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Center for Teaching and Learning

Focused Inquiry Groups (FIGs) - BSI

Reading Apprenticeship - Members - Jane Wolford

Reading Apprenticeship Faculty Inquiry Group

Instructor Review

2008 - 2009



I have found that most of my history students will not/do not read history textbooks. Although I always completed assigned readings as a history student, I hated being tested on material solely from a textbook. People make history interesting, not textbooks. Over the years my students have become far too dependent on my content instruction and most fail to complete even short assigned readings. A few years ago I received a BSI grant and developed in-class essay assignments solely based on assigned readings. Students had to do the reading in order to receive a passing grade on the essay exam. My data showed that while most students had completed the reading, their essays were mostly restatements of the historical narrative covered in the reading. I realized that getting them to think and respond critically about what they had read would require more than changing class assignments/exams.

I received another BSI grant to develop and teach group tutoring workshops for my two sections of History 27 (U. S. Women’s History) this semester. I also joined the Reading Apprenticeship FIG. As I was attending the 2009 RA Winter Conference, I kept asking myself if RA might be an effective framework for helping students read primary source documents, which are the foundation of the history discipline. For the first time this semester I have abandoned the traditional history textbook (which very few students even bother to purchase), and now assign readings from a primary source reader. So my classroom inquiry this semester is how to incorporate RA strategies effectively with primary source readings.



The first assigned reading was scheduled for the week following the RA conference. I copied the “Capturing Your Reading Process” page from one of the conference handouts, and made an overhead transparency. Students read the assignment in class and then answered the questions projected on the screen, in writing. I read through their responses after class and typed up another transparency showing their responses. We had a short in-class discussion and then reread the primary source document, and I felt like most had a better understanding after the class discussion and second read. But I didn’t feel like all of the students truly benefited. At this point in the semester my classes each had 40+ students. It seemed to me that RA techniques would be more effective in a small-group setting. So, I switched gears a bit and decided to try RA in my tutoring workshops.

The RA technique that most excited me was QAR. I assign a chapter from the slave narrative, Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. In class I distributed a table overview handout on African slavery (see attached handout.) On the back are questions based on the chapter reading. I help students fill in the table in class, but they are on their own for the chapter reading. In the workshop we “talked to the text” and used QAR to answer the questions. I then gave them their first in-class test (Quiz #1, see attached handout) based on the reading.




I did a data comparison that showed that the twenty-two students who attended that particular QAR workshop collectively scored an average of 16.75/83.75% (B) out of 20 points possible, while students who did not attend the workshop collectively scored 12.75/63.75% (D) on the quiz (see illustration below.) I find these quiz score results very promising for the continuance of RA in my workshops.




My BSI grant for continuing the tutoring workshops has been extended for next semester, and I will continue my participation in the RA FIG. I have agreed to serve as RA FIG Coordinator for 2009-10. I look forward to attending the 2009 RA Summer LIRA in a few weeks to learn new RA strategies and implementation techniques for future classroom use. Participation in the RA FIG has given me a window into how others use reading in their courses across the curriculum. This semester we focused primarily on discipline-based readings and discovered that we each expect our students to approach reading in very different ways. As we discovered, reading a historical primary source document is very different from reading a biology textbook. It’s been very humbling, after all these years, to struggle with reading in other disciplines. What I would like to see happen more next academic year is the sharing of classroom RA experiences among FIG members. We got a taste of this by watching a short video of Alisa Klevens’ English class. We watched RA in action and heard student testimony about the efficacy of RA instruction. Alisa also shared data comparing the success/persistence rates in her RA sections with other non-RA English classes. The results are promising. Many RA FIG members are interested in visiting my workshops and I look forward to their feedback.

The main problem I continually run into is content coverage. Adding RA instruction cuts into how much content material I can effectively cover in any given semester. My plans are to incorporate more RA into my workshops and to continue comparing student performance as shown in the graph above. I want to compile enough data to support adding a lab hour to History 27, where RA would be a strong component of instruction. This way I wouldn’t have to sacrifice content to focus too heavily on basic skills instruction in the classroom.

I am also a member of the Social Science FIG. My Social Science FIG colleagues are very interested in learning about RA, and asked me to give a short presentation. I gave a very brief overview, and then demonstrated how QAR works. I had them complete the “David late for school” exercise and we discussed how to apply this RA technique to our reading assignments. We had a great discussion about metacognition and reading in our disciplines.
Reading Apprenticeship has awakened me to the challenges our students face with reading across the curriculum. RA has also given me new ways to approach reading instruction. At this point I still feel like a RA novice, and my workshops still need quite a bit of fine-tuning. What I appreciate most about the RA FIG is the mentorship provided by the original FIG members. I enjoy and greatly benefit from the exchange of ideas, and look forward to helping my students become better readers of history.

2009-2010 Classroom Inquiry Report for Reading Apprenticeship FIG

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