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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


One of my greatest challenges as a history instructor is getting students to understand that learning history involves more than just mastering facts and dates. While the historical narrative serves as the framework for my classes, getting students to think critically about historical sources, and seeing how historical interpretation has shifted over time are at the heart of my teaching.

I have given up on traditional textbooks because most students don’t even bother to purchase them, relying instead on lecture notes and class handouts as their sole informational source. For years I assigned articles from popular history magazines and web sites that are accessible to survey students, and used these readings to either augment what I had talked about in class or to fill in gaps that I was unable to cover. I always distributed questions with the readings to help students focus on main ideas. When I graded exams I most often found that my students did the worst on questions based on these readings.

I joined the Reading Apprenticeship FIG in Spring 2009. Since that time I have assigned a history primary source reader in lieu of a traditional textbook. While I still lecture a lot of the time, I have spent considerable class time integrating metacognitve routines, such as “think alouds” and “talking to the text”, into my History 27 (U. S. Women’s History) sections this past academic year. I now do a lot of “think aloud” modeling with primary source documents throughout the semester. By the time we get to the founding document of the women’s movement (Declaration of Rights and Sentiments), I feel comfortable that students can work their way through this source in small groups. We usually reach this point around the eighth week. Instead of going over the document with them in lecture, students share out what their part of the document says, what they think the author meant and why certain “sentiments” were included and not others.

By the time we reach the last month of the semester I tell students that over one-fourth of the questions on the multiple-choice-questions-only final exam are based on primary source readings that they are assigned as homework. My inquiry this year is:

Does practicing metacognative routines, such as “think alouds” and “ talking to the text” over the course of the semester result in getting students to do the reading independently and make sense of what they read?

The data I have analyzed is student responses to the eleven final exam multiple-choice questions that are based on primary source readings from two articles I distributed in class, and six readings from the reader. As always, I distributed focus questions with each reading. I provided time in class for questions and discussion as well. This is a detailed summary of the data:

Question Topic
Fall ’09 (% correct)
Sp ’09 (% correct)
Semester Average (% correct)

In what field did WWII worker Inez Sauer work? (reading overview)

Where was M. Nakamura interned during WWII? (detail)

Why was Nakamura sent away from camp? (detail)

Rosa Parks & Montgomery bus boycott (detail)

Who called for bus boycott? (main idea of reading)

A. Moody’s experience in CRM (reading overview)

NOW’s main goal (detail & main idea)

Redstockings & view of males (detail)

Redstockings’ chief task (main idea)

Nat’l Black Feminist Org. problems (detail)

NOW & LGBT (main idea)

  • The final exam average score for Fall ’09 was 75.75% (C), and the average for these eleven readings-based questions was 71% (C).
  • The final exam average score for Spring ’10 was 72.8% (C), and the average for these eleven readings-based questions was 62.7% (D).

Now, trying to make sense of all of this. I am very encouraged by the 71% average for Fall ’09 regarding the readings-based questions. This indicates that just over 70% were doing the readings and understanding/retaining what they read. On the other hand, I am discouraged by the 62.7% average for Spring ’10, especially when I compare this to the overall test average which is a full ten points higher. Part of the discrepancy could be that in Fall I offered supplemental instruction workshops for students, and most of the sessions were focused on the readings. But we did not hold a session on these particular readings. I like to think that students felt confident enough due to a great deal of exposure to RA routines both in the classroom and in the workshops that they could apply to these readings when read independently.

As to the more detailed data, I think I can safely say that most students did the Inez Sauer reading based on the 74.7% semester average. I’m a bit puzzled by the Masaye Nakamura reading. This is a personal account of one Japanese American woman’s experience as an internee during WWII. How could only 58.7% know where she was interned (she mentions this a lot), yet 80.4% know why she was able to leave the camp during the war? I think these conflicting numbers show that most students did do the reading but did not pay much attention to some of the details. The responses to the Civil Rights Movement questions perplex me. The numbers seem to suggest that barely half did the Montgomery bus boycott reading, yet over 90% read Anne Moody’s piece. I think students did both readings, but I think that the Rosa Parks question needs some retooling. The second question on the bus boycott focuses on the main idea of the reading, and I don’t really understand why so many missed it.

The last five questions came from a series of readings on the second wave of the women’s movement. These readings were essentially socio-political manifestos from various feminist organizations. The data figures are all over the place. The 88.8% average on one of the Redstockings questions indicates that most students at least looked at some or all of these readings. As I look at this data I think I can safely answer my inquiry question as follows:

Based on student responses to readings-based questions on the final examination for Fall ‘09, students were doing the reading outside of class, as evidenced by the 71% average. The 62.7% average for Spring ’10 indicates that a majority did do the reading, but far short of what I expected. I think the numbers show that most students are doing the reading, but there is a disconnect in relating an understanding of the material.

I actually see hope here despite the drop in Spring ’10. These are actually far better results than before RA entered my classroom. I think that the semester discrepancy indicates that RA in combination with supplemental workshops are interventions that compliment each other in achieving greater student success.


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