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Qualitative study: What themes are evident in fourth and sixth grade students' discussions and written responses using an author study

Hill, Nancy
Scope and Method of Study: The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore the nature of students' engagement with and written response to an author study using Patricia Polacco books. The participants were two public school classrooms of one fourth grade and one-sixth grade. The school is located in Northwestern Oklahoma. Data included student response journals, interviews with the teachers, observational field notes, and audiotapes of classroom discussions. Data were collected over a four-week period from April to May 2003. The constant comparative method was used to detect themes. The students listened to, discussed, and wrote in their response journals two times per school week for four weeks to eight Patricia Polacco books.
Findings and Conclusions: What emerged from an extensive analysis of the data is, that while engagement looked different for each student, the themes were evident in the development of the students' responses to literature. The themes identified were personal experience, character empathy, character/author interaction, life's lessons/values, less engagement to some Patricia Polacco books, and drawings. The fourth grade students wrote of little meaning in the symbolic and metaphoric elements of the text, whereas six graders attempted to include symbolic and metaphoric features in their written responses. Both grades indicated an emotional connection to the characters in the stories. Fourth graders tended to get off topic more easily and slip into their own personal stories. The sixth graders' discussions were more interacted with peers; they seemed to build on the perceptions of others. An unexpected finding was the unsuspected deeper levels of engagement with some Patricia Polacco books. There was a relation between students liking the story and their written responses to the story. The stories that were not as well liked were the same stories that both fourth and sixth graders wrote and discussed less. Due to the students' engagement or not to the stories, results indicate the importance of individual choice in selecting literature as well as the importance of unstructured group discussions and written responses to text. There was a close relationship between response and engagement; one does not exist without the other.