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Center for Teaching and Learning

Focused Inquiry Groups (FIGs) - BSI:  Reading Apprenticeship

Reading Apprenticeship - Members - Alisa Klevens

Reading Apprenticeship Faculty Inquiry Group

Instructor Review

Spring 2009



The basic skills English courses often start off overfull, but by the end of the semester, many students have dropped out. Overall success rates in the English basic skills sequence hovers in the 50% range. I started incorporating Reading Apprenticeship techniques in my English 101A classes in Fall 2007, and extended RA practices to my 101B classes in Fall 2008, believing that this transparent and collaborative approach to reading would have a positive impact on retention and success. What I’ve discovered is more dynamic.

Most of the students who enroll in an English 101A class are “off the grid” – students who aren’t a part of an established learning community. Learning community classes have improved student success and retention by bridging the personal and social dimensions of being a student. Likewise, a Reading Apprenticeship classroom could create a learning community environment by developing four dimensions of classroom life: social, personal, cognitive, and knowledge-building. My goal was to tap into these four areas to get more of my students to feel efficacious and hopeful when they come to class, to feel in control of their learning experience, leading to more and more instances of success.



The theme for my 101A course is Literacy and Power: How Reading and Writing Can Shape Our World. In Fall 2008, I started to look more strategically at student performance. Part of this assessment entailed administering a CERA test (Content Embedded Reading Assessment). The CERA is a short piece of reading representative of the types of reading students will be doing over the course of the semester. By capturing students’ reading processes, I was hoping to see the areas in which they were beginning, developing, and/or internalizing the following five areas of successful reading: metacognition, use of strategies, use of discipline based knowledge, use of text form and structure, and comprehension. In the fall semester, on the second day of class, students were given 15 minutes to read a short essay, making any notations they felt would help them understand the text. They were then given time to answer a series of questions regarding their comprehension and their reading process. Each student’s performance could then be charted. I could then re-administer the CERA at the end of the term to see how the students’ reading processes had changed over time. While the CERA seems to be a good mechanism to get a “snapshot” of a student’s reading processes, the short essay was not challenging enough to capture students working the reading, much as they do with our classroom texts. The students were able to readily answer the basic comprehension questions without marking up their texts. This was not a successful “window” into their reading in that I couldn’t make any predictions as to what type of strategies they were using or not in making sense of the text.

Additionally, I started monitoring students Talking to the Text. Students began using “Talking to the Text” with an introduction to the concept of metacognition and practicing the Think Aloud, first by filling in “thought bubbles” on a cartoon and then with building play-doh designs. It’s on the first day of class that I have students start paying attention to their thoughts and start organizing those thoughts into strategies: visualizing, summarizing, making predictions, asking questions, concluding, brainstorming, making connections, commenting, organizing. We then applied using those strategies with texts. Students practiced recording how they were making sense of a political cartoon, utilizing the image and the text to establish meaning. Finally, we repeated this process with the poem by Thomas Lux, “The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently.” I modeled “Talking to the Text” with the title and the editor’s note and then in small groups, students took charge of separate stanzas. From this introduction to think alouds and talking to the text, our class developed reading routines that we then applied to analyzing our three class texts: Building Academic Literacy, The House on Mango Street, and Maus. Students progressed as readers from analyzing expository texts, to fiction, to a graphic novel. In moving through these genres, students were increasingly challenged to read for literal and figurative understandings, and to analyze visual and textual clues.

Students were also assigned a reading survey, a personal reading history, and two book journals over the course of the semester. These are all opportunities for the students to reflect on if they’re reading more, spending more time reading, reading with more engagement and comprehension, and reading strategically. I also assigned an Independent Reading Project, which required students to read two outside texts in addition to our class materials. In our end of term survey for the last year, students (on the whole) have commented on the value of this assignment (see Student Responses).

I expanded the use of RA techniques in Fall 2008. The theme for my course was “Children at Risk: The Dangerous Journey of Growing Up.” We read three full-length non-fiction texts (approximately 900 pages), in the following order: Ishmael Beah’s, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier; Sonia Nazario’s, Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother; and Alex Kotlowitz’s, There are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America. I chose these texts considering accessibility, complexity, diversity, and interest. Over the course of the semester, we moved from Sierra Leone to Honduras and back to the United States, and as we globe trotted toward home, the texts became increasingly more difficult, as the subject became increasingly familiar.

