Peer group instructional conversation: Collaboration in context

Linda Greene Capalbo, University of Rhode Island


American schools traditionally have reflected and promoted societal values of autonomy and independence in the development of the individual child. This limited perspective on how humans come to know focuses on the accrued cultural capital of each learner and neglects the role of ‘the other’ in the construction of meaning. Such a view can be especially debilitating for students who have been identified as marginal learners. This study examines how social interaction organizes participation opportunities and strategies for members of a peer learning group, including a student designated language learning disabled. The study documents the development and negotiation of individual and communal practices around ‘group work’ and talk at the classroom and peer group levels, examines the nature of the talk that characterizes students' participation in a peer work group, and explores the extent to which the group contexts support opportunities to learn for the participants.

Participant-observation in a fifth grade classroom over a four-month period generated detailed field notes on group work and classroom talk. Audio and videotaping of the five members of the focal group in interaction during a two-week social studies project provided a record of student participation in small group activity. Individual and group interviews clarified and extended observations and elicited participants' perspectives on their experiences. Data analysis incorporated tenets of activity theory and discourse analysis and reflected an interpretive framework to capture the reflexivity of individual and collective classroom activity. Conversational mapping provided a methodological tool to uncover contextual meanings of group participation.

Analysis indicated talk, as one form of active participation, and task visibility influence perceptions of individual competence, contributing to differential participation opportunities for each student. Implications for teachers include the need for identification of successful group contexts for individual students and consideration of perception-building as both outcome and pre-existing condition of group work. At the policy level, the study suggests re-examination of the relationship between the goals and philosophy of the standards movement and the goals and philosophy of inclusion. Further research in the social organization of peer learning, particularly in the areas of student decision-making and non-participation patterns, is recommended.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Linda Greene Capalbo, "Peer group instructional conversation: Collaboration in context" (2002). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3053098.