First Attempt at Research

As discussed in my first post, the question I hope to, in some measure, address with qualitative research is: How do upper school students experience increasingly frequent break-out group work during classes?

The fully elaborated set of questions from the first step on the this journey, the lab ideation document, are: How do students experience group learning and increasingly employed break-out activities? What seems effective to students? What do they like? What seems ineffective to students? What do they dislike about student-directed break-out activities ranging of in size from 2 students up to as much as half the class?

Determined to get going on the reading and research step prescribed by the SET Lab process, I finally got to a serious look at the Google Drive folder my consultant, Urvi, shared. It has six articles, all with promising titles including:

— Student Engagement in High School Classrooms from the Perspective of Flow Theory,

— Pedagogies of Engagement: Classroom-Based Practices

— Learning in small groups

— Peer interaction and learning in small groups

— Student Interaction and Learning in Small Groups, and

— Testing a theoretical model of student interaction and learning in small groups

Impressed with the obvious relevance of these to my project — investigation of how students experience in-class group work — I naively assumed that with some time and willingness to read many words on a computer screen I’d be able to establish a theoretical foundation from prior research for my project.

Alas, the first five articles are behind substantial paywalls and the sixth is a heavily abridged Google book with random sets of pages omitted. My attempt to read “Testing a Theoretical Model….” reminded me of the mind-numbing dullness of formal scholarly writing. Passive verbs and excruciatingly elliptical sentences pile up to create a daunting verbiage-to-meaning ratio that only other scholars in that field could love.

My limited encounter with these articles was not, however, a waste of time. The abstracts describe the general idea of each project. I am interested in the overwhelmingly positive portrayals of collaborative student work. None of the articles seem to strike a scientifically neutral note on the question of the efficacy or positive effects of group interaction. Noting that I was not able to read all the relevant text, the articles seem to paint a rosy picture of the advantages of this approach without much in the way of qualification or cautionary acknowledgement of problems with this emphasis.

While I mostly agree with the current embrace of break-out student-to-student work, I am also interested in the nuances of how this strategy is used and how the subtleties of application influence student experiences. I am also interested in the interaction between various student learning styles and group work. Some students thrive on a steady diet of peer interaction and others would rather work alone. As teachers, what is our obligation to the spectrum learning styles that come through the door to our classes?

I plan to start writing the survey I will use to solicit student reactions to this frequently used method, but I see the value in familiarity with scholarly precedent and prevailing ideas. I hope to find an ethically acceptable way to gain access to some of the scholarship that lurks behind pay access portals.