One of the major challenges students face in
the classroom is their inability to analyse information and their incapability
of acting as independent thinkers. This is a direct result of years of dependent
learning which renders students completely dependent on their instructors for guidance.
 Students’ inability to interpret literary
material on their own is a problem that is quite often faced in literature
classes at both secondary and university levels (Eckert, 2008).

This is to say that, when required to analyse
literature texts, many students find themselves incapable of comprehending the
material they are presented with when required to work alone. This can be the
result of many different factors, one of which may include that they are
accustomed to information being directly presented before them by instructors, rather
than being educated on how to individually assess the material presented before
them, and develop creative ideas and solutions with their own efforts.

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There are various teaching methods that can
be used in the classroom to help students in the effective comprehension of
knowledge. Lecturing is certainly one that is in continuous use, and can prove
effective in some cases. However, lecturing can often hinder students’ ability
to form their own unique ideas and interpretations of literary texts, and thus,
render them incapable of functioning without their instructors. Even the ideas
and thoughts they manage to produce prove limited in thought and creativity (Ibrahim, et al., 2015).It is true
that unique mindsetsof each individual pupil make finding a single effective
way of communicating information quite difficult, but there are effective means
of teaching that have proven to yield better results than others. Collaborative
learning is one such successful method.

Collaborative learning can be defined as “a
structured learning activity involving students actively and engaging them all
by valuing the ideas and perspective that each individual student can share
from his personal life and academic experience”(Barkley, et al., 2005).

There are numerousvarieties of collaborative
learning that can be used both in and out of the classroom, one of which
includes group discussions. Relevant research suggests that those readers who
face difficulties with the comprehension of literary texts can be assisted by
their educators when continuously provided with chances to read, appropriate
reading skills, chances to discuss texts and opportunities to respond to
literature(Almasi&Fullerton,
2012). A very important aspect of education is that students be given
the opportunity to work in small groups(Gillies&Ashman, 2003).In addition, it is the most effective
method for preventing educators from simply providing students with answers,
and instead, stimulating their thoughts through the posing of questions (Sonmez, 2003).
According to Johnson and Johnson, learners who work in groups have more
sophisticated ideas and have a better sense of recollection of information than
learners who work individually
(Johnson & Johnson, 1986). Thus, collaborative learning and group
discussions have become a popular means of teaching in modern day classrooms.

1.1 Aims of the Research

The following research was carried out at the
University of Bahrain,

The aims of the research are to explore the effects
of collaborative learning, used in literature classrooms, on English Language
and Literature students studying at the University of Bahrain. It will also investigate if group discussions in the
classroom enable students to better analyse literary texts, and thus, aid them
in scoring higher grades in examinations

1.2 Research Questions

                               
I.           
Is the use of collaborative
learning, and thus, group discussions, a better educational tool than lectures
in helping students understand literature?

                            
II.           
Do English Literature students
studying at the University of Bahrain find collaborative learning more
interesting and effective than lectures in the literature classroom?

                          
III.           
What are some of the reasons
behind why some English Literature students studying at the University of
Bahrain prefer lectures over group discussions in the literature classroom?

 

 

 

1.3Hypotheses guiding the research:


Group discussions in the classroom
may provide students with a better insight into the material being discussed,
thus, they obtain more ideas and better comprehend the literary material when
discussing matters with their peers.


Students may perform better in
exams when the content they are tested on has been delivered through group
discussions in the classroom, rather than through lectures.


Students who are shy, anti-social
and reflective learnersmay find it more difficult to follow and engage in group
discussions.

1.4
Limitations of the Research

Some limitations were faced with
the research conducted. One of the major issues faced within the study is the
matter of time constraint, which proved an issue with the organization of thesecond
methodology, in whicha means of data collection involved the attendance of
literature classes in order to later test the students on their understanding
of the literary work discussed within the session. In most studies conducted,
students were give a longer duration of time to become acquainted with one
another and to learn how to successfully work as a group. Collaborative
learning would be applied for at least a few months before the students’
knowledge on the material taught in class was examined. However, due to the
limitation of time, students in this research were notgiven adequate length of
time to become accustomed to their peers within their set groups. Instead, they
will be grouped in a single session and examined at the end of that very same
session.

Another limitation of the study was
that the same set of students could not be used for both experimentsdue to
difficulties faced in the management of time involved with the creation of
group-oriented class environments. As a result, a different batch of students were
used each time the experimentwas carried out.

