Collaborative
Learning in the LiteratureClassroom

Dalkou.andFrydaki(2016) carried out a studyinvolving 9th grade
students studying in Athens.Two different groups were formed, an experimental
and a control group. The experimental group was taught literary texts through
small group discussions, in groups of 4-5 students, while the control group was
not subjected to any intervention in the teaching strategy which was used in
their instruction. The course they were instructed in was Modern Greek
Literature.

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During each
session, all the students were given discussion sheets consisting of three
questions, which the students were required to answer in writing. They were specifically
designed as a guide for the students to help them better interpret the text. The
questions in the worksheets provided students with hints to help them interpret
the text without directing students towards a specific analysis. The students
in the experimental groups were required to solve the first question alone and
the other two questions as a team. On the other hand, the students in the
control group had to answer all three questions alone.Students’ results were
then evaluated by the teacher based on performance and collaboration, and were
awarded grades accordingly. The results showed that the experimental group
scored higher marks than the control group, which demonstrates that
collaborative learning proved a more successful teaching tool in the classroom.
The students in the experimental group produced more complex,focused and
in-depth analyses in their answers. The students in the control group managed
to answer the questions, however, their answers were less developed and more
superficial, only grazing the surface of the material.

Another study was conducted by Nystrand,
Gamoran and Heck in 1992, which took place amongst nine mid-western high
schools. Fifty-four ninth-grade English classes were involved. Small-group work
only occurred in twenty-nine of the classes investigated and they occurred
infrequently, at an average of only fifteen minutes per fifty-minute classes.
Some groups were governed by strict
rulesplaced by teachers, which promoted “neither ownership nor coherent discussion” (Nystrand et al., 1993,
p. 17).Other groups allowed students more freedom, although that freedom
was limited. The minimal amount of freedom however, proved sufficient enough
for students to display more interaction regarding the topic of the
lesson.Literature tests were conducted on each class which enquired into five
different stories that the students had studied during the year. A variety of
questions were asked which included basic questions, as well as those that
required in-depth understanding of the material.

The results showed that the classes that
spent more time working in small groups obtained lower grades. Therefore, with
these results, the researchers investigated if the “effectiveness of
small-group time depended on what was going on in the small groups” (Nystrand et al., 1993, p. 19-20).
The relationship between the independence and freedom given to students,
“student autonomy”, and the production of knowledge by the students was
established. It was uncovered that the more independence the students were given,
the more information was produced, and thus, “the more likely group time was to
contribute positively to achievement” (Nystrand et al., 1993, p.20).

Thus, the results of the research concluded
that certain requirements must be met in order for group discussions and
collaborative learning in the classroom to prove effective. Classes and groups
need to be structured with care and proper planning, with an adequate amount of
freedom allowed, for group work to prove constructive and beneficial.

Another research was conducted by Fall, Web and Chudowsky in 2000, in which tenth grade
students from public high schools in Connecticut took part in a language arts
test. Students were required “to read a short story and write answers to six
open-ended questions about the characters and problems or conflicts in the
story, the meaning of the story, and connections to students’ own personal
experiences and to human nature” (Fall et al., 2000, p. 916). The test was used in nine forms
across the state and three different short stories were selected, for which
three conditions had to be met for each. The conditions included a discussion
at the start of the test, at the end of the test, and the final condition
involved no discussion at all.

Students who were made to take part in
discussion did so for ten minutes, in groups of three, before the test. The
tests that involved discussions occurring at the end of the examination were
not analysed as they did not provide enough data on how discussion affects
student performance.

Furthermore, the results of the test were
analysed and revealed that students who engaged in discussion before the test
yielded better results on average than the students who were not made to take
part in any discussion at all. Once more, the effectiveness of group discussion
and collaborative learning is displayed.

A trial was also conducted by Vaughn et al. (2011) in Colorado, Texas in
which students were “randomized” so they could
experience both treatment and comparison conditions. The effects of a reading
program called “Collaborative Strategic Reading” were investigated. The study
was implemented on three school districts, at six middle schools, and a diverse
population of students were used to engage in the study. Part of the program
involved students forming groups of four to five in which they were given the
chance to engage with their fellow group members and add their opinions and
understandings to the entire group’s comprehension of the text. The authors
observed that one of the most important elements that contributed to the
success of Collaborative Strategic Reading could be collaborative work. “It is
also possible that the collaborative group structure that promotes student
engagement and discourse about text is the essential element and using
collaborative groups to enhance text comprehension without teaching the
comprehension strategies of CSR would be sufficient” (Vaughn et
al. 2011, 958-959). The
authors also state that in the short period of time that the treatment was
provided, which was twice a week for around eighteen weeks, significant effects
could be seen in student understanding and performance.

