One of the major challenges students face inthe classroom is their inability to analyse information and their incapabilityof acting as independent thinkers.

This is a direct result of years of dependentlearning which renders students completely dependent on their instructors for guidance. Students’ inability to interpret literarymaterial on their own is a problem that is quite often faced in literatureclasses at both secondary and university levels (Eckert, 2008).This is to say that, when required to analyseliterature texts, many students find themselves incapable of comprehending thematerial they are presented with when required to work alone. This can be theresult of many different factors, one of which may include that they areaccustomed to information being directly presented before them by instructors, ratherthan being educated on how to individually assess the material presented beforethem, and develop creative ideas and solutions with their own efforts.There are various teaching methods that canbe used in the classroom to help students in the effective comprehension ofknowledge. Lecturing is certainly one that is in continuous use, and can proveeffective in some cases. However, lecturing can often hinder students’ abilityto form their own unique ideas and interpretations of literary texts, and thus,render them incapable of functioning without their instructors.

Even the ideasand thoughts they manage to produce prove limited in thought and creativity (Ibrahim, et al., 2015).It is truethat unique mindsetsof each individual pupil make finding a single effectiveway of communicating information quite difficult, but there are effective meansof teaching that have proven to yield better results than others. Collaborativelearning is one such successful method.Collaborative learning can be defined as “astructured learning activity involving students actively and engaging them allby valuing the ideas and perspective that each individual student can sharefrom his personal life and academic experience”(Barkley, et al., 2005).There are numerousvarieties of collaborativelearning that can be used both in and out of the classroom, one of whichincludes group discussions.

Relevant research suggests that those readers whoface difficulties with the comprehension of literary texts can be assisted bytheir educators when continuously provided with chances to read, appropriatereading skills, chances to discuss texts and opportunities to respond toliterature(Almasi&Fullerton,2012). A very important aspect of education is that students be giventhe opportunity to work in small groups(Gillies&Ashman, 2003).In addition, it is the most effectivemethod 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 moresophisticated ideas and have a better sense of recollection of information thanlearners who work individually(Johnson & Johnson, 1986). Thus, collaborative learning and groupdiscussions have become a popular means of teaching in modern day classrooms.

1.1 Aims of the ResearchThe following research was carried out at theUniversity of Bahrain,The aims of the research are to explore the effectsof collaborative learning, used in literature classrooms, on English Languageand Literature students studying at the University of Bahrain. It will also investigate if group discussions in theclassroom enable students to better analyse literary texts, and thus, aid themin scoring higher grades in examinations1.

2 Research Questions                               I.           Is the use of collaborativelearning, and thus, group discussions, a better educational tool than lecturesin helping students understand literature?                            II.           Do English Literature studentsstudying at the University of Bahrain find collaborative learning moreinteresting and effective than lectures in the literature classroom?                          III.           What are some of the reasonsbehind why some English Literature students studying at the University ofBahrain prefer lectures over group discussions in the literature classroom?   1.3Hypotheses guiding the research:v Group discussions in the classroommay provide students with a better insight into the material being discussed,thus, they obtain more ideas and better comprehend the literary material whendiscussing matters with their peers.v Students may perform better inexams when the content they are tested on has been delivered through groupdiscussions in the classroom, rather than through lectures.v Students who are shy, anti-socialand reflective learnersmay find it more difficult to follow and engage in groupdiscussions.

1.4Limitations of the ResearchSome limitations were faced withthe research conducted. One of the major issues faced within the study is thematter of time constraint, which proved an issue with the organization of thesecondmethodology, in whicha means of data collection involved the attendance ofliterature classes in order to later test the students on their understandingof the literary work discussed within the session.

In most studies conducted,students were give a longer duration of time to become acquainted with oneanother and to learn how to successfully work as a group. Collaborativelearning would be applied for at least a few months before the students’knowledge on the material taught in class was examined. However, due to thelimitation of time, students in this research were notgiven adequate length oftime to become accustomed to their peers within their set groups. Instead, theywill be grouped in a single session and examined at the end of that very samesession.

