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Center for Teaching and Learning

Focused Inquiry Groups (FIGs) - BSI

Reading Apprenticeship - Members - Homeira Foth

Reading Apprenticeship Faculty Inquiry Group

Instructor Review

Spring 2010



As a college instructor I have had a constant battle with getting my students to become better readers. Most of my students, if they read at all, do what I call “surface” reading – superficial reading with very little engagement with the text. Their papers and their discussions in class often reflected this cursory understanding of the texts. About two years ago, when I was teaching at City College of San Francisco, I sat in on a Flex day presentation on Reading Apprenticeship. I had no idea what to expect, but I was quite pleased with what I experienced that day. Reading apprenticeship offered various strategies that could help student interact with the text more while making them aware of their own reading processes. This was much more empowering than the traditional “read and get tested on what you’ve learned.” It was almost a revelation for me to hear that we, as instructors, needed to back off and allow the students to be a more active participant of their own learning process. When I got hired at Chabot College, I was thrilled to hear about the RA Fig and didn’t hesitate to join it early in the fall. I was fortunate to attend an RA conference last winter, where I participated in a number of workshops and came back with folders full of great ideas.

I decided to implement RA strategies in my two English 1A classes. One of my concerns with the English 1A class was the longer non-fiction reading that they were required to do. I wasn’t terribly worried about the shorter readings, as I knew that the class would be able to spend a lot more time in group and class discussions; however, with the longer book they would be reading mostly on their own, and it was up to them to be able to read it closely. With the shorter pieces the students seem to manage the ideas better – they can reread, take notes, summarize, yet with longer pieces, they seem to have less control and are not able to sustain the same reading patterns they have with shorter ones. With longer readings they ultimately lose interest and stop reading closely or cease reading all together. Thus, my classroom inquiry for my 1A classes was how could I utilize RA strategies to help students with a longer, more independent reading assignment?

The overall theme of the class was “obedience to authority,” and the class read a lot of shorter but challenging material: some of the readings included psychology experiments by Soloman Asch, Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo; we also read an essay by Erich Fromm, a section from Antigone, an article on the incidents at Abu Ghraib, and an article on Civil disobedience. We finally capped the unit with a, This is England, about the Neo-Nazi movement in England during Thatcher-era England. All of this material dealt with some aspect of why humans obey and what they obey. I started using different forms of reading apprenticeship strategies fairly early in the semester – including CERA, where they read a short article and answered a brief survey dealing with their reading processes. After the CERA, the class created a comprehensive list reading strategies. I also had the students get into pairs frequently; in these “Think/ Pair/ Share” groups they would discuss some element of the reading. We also spent a great deal of time going over annotation strategies, focusing mostly on ways of using margins to write down, not only summaries of ideas, but also connections, predictions, reactions, and questions as ways of delving deeper into the text. The class had already spent a great deal of time emphasizing the reading process before they tackled their final independent reading: a memoir by Ed Husain, The Islamist (about a young man who was swept up by extremist Islamic ideology, but ultimately left it when found the true meaning of Islam). The book, although not very difficult, is challenging in the way that it does make some assumptions that the reader is somewhat familiar with Islam, Middle Eastern politics, history, and culture.

The students were expected to read The Islamist mostly on their own, except for a couple “meeting up” points when they got in small groups to share ideas. This was during last part of the semester when they were mostly working on their research papers, which also had to do with some element of obedience to authority. Since the reading was mostly independent, I thought the most effective strategy would be for the students to keep a “reading log.” The reading log was divided into two parts – in the first column they would pull passages from the text itself (actual quotes), and in the second column, they would respond to the passages. I modeled a reading log for them, showing them sample quotes and responses. They also got a hand-out detailing what was expected from them. This was a graded assignment based on the amount of entries.

Analysis and Conclusion:
Although I didn’t grade them on the quality of the logs – it is the quality of the logs I was looking for as a measure of success in their reading. I basically divided the logs into three piles: adequate log entries, good entries, and excellent entries, and created a rubric of what I expected from each category. The students did not see the rubric and were asked to respond as they found appropriate.
An adequate entry – the student basically “did” the assignment. The responses were usually brief, rushed, and superficial. These student responses showed a lack of effort. The comments were often just based on a personal reaction to what was going on without much elaboration.
“Know what he wants” (Jill)
“Ed felt guilty after 9/11” (Juan)
A good entry – the student spent a little more time with the response. There was more thought, more depth, more insight. They showed a close reading – a “talking to the text,” but they stayed mostly within the parameters of the text itself. They didn’t make connections with material outside of the text (other readings, films, etc.)
“He finally feels like he belongs somewhere and after being a misfit, he’s going to like the attention. It’s already an open gate to becoming brainwashed into other beliefs” (Karen)
“He left his family even though a part of him didn’t want to, but he kept feeling it was necessary to fulfill his commitment to God” (Victoria)
An excellent entry – the student’s responses showed great amount of insight and reflection. They frequently went over and beyond the text itself, making critical connections to other readings and films we had discussed. They also brought it other examples from outside of the class.
“There is a connection with the Stanford Prison experiment here. Even though many of the prisoners knew they were suffering, they didn’t want to be seen as bad behavior. Similarly, Ed does not want to give into his emotions and does not want to be seen as a bad follower” (Toan)
“Since it is acceptable they do not realize any consequences with killing non-believers, as long as their communities accept them. Zimabrdo’s guards treatment toward prisoners. Asch’s subjects answering wrong because the rest answered wrong” (Stephen)

I have to say I was extremely pleased with I saw with the logs and what I heard during their group discussion in which they shared their logs. The results, although unscientific, were meaningful to me: about 20% percent of the logs fell into the excellent category, 70% percent into the good category, and only 10% went into the adequate category. What this all means is that about 90% of the students showed real success in their reading. This engagement with the text was also further substantiated during their group discussions and sharing of logs. I recorded the group discussion and was very pleased with the level of passion, debate, and interest the students showed in their conversations, and the ways in which they connected ideas from the book to our overall thematic unit. A number of students expressed to me how much they enjoyed the book, and I couldn’t help but think that their enjoyment of The Islamist was based in their close reading of the text. These results exceeded my own expectations, and although I can’t contribute all of it to the reading logs alone, I do think, that by using the RA strategies throughout the semester as scaffolding, for a longer and more independent reading , was effective. After my experience of integrating RA strategies into my 1A classes, I plan to continue using them with all my classes in the future.


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