2.4 Limitations of Collaborative Learning

However,
disadvantages can also be noted with the use of collaborative learning. Groups
are not always as effective as they appear, as sometimes, the work presented by
students “could be just the
work of the best student in the team, or the product of the cooperation of 2-3
good students.” (Dalkou&Frydaki,
2016, p. 58). Thus, this shows
that results found on collaborative learning are not always reliable. In order
to obtain the best possible results, groups need to be constructed with great
attention and care. Dalkou and Frydaki also draw attention to another issue, which is that students who
are at a weaker level academically cannot always keepup with the rest of their
group. Thus, these students may face many challenges when required to engage in
group discussions.

Ibrahim et al. (2015)
refers to an experiment conducted by Layman on a North Carolina State
University which”investigated the development in advanced undergraduate
students’ perceptions of pair programming and collaboration”. The results
revealed that although most students preferred working with others, reflective
learners and less social, and introverted students did not like being educated
with the collaborative method (Ibrahim, et al., 2015). Hedge (2000) states that
assertiveness of a studentplays an important role when group work is involved,
thus, passive students may face problems with face-to-face interaction.

Tanglen (2017)
also comments on the limitations of collaborative learning. She states that,in
order for students to better engage with literature texts, as well as
participate effectively in group discussions, they need to initially work in
small groups where they feel comfortable and accustomed to their peers. Thus,
collaborative learning is a method that requires much time and attention in its
organization.

 

 

 

Methodology

Two different
methods were used to investigate the topic of the following research paper.
Both methods are quantitative. The first method was an online survey that was
created using www.surveyplanet.com, which was responded to by a hundred and nine English
Literature Students studying at the University of Bahrain.The second method was
an experiment that was conducted in two different literature classrooms at the
University of Bahrain.

3.1 Online Survey

Data was
collected through an online survey, which was created using www.surveyplanet.com. The survey was answered by one hundred and nine
students studying at the University of Bahrain.It posed a variety of questions
regarding students’ preferred classroom environmentand the one they find most
influential on their understanding of English Literature.

3.1.1 Content of Survey

The
questionnaire consisted of ten different questions and was distributed online
amongst English Language and Literature students studying at the University of
Bahrain.

The first and
second questions were demographic and enquiredabout the students’ genders and
year groups. The third question enquired about whether the studentsprefer
engaging in group discussions within literature classrooms, or having lectures
delivered by their professors. Furthermore, the next question required students
to explain why they chose lectures or group discussions as the better
educational tool, in the question above.Furthermore, the fifth question explored
if group discussions within the classroom helped students gain more ideas about
the material being discussed, in comparison to lectures.

The next
question investigated about whether or not students felt more encouraged to
study the literary material before classes when group discussions are involved.
Moreover, the seventhquestion enquired into whether group discussions and the
opinions expressed by peers have enhanced the students’ ability to analyse
literary texts, in comparison to lectures. The next question explored if group
discussions in the classroom later helped students better prepare for
examinations.

In addition,
the following question enquired about which teaching environment students found
most effective and why. The final question required students to mention a few
improvements they believe need to be made to the teaching methods used in
English Literature classrooms at the University of Bahrain.

The results
obtained for each question posed have been individually analysed, and can be
found in the Findings and Analysis section below.

3.2 Experiment conducted in literature classroom

A second means
of data collection involved the investigation of two separate literature
classes taught by a specific professor teaching at the University of Bahrain.
Two different courses were used in this experiment. One of the courses was a,
compulsory literature course, while the other was an elective course. Both
courses were taught by the same instructor.

Two different
classroom environments were created for each group, one in which the professor
delivered a lecture on the material, while the second environment involved a
workshop in which students were allowed todiscuss the contents of the worksheet
(The worksheets used can be found in the Appendices) distributed to them in
order to come to a conclusion about the answers. The same lecturer and group of
students took part in both class environments.

The first
environment created was quite simple, with no changes made in the method the
lecturer generally used to communicate the content of the literary material.
The second environment was however, quite different. Students were asked to
form groups comprising of no less than three, and no more than four students. A
worksheet was then distributed amongst students at the beginning of the
session, and each group was given thirty-five minutes to answer the
questions.The lecturer would not interfere with the groups, and only provided
input when questions were asked. After thirty-five minutes, the professor
engaged the entire class in a collective discussion, asking questions about the
literary material and encouraging students to share their thoughts and ideas
with the entire class.

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