I introduced Reading Apprenticeship with a “Ways of Seeing” exercise. Students watched me do a mime and they were asked to just pay attention to what they’re seeing. After the mime, I put a chart on the board: Observations and Perceptions/Interpretations. When I asked students to tell me what they saw, I posted their remarks either in the O or P category. After we generated a long list, I asked them what the difference between the two sides was, which is essentially “What you see” versus “What you think.” We then related this to reading. “What you see” is a shared experience we can all agree on, like the summary of a text. It’s there, inarguably on the page. Whereas, “What you think” is an individual experience, coming from an individual’s brain. It’s a more subjective response that requires accessing background knowledge to make meaning, much like forming an analysis of a text. My students from 101A were well steeped in looking for the summary and analysis of a text, but this was a good way to start off introducing all of my students to how we’ll be approaching texts and setting the expectations for each individual student to have his or her brain turned on while talking about the reading. In my observations, students are much more comfortable telling you the story, summarizing, than telling you what it means, interpreting and we practice moving from one to the other in each class period.

Likewise, as we move through our three texts, the schema students will need in order to understand the reading will become increasingly sophisticated. I introduced the concept of schema, or background knowledge, with an “Ambiguous Headlines” game. Students were given a list of newspaper headlines and were asked to interpret the text in two ways: 1) What’s the “face value” reading? What are the words, in the most simple sense, saying? and 2) What’s the “deeper” understanding? How could you read into the text? Lastly, students were asked to identify the schema they needed to access in order to decode the headlines to come to the “correct” meaning. Throughout our reading discussions, schema continues to be addressed as I ask students to explain how they come to make the interpretive leaps that they do. I ask questions like, “Where did you get that from?” “How did you know that?” By talking out their schema, the entire class is continually reviewing effective reading strategies that will help them when they’re on their own.

For both the 101A and 101B class, the “reading routine” is the same. While students are introduced early to thinking about thinking (metacognition) and we identify the strategies we use when we break down texts, I’ve crystallized that process into three metacognitive questions: “What is this saying?” “What does this mean?” “Why is that important?” By simplifying the process, students can have a framework for attacking their texts independently. Even when we switch texts, this routine stays the same. Students first look for the summary and move on to find the analysis. Yet, it’s within this process of understanding their reading that they apply their reading strategies (visualizing, predicting, synthesizing etc.) In my 101A class, students begin by charting their reading. We practice this as a whole class and then move into small groups (often jigsaw). Over the course of the semester, students annotations change from being firm columns where they identify each summary point and then connect that to an analysis, to become more fluid. Students start to discover that the summary is a way into the analysis and that they don’t have to write the summary down. They start to just work on interpreting the text instead of paraphrasing it. For 101B, the summary discussion is the entry-point into the analysis. Students talk through the summary together while they simultaneously find pieces of the text that they’ve identified as being important. Then they work to analyze those passages, taking notes on their interpretations. (See sample annotations and Reading Video).




What are the effects of incorporating Reading Apprenticeship techniques in the classroom? In my observations, my students are more confident, they have an improved sense of themselves as readers, they can more competently access information on their own, they see themselves as being important participants in class discussion, they read more and read more deeply, and they persist in greater numbers.

What does the data show?

In comparing my sections against the department as a whole, students are persisting and succeeding in greater numbers.



All students successfully completing English 101A in Fall 2007 enrolling and succeeding in English 1A by Fall 2008.




All students successfully completing English 101A in semester one and enrolling and succeeding in English 101B in semester two.




All students successfully completing English 101A in Spring 2009 enrolling and succeeding in English 101B by Fall 2008.



Student Responses to Class Survey


Example of Student Work #1


Example of Student Work #2


Video from Alisa Klevens' 101A Class:

The Sorceress's Apprentices from Sean McFarland on Vimeo.

Case Study Jumpstart 102 Fall 2009: Case Study -- Weak student

Case Study Jumpstart 102 Fall 2009: Case Study Strong Student

Case Study: Medium-Performance Student – “What is the Bell Curve?”: Case Study Medium Student

Klevens – Jumpstart 102 Final Reflections: Jumpstart final reflection revision

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