Literature Circles in a Fifth Grade Classroom: A Qualitative Study Examining How the Teacher and Students used Literature Circles and the Impact They Have on Student Learning
Pambianchi, Laura Claypool
AdvisorBrenner, Devon G.
Walker, Ryan M.
State and national standards, including the Common Core State Standards, state that students should be expected to learn to discuss and analyze texts, comprehend ideas in increasingly complex texts, and justify their thinking. Literature circles are an instructional practice suggested by many educational writers as an instructional practice that can help students meet these standards; however, research examining the impact literature circles have on students and their teacher in the classroom is needed. The purpose of this study was to investigate the implementation of literature circles in a classroom by examining how students engage in the literature circle process and the instructional practices that contribute to the level of engagement that is experienced by the students during literature. Vygotsky’s socio-cultural learning theory provides a context to understand the impact that literature circles and learning with and through others have on students. The data revealed that students engaged in the literature circle process by participating in discussions, through purposeful collaboration, and by thinking critically. The data also revealed that the level of student engagement was influenced by several practices the teacher had in place. These included (a) purposeful tasks and learning; (b) choice, (c) questioning; (d) argumentative reading and writing; and (e) role sheets. This research demonstrates the ways that using literature circles supported authentic literacy in a 5th grade classroom. Implications include instructional practices that supported engagement including purposeful tasks and learning, choice, and questioning. These instructional practices helped students learn to think critically, have evidence-based discussions, and justify their thoughts and ideas about texts. Additionally, this research has specific implications for the use of role sheets. Role sheets are frequently recommended as a practice for scaffolding student engagement, although little empirical research supports their use. Data from this study suggest that using role sheets as a conversation scaffold and as a means to train students to participate in discussion can support engagement but that discontinuing their use once students are comfortable having text-based conversations and tracking their thinking may be beneficial.