Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education



First Advisor

Carolyn P. Panofsky

Second Advisor

Terry Deeney

Third Advisor

Peter Adamy


Purpose: Cooperative learning structures allow diverse groups of students to learn together while developing higher-order thinking skills, yet there are concerns that not all students’ voices are being heard. The intent of this study was to discover the relationship between the instructional methodologies one teacher used to foster the development of group skills in students and the ways small discussion groups actually functioned. This study explored issues of power and status on students’ learning opportunities in middle school discussion groups. Method: This qualitative study was conducted under an ethnographic lens using a teacher-as-researcher approach. Data were collected over one school year in a sixth grade classroom from two different class groups. Data sources included field notes, audio and video-recordings, and teacher observations of groups. A sociometric device was used to measure the peer status of the forty-eight student participants. Thirty-one recordings of student discussion groups were transcribed and analyzed using Fairclough’s (2004) methods of critical discourse analysis. Transcripts were coded for Mercer’s (1995) three types of talk: disputational, cumulative, and exploratory. Student participation was measured as a percentage of total group discussion. Students’ peer status, gender, and participation rates were compared.

Analysis/Results: In one class group, a relationship was found between gender, status, and participation. Students gradually adopted the genre, discourse, and style of academic discussions. Students with low peer status increased participation rates over time, and students with high peer status decreased participation rates over time. Five student participation patterns emerged from the data: facilitating, contributing, dependent, silent, and distracting. The percentage of total group talk spent on disputational and organizational talk decreased over time while cumulative and exploratory talk increased.

Discussion: Peer status effects were found in one class group, but these effects decreased as students developed academic discussion skills. Students’ high-level thinking and talking increased over the school year. Connections can be made between instruction of academic discourse and student success in discussion groups. Examination of the five patterns of student participation provides insight into how to foster high-level discussion skills in students. The generalizability of this study to other educational settings is addressed.



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