Publication Date

Spring 2017

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Cecile Garmon (Director), Randy Capps, Jie Zhang, and Alex Poole

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


The purpose of the current study is to investigate whether an open-format, small group discussion approach, Collaborative Reasoning (CR), positively affects the English language development of college English as Second Language (ESL) students. According to Zhang and Dougherty Stahl (2011), CR is an approach to discussion that makes use of small groups and is designed to encourage students to become more intellectually and personally engaged.

In order to measure the effectiveness of the CR approach in English classes with ESL students, data were collected from the six classrooms at an international English language institute at a university in the southeastern United States. Three levels of students (41 total) participated in eight CR discussion sessions during a four-week period as an experimental group, while three other classes containing 44 students took regular ESL class activities. Students’ speaking and writing skills are assessed before and after the investigation.

Previous research with elementary school students has suggested that the CR approach not only helps to improve students’ meaningful communication and to advance their language development, but also affects students’ thinking, learning, and social skills. Students who train using CR speak more and the quality of their discussion is higher than those students who have not been trained using CR.

An additional component of this research regards leadership. Individual interviews were conducted with three ESL instructors. Interview results were analyzed to determine the leadership role that teachers played in the ESL classroom. Additionally, teachers were asked to discuss how adoption of the CR method changed their roles as leaders in the classroom.

The results of this research indicate that CR helps low- and middle-proficiency students; however, its effects on students with higher levels of English-language proficiency are mixed. Teachers report no difficulty in implementing CR and indicate that students are empowered to communicate more fluently and creatively by the CR method.


Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Higher Education