An examination of interactions and outcomes of student participation in a summer online literature discussion
The purpose of this study was to understand what happens when middle school students participate in an online literature discussion during the summer, and the influence of this participation on reading comprehension and motivation. The theoretical framework for this study included Transactional Theory of Reader Response (Rosenblatt, 1938; 1994), Social Constructivist Theory (Vygotsky, 1978), and New Literacies Perspective (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004; Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008). The participants were middle school students and one educator who served as the facilitator.
This mixed-method research study was designed as a formative experiment in order to develop understanding of innovative instructional practices used to accomplish pedagogical goals (Bradley & Reinking, 2011). The researcher and facilitator collaborated throughout the summer in order to meet the pedagogical goal of engaging students in rich discussions around books. In addition, pre and post-test data was collected to examine the influence of the students' participation in the summer online literature discussions on their reading comprehension and attitudes. Data included online transcriptions, facilitator interviews, student focus group interviews, Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests® (GMRT® ), Motivations for Reading Questionnaire (MRQ), post questionnaire, and Researcher's Records. Students' reading comprehension scores did not significantly change during the summer, but the mean scores increased, suggesting that summer reading loss did not occur with this group of students. Further analysis of the data, however, indicated that there was no relationship between the degree of participation in the online literature discussions and students' reading comprehension scores. In addition, students' reading scores did not influence the quality of their online responses. Finally, motivating factors appeared to have an influence on students' participation during the summer.
The summer online literature discussions provided middle school students with an opportunity to discuss books together using an online platform designed for use by schools. Findings from this study revealed that while participation within the online discussions decreased during the summer, students' responses moved from simple meaning making and social conversation to deeper, analytical discussions. Moreover, the facilitator's presence was essential to the success of the discussions as she provided modeling, encouragement, and follow-up questions to the students.