Another limitation of the study wasthat the same set of students could not be used for both experimentsdue todifficulties faced in the management of time involved with the creation ofgroup-oriented class environments. As a result, a different batch of students wereused each time the experimentwas carried out.    Literature Review2.1 Definition of Collaborative LearningA definitionof Collaborative Learning, as mentioned by Laal (2011) is, “aneducational approach to teaching and learning that involves groups of learnersworking together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create a product”(p.

486). The main objectiveof collaborative learning is allowing students to work together in groups inorder to achieve a particular goal or complete a task. MacGregor (1990) states that collaborativelearning is a method that students cooperating together in groups in order toproduce a substance, complete a task or investigate an issue.Moreover, another definition of collaborativelearning is, “a structured learning activity involving students actively andengaging them all by valuing the ideas and perspective that each individualstudent 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 twoor more people learn or attempt to learn something together.

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

“2.2 Advantages of Collaborative Learning in the classroomThere arequite a few advantages to the use of collaborative learning as a teaching toolwithin the classroom, which include better student performance and a greatenhancement in critical thinking.Tanglen(2017) states that “the collaborative aspects ofsmall group discussions allow students to create new knowledge about literaturewith each other, in ways that may not be possible in a class lecture ordiscussion”. The following statement supports the idea that collaborative learningthrough small group discussions proves more effective than lectures within theclass. Tanglen(2017)continues byspeaking of the concept of “literature circles”, which is a concept that involvesstudents working together in groups to cooperatively analyse literary texts.

She states that “the literature circle format leads to active small groupdiscussion, greater student participation in group discussion, and deeper andcollaborative student learning.”Laal and Ghodsi(2011) also state that collaborative learning results inmultiple academic benefits which include, the promotion of critical thinkingskills, as well as an improvement in classroom results. Webb (1982) stated that students’ thinkingcapabilities are elevated by collaborative learning. Smith and MacGregor (1992) state that with the”intellectual processing” involved with collaborative learning, students createnew and original matterswith the information they are provided instead of simply grasping the ideas,which is a skill that proves quite “crucial to learning”.There are manyexplanations behind the success attained with the use of collaborative learningin the classroom. One of the main reasons is the social interaction that occursbetween students, who are allowed adequate time to become acquainted with theirgroup members, and eventually, become interdependent on one another in order toworktowards accomplishinga particulartask or reaching agoal. Thus, as stated by Gokhale (1995), the successof 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 studentsdevelop better problem-solving skills when engaging in collaborative activitiesthan when they work alone. “Compared to other instruction methods, it mostresembles the natural way we communicate” (Dillman 2009), therefore, Dillman concludes thatone of the reasons why collaborative learning is an effective teaching methodis the fact that it makes “instruction personal”. Thus,teacher and student arenot 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 theyprogress 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 inwhich students feel free to discuss their opinions and argue their pointsamongst one another without feeling the pressure of the attention fixated onthem by their fellow peers. A trust is created amongst the students which makesthem feel safe to communicate their thoughts. Slavin (1995) states that students with differentlevels of ambition are all given a chance to succeed academically withoutexperiencing pressure or disdain from their peers when “small-group work” isused.

Moreover, Dillman(2009)statesthat group discussions in the classroom make instruction personal and removesthe barriers between teachers and their students. This enables students tofreely communicate their ideas without feeling the weight of judgement fromtheir instructor. In these conditions, the instructor becomes a part of theclass, either communicating ideas with the students, or observing thediscussion occurring in the background.Tagg (2003)states thatthe most effective collaboration occurs when interactions involve students, aswell as their instructors, thus, the teacher becomes a learner along with thestudents. This statement brings to light the notion that instructors are anessentialcomponentin collaborative learning as well. With the barriers between educator andstudent eradicated, the instructor can easily engage in discussion withstudents as their fellow peer. In this situation, it is apparent that theinstructor no longer serves the purpose of instructing students on what tothink, but rather, helps them develop new ideas by facilitating the discussionas one of their own.  As mentioned by Dillman (2009), “thephilosophical originators of Western Civilization believed that teaching waspersonal, that there should not be a forced barrier between instructor andstudent.

