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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A question of response : responding to literature through small group discussion Archer, B. M. Lynn


This study, A Question of Response: Responding to Literature Through Small Group Discussion, looked at the question of how do small student-led discussion groups work to make meaning within the context of discussing short stories. In order to investigate the above question, ethnographic case study methodology was used. The study involved sixteen grade twelve students from a middle class, suburban community. The students worked in four groups of four students each to respond to short stories during four discussion sessions. The small student-led discussion groups' responses to the short stories evolved almost in the shape of a typical five-paragraph essay. The initial responses, usually general in nature, expressed engagement with the story and evaluation and analysis of the story. The middle section of the discussions focused on more specific details of the story, and the concluding segments often returned to topics similar to the opening segment, such as expressing evaluation, engagement, and interpretation. While there was no definite pattern to each discussion session, it was possible to categorize the students' responses. There were four categories of response: (1) literary elements, (2) personal response, (3) interpretation, and (4) evaluation. More interesting than the broad categories of response were the meaning-making strategies used by the students within and across the categories. The most commonly used meaning-making strategies were analysing, inferring, referring to personal experience, questioning, evaluating, expressing engagement, and speculating. Use of the strategies was influenced by the style and content of the stories, the group process and composition, and whether or not the students liked the story and felt confident about interpreting it. The students focussed chiefly on character in their small group discussions. They also focussed on theme, setting, plot, and symbolism. They displayed limited awareness of tone and mood, point of view, and style. As a means of discussing the short stories, the students were most comfortable using the literary elements as a frame for their discussions. The choice of short story has an important influence upon the discussions. The story's content shaped what the students talked about, and the style in which the story was written influenced how the students went about making meaning. The small groups varied in the way they approached and responded to the short stories. Personality, each student's personality and the combination of these personalities to form a group personality, strongly shaped how each group functioned. Each of the four groups also demonstrated four categories of behaviour: (1) agreeing and providing support for each other,(2) clarifying or elaborating upon a statement, (3) contradicting or offering a different opinion, and (4) directing the discussion either by one individually or collaboratively as a group. In conclusion, the study demonstrated that small student-led discussion groups are valuable starting places for students to develop their own responses to literature and confidence as interpreters of literature.

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