 

 

 

 

Literature Review

2.1 Definition of Collaborative Learning

A definition
of Collaborative Learning, as mentioned by Laal (2011) is, “an
educational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of learners
working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product”(p. 486). The main objective
of collaborative learning is allowing students to work together in groups in
order to achieve a particular goal or complete a task. MacGregor (1990) states that collaborative
learning is a method that students cooperating together in groups in order to
produce a substance, complete a task or investigate an issue.

Moreover, another definition of collaborative
learning is, “a structured learning activity involving students actively and
engaging them all by valuing the ideas and perspective that each individual
student can share from his personal life and academic experience” (Barkley, et al., 2005).Dillenbourg
(1999, p. 1) defines collaborative learning as “a situation in which two
or more people learn or attempt to learn something together.”

Smith and
MacGregor (1992), state thatcollaborative learning is, “an umbrella term for a
variety of educational approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students,
or students and teachers together.” According to them, collaborative learning
involves students “working in groups of two or more, mutually searching for
understanding, solutions, or meanings, or creating a product” (MacGregor &
Smith, 1992). As quoted byGokhale
(1995) collaborative learning is “An instruction method in
which students work in groups toward a common academic goal.”

2.2 Advantages of Collaborative Learning in the classroom

There are
quite a few advantages to the use of collaborative learning as a teaching tool
within the classroom, which include better student performance and a great
enhancement in critical thinking.

Tanglen(2017) states that “the collaborative aspects of
small group discussions allow students to create new knowledge about literature
with each other, in ways that may not be possible in a class lecture or
discussion”. The following statement supports the idea that collaborative learning
through small group discussions proves more effective than lectures within the
class. Tanglen(2017)continues by
speaking of the concept of “literature circles”, which is a concept that involves
students working together in groups to cooperatively analyse literary texts.
She states that “the literature circle format leads to active small group
discussion, greater student participation in group discussion, and deeper and
collaborative student learning.”

Laal and Ghodsi(2011) also state that collaborative learning results in
multiple academic benefits which include, the promotion of critical thinking
skills, as well as an improvement in classroom results. Webb (1982) stated that students’ thinking
capabilities are elevated by collaborative learning. Smith and MacGregor (1992) state that with the
“intellectual processing” involved with collaborative learning, students create
new and original matters
with the information they are provided instead of simply grasping the ideas,
which is a skill that proves quite “crucial to learning”.

There are many
explanations behind the success attained with the use of collaborative learning
in the classroom. One of the main reasons is the social interaction that occurs
between students, who are allowed adequate time to become acquainted with their
group members, and eventually, become interdependent on one another in order towork
towards accomplishinga particulartask or reaching agoal. Thus, as stated by Gokhale (1995), the success
of one learner helps the other students to be more successful, which in return,
determines the success of the entire group. Millis and Cottell (1998) states that students
develop better problem-solving skills when engaging in collaborative activities
than when they work alone. “Compared to other instruction methods, it most
resembles the natural way we communicate” (Dillman 2009), therefore, Dillman concludes that
one of the reasons why collaborative learning is an effective teaching method
is the fact that it makes “instruction personal”. Thus,teacher and student are
not separated by barriers, and so, communication becomes more open and easier. With collaborative learning,
students gain a clear insight into the ideas and thoughts of others, thus they
progress in a much better way and learn more than they would have been able to alone (Vygotsky, 1978).

In addition,
with the use of collaborative learning, a positive environment is created in
which students feel free to discuss their opinions and argue their points
amongst one another without feeling the pressure of the attention fixated on
them by their fellow peers. A trust is created amongst the students which makes
them feel safe to communicate their thoughts. Slavin (1995) states that students with different
levels of ambition are all given a chance to succeed academically without
experiencing pressure or disdain from their peers when “small-group work” is
used. Moreover, Dillman(2009)states
that group discussions in the classroom make instruction personal and removes
the barriers between teachers and their students. This enables students to
freely communicate their ideas without feeling the weight of judgement from
their instructor. In these conditions, the instructor becomes a part of the
class, either communicating ideas with the students, or observing the
discussion occurring in the background.

