Collaborative learning in the college classroom: Patterns of discourse in small -group discussions of literature

Celia Reissig-Vasile, Fordham University


The aim of this investigation was to study how college students talked about literary texts in small groups. By examining the nature of their collaboration in constructing meaning and responding to literary texts, it was anticipated that the mediational potential of small group literature discussions in facilitating and supporting meaningful and critical discussion among college students would be better understood. To gather data on how college students talked about literature in small groups, the small-group discussions of all students were audiotaped and transcribed, and observations of these discussions were made via researcher field notes. To gather data on student perspectives of small-group discussions, pre- and post-study questionnaires were administered to all students. Student perspectives were also gathered via interviews. These interviews were conducted at various points throughout the study. In order to study this particular group's meaning-making processes and how they negotiated meaning as they discussed literary texts, transcripts of their small-group discussions were analyzed. This analysis was done by coding utterances according to their cognitive and communicative functions. Barnes and Todd's (1977) coding scheme and Marshall's (1989) coding scheme for identifying communicative and cognitive strategies were used to guide the process of analyzing the data for this study. This study showed that the small-group discussion format can be an effective vehicle for exploring meaning and deepening meaning; it is, however, not a smooth process. It was found that communicative competence is needed for appropriate cognitive strategies to be used effectively and task design affects both the communicative aspects and the cognitive aspects of discussion. It was argued that this study's findings suggest that there were several factors that contributed to group members' ability to negotiate meaning and make meaning effectively: the group's ability to provide mutual support to each other, the forging of a decentralized group structure, experimentation with group composition, and effective task design.

Subject Area

Language arts|Higher education|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Reissig-Vasile, Celia, "Collaborative learning in the college classroom: Patterns of discourse in small -group discussions of literature" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3166577.