“It's all in the preparation”: An interpretive look at how one teacher prepares her students for participation in literature discussion groups

Melissa Andreana O'Donnell, University of Pennsylvania


The goal for many teachers is to instruct their students in such a way that when they work independently of the teacher they are able to do so with competence, as defined by the teacher. For elementary language arts teachers this often means creating an interpretive and literate environment where students are prepared to interact within literature discussion groups free from the direction of the teacher. To accomplish this, teachers must instruct students, both explicitly and implicitly, to recognize and use both literary elements as well as cooperative learning strategies. While much information exists on how and why to conduct book clubs, as well as many descriptive case studies about teachers' trials and tribulations with the implementation of book clubs, little research focuses specifically on the preparation that a teacher does with her students for participation in these discussions. My research study is significant because it fills this gap by examining how one teacher accomplished this preparation and how her students responded and demonstrated these behaviors. This dissertation addresses the following basic research question: How does one third grade teacher prepare her students for participation in book clubs? In conjunction with that major question were the following related questions: Why does this teacher choose to use book clubs over other means of instruction? What counts as literary discussion in this classroom? In other words, what are the explicit and implicit rules that are established for such discussions and who sets them? Which literary elements and/or cooperative learning skills does she value and how does this teacher go about preparing her students to use them: through explicit instruction, role-playing, modeling, and/or discussion? A final, yet all encompassing, question was: How will this preparation be evident in student behaviors? This research was conducted using interpretive, descriptive, and naturalistic methods. Additionally I employed both qualitative and quantitative methods throughout the analysis of the data. It was never the intention of this research to create a how-to manual for teachers to conduct literature discussion groups in their classrooms. Instead, my goal was to present data that supported the basic premise that students will not naturally have grand conversations about books without detailed and careful preparation. Through mindful analysis of the data, I have shown a positive relationship between what the students exhibited in literature discussion groups and the instruction the teacher presented in anticipation of such groups. Several implications can be drawn from this research. First is the basic concept that research questions, like the ones addressed by this study, generally grow from difficulties that are encountered in trying to do what we, as teachers, believe to be right. Hopefully, this research will inspire others to explore their own questions through research. Secondly, I believe this research speaks directly to the need for greater preparation by teachers who expect their students to have deep, intellectual, “grand conversations.” It is anticipated that these implications will not only improve how teachers prepare their students for participation in literature discussion groups, but also provide reasons why such preparation is critical for increased comprehension.

Subject Area

Language arts|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

O'Donnell, Melissa Andreana, "“It's all in the preparation”: An interpretive look at how one teacher prepares her students for participation in literature discussion groups" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3008898.