Master's Project Spotlight: Sarah Purow-Ruderman

Master's Project Spotlight: Sarah Purow-Ruderman

By Sarah Purow-Ruderman

Master's Project:
Discussing & Questioning: Examining Possible Mechanics of Reading Enjoyment

Tell us more about your Master's Project:
This project was designed to explore student-led inquiry and literature circle discussions in relation to reading enjoyment. In other words, I wanted to know whether these two popular classroom techniques—which enable students to take the reins of their own learning and steer analysis in the directions which interest them while also building a social environment around reading—might support their interest in reading more generally. I used surveys, as well as students' inquiry processes and discussions, throughout the year to gauge their enjoyment of reading.

What inspired you to research this topic?
I've always believed that reading is incredibly important in encouraging the growth of empathetic, intelligent human beings and this position is actually backed by research; The National Endowment for the Arts has actually linked less literary reading with less civic engagement and volunteer work. Therefore, one goal of my future English classrooms will be to support students in finding enjoyment in reading outside of the classroom. To do so, I need to explore and test out possible mechanisms that I believe might encourage this enjoyment.

Did you find any interesting research by other scholars that connects to your topic?
My initial interest in student-led inquiry and literature circles ended up being supported by some of the research that was already out there. One study that incorporated inquiry-based project learning into primary school classrooms saw positive change in students’ attitudes and self-perceived abilities in relation to reading, which in turn positively affected their measured reading ability (Chu et al., 2011). Literature circles also showed some promise in terms of encouraging reading and reading confidence: After a study in which students participated in multiple literature circle discussions, students reported feeling more pride in their reading accomplishments and positive changes in the way they viewed themselves as readers (Samway et al., 1991).

What did you expect to find before researching?
Before I started my research, I think I expected to find a clearer positive outcome after the end of my research. However, I ended up having to temper my expectations and see possibilities for growth and success in the more complex results that I received.

Did you learn anything that surprised you?
The literature circles really had a remarkable effect on student understanding. Although there wasn't a long term effect on reading enjoyment, each literature circle resulted in over half of students understanding the story we had read more profoundly or seeing it from a new angle, and many indicated a desire to read similar stories. The number of students who said they understood the story better also grew with each literature circle discussion.

Will this experience as a teacher-scholar shape your future practice? If so, how?
Through this process, I learned more about myself as a teacher. I learned that I don’t want to be the leader or focal point of the classroom; I would rather my students take that position, steering their own learning and constructing the experiences that will help them learn best while I act as a guide and support. Although I may not write another paper or conduct a formal data collection, the elements of research will be worked into my daily practice as a teacher as I analyze student assignments, share surveys to gauge the results of a new method I’m trying, or simply ask students to share how they’re feeling. At its core, action research is about listening to student voices and adjusting accordingly, and I plan to stay flexible and keep listening.

Do you have any advice for future MSEd students working on their Master's Projects?
My project did not turn out exactly the way I had planned. I didn't end up with groundbreaking results and I had to adapt my original plans for the unit because of the remote setting. I think many of my peers had similar experiences. But in the end, I learned so much from both the process and the project, and I am so pleased with my final results. I'm not sure any Master's Project really ends up exactly the way we think it will, and that's ok. You're going to come out of the process having learned so much and you should be incredibly proud of yourself and the amazing work that you did.


Sarah Purow-Ruderman graduated from the MSEd program in Spring 2021 with a concentration in secondary English. 

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