Tagg (2003)states that
the most effective collaboration occurs when interactions involve students, as
well as their instructors, thus, the teacher becomes a learner along with the
students. This statement brings to light the notion that instructors are anessentialcomponent
in collaborative learning as well. With the barriers between educator and
student eradicated, the instructor can easily engage in discussion with
students as their fellow peer. In this situation, it is apparent that the
instructor no longer serves the purpose of instructing students on what to
think, but rather, helps them develop new ideas by facilitating the discussion
as one of their own.  As mentioned by Dillman (2009), “the
philosophical originators of Western Civilization believed that teaching was
personal, that there should not be a forced barrier between instructor and
student.” With this statement, he indicates that the very “founders of Western Philosophy”, namely, Socrates,
Aristotle and Plato, all practiced the method of discussion, allowing students
to think a question through, and then communicate and share their ideas amongst
one another in order to reach a sensible conclusion to answer the question. Dillman’s statement shows
that this method of teaching has been in effective use since ancient times, and
remains an effective tool to be used in the classroom.

 

 

 

2.3 Researches on Collaborative Learning

2.3.1 Researches on Collaborative Learning in the University Classroom

It is
important to note that most of the research conducted on collaborativelearning
in the literature classroom has been carried out on middle school and high school
students. “Researchers have produced in the last decade a
considerable volume of research demonstrating the effectiveness of cooperative
learning methods and collaborative instructional strategies. But most of this
research has been at the elementary and secondary level” (George, 33-34).

“…most of the research studies on
collaborative learning have been done at the primary and secondary levels. As yet, there is
little empirical evidence on its effectiveness at the college level.” (Gokhale,
1995).

“The application of peer tutoring strategies
to university settings has been defended in the literature but limited
empirical research has been done on peer tutoring beyond that with elementary
and secondary students”
(George, 35).

A study was conducted by Gokhale in the fall of 1995 on undergraduate,
industrial technology students studying at Western Illinois University, in
Macomb, Illinois. Forty-eight students partook in this study. The method of
instruction served as the independent variable in the study, and it was divided
into two categories which included “individual learning” and “collaborative
learning”. The post-test score served as the dependent variable in the study.

During the treatment process, a fifty-minute lecture was delivered to
the two treatment groups during the sameperiod of timein order for conditions
to be kept the same for both groups. Following the lecture, subjects were
randomly assigned to either the “collaborative learning group” or the
“individual learning group”. The exact same worksheet was given to the two
treatment groups, and both groups were give the same amount of time to complete
the worksheets.

 

In the “individual learning group”, each
student had to work on the worksheet on their own while in the “collaborative
learning group”, students were divided into groups of four, and were allowed to
discuss their opinions and share their ideas. It was emphasized that every
single student had to contribute to the discussion and that group members had
to be attentive to the ideas shared by their peers.

The results of the study showed that the
post-test results obtained by the students that studied collaboratively was
slightly higher that the post-test results obtained by the students from the
“individual learning group”, demonstrating that collaboration proved more
effective than individual work.

Furthermore, another study was conducted by Khonamri and Karimabadi (2015) to
explore the effects of “Collaborative Strategic Reading instruction”, using a
quasi-experimental design, on the critical reading of students studying English
as a foreign language. Two groups were selected, each comprising of twenty
students. Students majoring in English Literature at Mazandaran University were
selected for the experimental group, and English Translation majors were
selected from Parsa University for the control group. Both groups were
instructed for ten different, ninety-minute sessions. In the experimental
group, a leader was assigned to each group and asked to read the text aloud to
their group members. The group members were then allowed to speak amongst one
another and share their perspectives and ideas. 

A strategy called “Click and
Clunk”, which is, as stated by Khonamri and Karimabadi (2015) “a fix up
strategy for locating the complicated words or sentences. This stage had a
crucial role in trying to activate critical thinking in students” (1377).Students received feedback
from one another, and well as from their instructor, however, only when necessary.
The instructor was also responsible for being a facilitator, and interfered
only when correction was required. Moreover, the group leader was then expected
to mention some of the areas he had found interesting and relate some of the
points that he had found most significant. Members of the group were required
to be pay attention to the material being conveyed as well as to make mention
of any necessary changes or modifications. On the other hand, the control group
were lectured and experienced traditional teaching methods. No group activity
took place and the lecturer acted as the only source of conveyor of knowledge
in the class. A pre-test had been conducted before the formation of the groups,
and a post-test was also conducted after the experimentation.

After the collection and analysis of reports
on student performance, it was found that students in the experimental group
performed better than the students from the control group, thus, proving that
the application of collaborative strategies greatly improved student
performance. 

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