Learning through listening : how collaborative discourse contributes to individual learning in small group work
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Aligned with socio-constructivist views of learning, small groups are being adopted as a viable and valid instructional technique with increasing enthusiasm. Previous research has shown that learning outcomes for students who have participated in small groups is inconsistent at best, and that small groups function differently even when working on identical tasks within the same classroom. Consequently, researchers continue to try and tease apart the ways in which effective small groups function and how small group participation influences individual learning. In this study, I explored the nature of listening within a small group learning context with the purposes of understanding how listening behaviors in the group were related to individual learning outcomes and gaining further insights into small group functions. This qualitative study was embedded within a college level history course for which the instructor had assigned students to permanent teams diverse in terms of gender, degree major, and class rank (i.e., freshman to senior status). Data collection and analysis focused on a subset of these teams and centered on group discussions that took place across two class days just past the semester’s midpoint. Data sources included: observational field notes, individual interviews, individually-written essays, synchronized audio/video recordings of team discussions, and team activity sheets. Data analysis was progressive, inductive, and micro-analytical in nature, using discourse analysis of the discussions and topic analysis of the essays to derive themes and code ideas. As indicated by individual interviews as well as an analysis of what individuals said and did during the small group discussion, listening indicators included verbal and nonverbal responses. A systematic analysis of the individually-written essays alongside a coded transcript of the team discussion revealed that topics included in the essay were ideas discussed by the group and were aligned with indicators of listening. Analyses of all data showed that listening contributes to the way the groups functioned, helping to explain the differences in team interactions.