Date of Award
Master of Arts
Recent research has suggested that building personal relationships with students and establishing "learning communities" may be one way to encourage students to persist in their studies beyond the first year. Because many institutions require students to complete one or more writing courses early in their careers, first-year composition instructors have the opportunity to interact with students as they first attempt to assimilate into the academic culture. Response activities--one of the key ways writing instructors interact with their students and ask their students to engage with one another--can be a be a way to both facilitate effective revision and foster a sense of community among students. Group conferencing, defined in this study as a meeting between an instructor and a small group of students in which the participants receive feedback on drafts from their group members and instructor simultaneously, is a promising strategy for achieving those goals effectively and efficiently. The purpose of this study was to use a teacher research/participant-observer methodology to examine group conferencing more expansively and thoroughly than previous researchers and depicting a broader range of the behaviors that characterized the conferences and including the students' perception of the activity. In order to achieve these aims, a group of eighteen first-year composition students participated in individual conferences, in-class peer response, and group conferences and completed reflective assignments about each activity's effectiveness. Recordings of the group conferences were reviewed for significant behavioral patterns and the students' written responses were analyzed for indications of positive and negative reactions to group conferencing. The results included many behaviors described by previous researchers as well as several additional behavioral patterns that indicated the activity could be an effective and unique feedback experience. Most notably, working side-by-side with the instructor seemed to enhance the quality of feedback the students were able to offer one another because the instructor was able to demonstrate appropriate response techniques, prompt for more detailed responses from the students, and reinforce the students' helpful contributions. The students' written responses indicated that they saw value in group conferencing and, in some cases, came to prefer it over other feedback activities. Further, the findings of this study suggest that group conferencing may provide opportunities for community-building not afforded by other response strategies.
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