” With this statement, he indicates that the very “founders of Western Philosophy”, namely, Socrates,Aristotle and Plato, all practiced the method of discussion, allowing studentsto think a question through, and then communicate and share their ideas amongstone another in order to reach a sensible conclusion to answer the question. Dillman’s statement showsthat this method of teaching has been in effective use since ancient times, andremains an effective tool to be used in the classroom.   2.3 Researches on Collaborative Learning2.3.1 Researches on Collaborative Learning in the University ClassroomIt isimportant to note that most of the research conducted on collaborativelearningin the literature classroom has been carried out on middle school and high schoolstudents.

“Researchers have produced in the last decade aconsiderable volume of research demonstrating the effectiveness of cooperativelearning methods and collaborative instructional strategies. But most of thisresearch has been at the elementary and secondary level” (George, 33-34).”…most of the research studies oncollaborative learning have been done at the primary and secondary levels.

As yet, there islittle empirical evidence on its effectiveness at the college level.” (Gokhale,1995).”The application of peer tutoring strategiesto university settings has been defended in the literature but limitedempirical research has been done on peer tutoring beyond that with elementaryand 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, inMacomb, Illinois.

Forty-eight students partook in this study. The method ofinstruction served as the independent variable in the study, and it was dividedinto two categories which included “individual learning” and “collaborativelearning”. The post-test score served as the dependent variable in the study.During the treatment process, a fifty-minute lecture was delivered tothe two treatment groups during the sameperiod of timein order for conditionsto be kept the same for both groups. Following the lecture, subjects wererandomly assigned to either the “collaborative learning group” or the”individual learning group”.

The exact same worksheet was given to the twotreatment groups, and both groups were give the same amount of time to completethe worksheets. In the “individual learning group”, eachstudent had to work on the worksheet on their own while in the “collaborativelearning group”, students were divided into groups of four, and were allowed todiscuss their opinions and share their ideas. It was emphasized that everysingle student had to contribute to the discussion and that group members hadto be attentive to the ideas shared by their peers.

The results of the study showed that thepost-test results obtained by the students that studied collaboratively wasslightly higher that the post-test results obtained by the students from the”individual learning group”, demonstrating that collaboration proved moreeffective than individual work.Furthermore, another study was conducted by Khonamri and Karimabadi (2015) toexplore the effects of “Collaborative Strategic Reading instruction”, using aquasi-experimental design, on the critical reading of students studying Englishas a foreign language. Two groups were selected, each comprising of twentystudents. Students majoring in English Literature at Mazandaran University wereselected for the experimental group, and English Translation majors wereselected from Parsa University for the control group. Both groups wereinstructed for ten different, ninety-minute sessions. In the experimentalgroup, a leader was assigned to each group and asked to read the text aloud totheir group members. The group members were then allowed to speak amongst oneanother and share their perspectives and ideas. A strategy called “Click andClunk”, which is, as stated by Khonamri and Karimabadi (2015) “a fix upstrategy for locating the complicated words or sentences.

This stage had acrucial role in trying to activate critical thinking in students” (1377).Students received feedbackfrom one another, and well as from their instructor, however, only when necessary.The instructor was also responsible for being a facilitator, and interferedonly when correction was required. Moreover, the group leader was then expectedto mention some of the areas he had found interesting and relate some of thepoints that he had found most significant. Members of the group were requiredto be pay attention to the material being conveyed as well as to make mentionof any necessary changes or modifications. On the other hand, the control groupwere lectured and experienced traditional teaching methods.

No group activitytook place and the lecturer acted as the only source of conveyor of knowledgein 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 reportson student performance, it was found that students in the experimental groupperformed better than the students from the control group, thus, proving thatthe application of collaborative strategies greatly improved studentperformance.

 

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