when I read alone, I ... speed read ... and I found out [when I was in literature circles] I was missing a lot of stuff.” Some Other Key Differences by Grade or Ability Level TEACHERS Seven of the ten teachers abandoned roles as scaffolds by the end of the second year. Five of the ten teachers offered choice of books to students by the end of the second year. STUDENTS There were developmental differences in terms of children’s perceived use of comprehension strategies in literature circles. Upper-grade elementary students argued for authentic student-led discussions. Three students with special needs admitted they had difficulty paying attention or being prepared for literature circles. One student reported, “I'm not really good at discussing. Because it's like you gotta say a lot of stuff, and I don’t like saying a lot of stuff. . . every time it comes up in my head, I forget it when we're ready to discuss. Discussion & Implications Moving from traditional classroom discussion formats where teachers are front and center leading the talk to more authentic student-led talk is a difficult task for teachers (Almasi, O’Flahavan, & Arya, 2001; McIntyre, 2007). Strong connections will be evident between teacher and student roles and children’s responses to literature and comprehension strategies used. Teacher modeling and scaffolding is necessary across all elementary grades. In classrooms characterized by IRE discussion patterns, arrival at authenticity may take years for some teachers. Sustained, high quality professional development should be provided to support teachers in including authentic literacy activities, such as literature circles, in their curriculum and continually move towards creating more authentic discussions. As part of balanced literacy instruction, literature circles have the potential to rejuvenate excitement about teaching among teachers and invoke student excitement about texts, reading and group discussion. Discussion & Implications Only two students preferred the basal approach over LC (with special needs), and three students expressed difficulties. Reasons included not feeling prepared, forgetting to do work, daydreaming, and disliking the books. Such students certainly require choice in book selection, but may also require interventions to address self-monitoring and planning (Miller, Schmitt, Certo & Greene, 2007). By and large, there is substantial corroboration between teachers’ and students’ perceptions. All children perceived that they learned how to talk in a group about a book, and they were excited about this new experience. Children at all grades and ability levels can recognize and articulate the relationship between written text and oral discourse (see also McMahon, 1991). Children can experience/learn about responses to literature and comprehension strategy use in group discussions about text. There were 215 variations of the word “help” in the data. Group discussions about text has the potential to facilitate positive social interactions. Other analyses underway is looking at social and leadership development among the 127 students participating in the study (Certo, Moxley, Miller, Reffitt & Sportsman, in preparation).