The responses of adult ESL learners to short stories in English in collaborative small -group discussions

Lewis Levine, Fordham University


The purpose of this hypothesis-generating study was to analyze the responses of four adult students to nine short stories in English in collaborative small-group discussions over a one-semester period as part of an intermediate-level ESL course in an urban bilingual community college. The participants were all native speakers of Spanish. The researcher developed a model of the students' meaning-making and collaborative processes that included six principal categories: confirming understanding; speculating; extracting a message; participant roles; collaborative task; and use of English. The participants' talk was found to shift from topic to topic and to be highly speculative and recursive in nature. A broad range of participant roles helped students to build their responses to the texts and to regulate their own behavior in a collaborative fashion. An in-depth analysis of the participants' responses to two types of texts revealed that the participants made significantly more meaning-confirming utterances with a more difficult text and speculated more about various elements of the more easily understood text. The participants also focused less on the accuracy of their use of English when discussing more difficult text. The researcher generated the following hypotheses: (a) Adult ESL learners initially focus their oral responses on confirming their understanding of a text using a variety of strategies; (b) Adult ESL learners speculate on a broad range of textual elements and attempt to extract a message or lesson once they believe they have understood the text; (c) Challenging, unabridged symbolic texts that have identifiable conflicts, that arouse readers' expectations about what will happen next, and that raise issues and concerns relevant to students' experiences, facilitate students' responses; (d) More effective readers attempt to clarify their doubts, tolerate ambiguity, marshal evidence to support or refute interpretations, transact with a text as a virtual experience, and consider alternative perspectives; and (e) Learning environments that allow students to generate and respond to their own questions, to explore their responses at their own pace, to assume a variety of roles, and provide sufficient structure and freedom, promote successful collaboration.

Subject Area

Language arts|Literacy|Reading instruction|Adult education|Continuing education

Recommended Citation

Levine, Lewis, "The responses of adult ESL learners to short stories in English in collaborative small -group discussions" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9947863.