This Action Research Project was created to increase relevant discourse and generate insightful connections in texts.  Discussion forums and Emily Wray’s Reflect, Inquire, Suggest, and Elevate (RISE) Feedback process were identified as necessary components to incorporate within a blended classroom setting in order to address this skill deficit. These strategies were based on research obtained through the creation of a literature review.  The literature demonstrated that through experiential learning and web-based discussion forums learners increased engagement, invested in tasks, and achieved success in relation to higher order thinking skills.  Research further iterated that effective online communication necessitated that instruction and guidelines for discourse needed to be meaningful and the process utilized must incorporate a definitive plan with a set process for learners to follow.

Based on this insight, the RISE Critical Feedback process was implemented as a guideline for responding to reading assignment questions in discussion forums posted in the learning management system Schoology. Cycle 1 target audience was a group of 12 students in the 6th and 7th grade levels, and the Cycle 2 target audience was a group of 13 students in the 7th and 8th grade levels. In order to determine validity, both groups repeated the same process.  Through following identical processes students’ elevated responses were compared with prior to implementation data and after implementation data. Data analysis demonstrated that there was a substantial increase in various levels of reading analysis and peer feedback.

Cycle 1 data demonstrated a 31-percentage point gain in the area of generating insightful connections to an author’s universal message.  Cycle 1 data also illustrated that learners’ relevant and insightful peer feedback demonstrated a 48-percentage point gain. Cycle 2 data demonstrated that the scores generated by Cycle 1 were not relevant to just the students in that target audience.  Cycle 2 data demonstrated a 40-percentage point gain in generating insightful connections to an author’s universal message.  Cycle 2 data also established that learners’ created relevant and insightful commentary when providing peer feedback.  Learners demonstrated a 53-percentage point gain.  In addition, students, in the discussion forums, independently generated questions in trial 3 of both cycles that demonstrated upper level bloom’s questions. This data also demonstrated a significant increase when compared to student questions generated prior to the implementation of this action research project.

Andes and Claggett (2011) asserted that when a process that is meaningful and direct is followed that students within a learning environment would facilitate independent achievement, engagement, and establish a deeper, inherent understanding of texts.  Given that trials 2 and 3 in both cycles were independent of the instructor, the data emphasized that students generated more insightful and relevant commentary and responses independently; thus solidifying that the proposed solution was successful.  Leach (2008) asserted that students in discussion forums asserted more ideas and expressed and evaluated peer thoughts and individual ideas more successfully than in other learning settings; however, the insightfulness within the discussion posts could move into the classroom setting. The utilization of the RISE process in discussion forums gravitated beyond the discussion forum and emerged within classroom discussions.  The levels of responses and questions were insightful, relevant, and demonstrated a direct connection with an author’s universal message within texts.

Initial analysis of the data motivated me to break down the data into demographic areas.  Consequently, I have been analyzing data to determine gender success, ethnicity success, and economical success.  The resulting data shows a hurdle when various ethnic groups attempt to provide a response or commentary that would elevate another peer’s idea.  Given this data, I have continued into multiple trials with the same groups of students to determine if the lull associated with this particular skill can be addressed if participants continue to utilize the processes outlined in this action research project. In addition, due to the magnitude of success witnessed through this project, I feel that it is imperative that continual data be gathered to support a shift in classroom teaching associated with generating critical insight and establishing universal connections within classrooms.  The data indicates that these processes are successful strategies that can guide learners to become independent and critical thinkers beyond just text interpretation.