Great reading strategies: ‘Story sequencing’ for developing comprehension

Over the course of this summer I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. As this is the fourth post of the series, please feel free to read on although you should probably skip this section if you’ve read my previous entries in the series.

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading
  • Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Does this sound OK to you? Right then, let’s get down to business…

4. Developing comprehension: Story sequencing

When to use: I’d suggest this can be used before, during or after reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

In a nutshell, ‘story sequencing’ is the name given to the identification of the components of a story; the beginning, middle, and end. It also refers to the ability to retell the events within a given text in the order in which they occurred. The ability to sequence events in a text is an important comprehension strategy, especially for narrative texts. Furthermore, sequencing is an important component of problem-solving across subjects.

So, why use story sequencing?

  • Story sequencing assists with comprehension, especially for narrative texts.
  • Sequence structures are helpful in enabling learners of varying abilities to organize information and ideas efficiently.
  • Sequencing is also an important component of problem-solving across a v ariety of subjects.

Example

Here’s what a story sequence template looks like:

A story sequence template example courtesy of Pearson Education.

A story sequence template example courtesy of Pearson Education.

If you want a template, here’s one with a fairly simple layout from eduplace.com. Alternatively, here’s one from Pearson Education.

How can we use possible sentences?

Here’s a basic guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  • Teach learners that, in a narrative text, the plot is all the events that happen in the story. Events in a story occur in a certain order: the ‘sequence’ is the order in which things happen or are described. It’s good to start by reading a short book together and analyzing both the plot and the sequence of events. What happens first? What happens next? What happens last?
  • Brainstorm transitions together, such as first, second, third, then, next, finally, lastly, before, after, while, and meanwhile. You may want to describe a process or read aloud a ‘how-to’ essay and get learners to describe the order of events. After this, get learners to explain how to do something by using time order words. You may also want to tell a story, using the transitions before, after, or meanwhile to show how sometimes events can be told in a different order than they actually happen.
  • Encourage learners to look for signal words as they read and take notes on the sequence of events. They may want to use a graphic organizer, such as a sequence chart or a flowchart to help them take notes. When reading nonfiction, learners may want to take special note of details such as important dates, as sometimes events might be presented out of order in a piece of nonfiction writing; therefore, the dates are signals about the sequence. They could create a timeline to help them keep track of important events.
  • Require learners to ask questions as they read and take notes about their thoughts, ideas, inferences, and predictions. They may want to stop occasionally to think and reflect on what has happened. Encourage them to read actively and make connections.

For those of you who want a bit more of a demonstration, these video clips do the trick!

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Scaffold your teaching by providing prompts for each section on a map. For example, in the “Beginning” box of your map, write in prompts such as: Who are the main characters? Where does the story take place?
  • Differentiate which sequence chart to give to which learners. The beginning-middle-end format is the simplest; other more complex maps can be used with more advanced learners.
  • Model this strategy using a book with very clear components to help learners understand each component.
  • Learners can extend their understanding of sequencing by displaying it their own writing. Learners can use sequence charts to plan, summarize, and write their own main ideas, characters, setting, and plot for a story.

Further reading: The research that supports this strategy

  • Moss, B. (2005). Making a case and a place for effective content area literacy instruction in the elementary grades. Reading Teacher, 59, 46-55.
  • Reutzel, R. (1985). Story maps improve comprehension. Reading Teacher, 38, 400-404.

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Posted in Opinion, Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Great reading strategies: ‘Possible Sentences’ for dealing with important vocabulary

Over the course of this summer I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. as this is the third post of the series, please read on if you’ve missed the first two (although you should probably skip this section in subsequent posts).

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading
  • Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Sound OK to you? Right then, let’s get started…

3. Vocabulary: Possible sentences

When to use: I’d suggest this should be used before reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

In a nutshell, ‘possible sentences’ is a straightforward and easy-to-use pre-reading vocabulary strategy that activates learners’ prior knowledge about content area vocabulary and concepts. Before reading, learners are provided a short list of vocabulary words from their reading. Learners create, based on their prediction of what the reading will be about, a meaningful sentence for each vocabulary word or concept. After reading, learners can check to see if their possible sentences were accurate or need correction.

So, why use possible sentences?

  • This is a great way of activating prior knowledge about content area vocabulary and concepts, and can also help to improve reading comprehension.
  • It piques learners’ curiosity and interest about their reading.
  • This strategy teaches learners to guess how words may be used in the text and create meaningful sentences.

Example

Here’s what a possible sentences template looks like:

A typical possible sentences template.

A typical possible sentences template.

A couple of free downloadable templates are available: Guilford County Schools give us a simple PDF format template, while adlit.org offer a slightly more colorful version of the same design.

How can we use possible sentences?

Here’s a basic step-by step guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  1. Choose and display the vocabulary words.
  2. Ask learners to define the words and pair related words together.
  3. Ask learners to write sentences using their word pairs. Remind learners that their sentences should be ones they expect to see in the text as they read.
  4. Have learners read the text and compare their possible sentences with the actual sentences within the text.
  5. If your learners’ possible sentences are inaccurate, ask them to rewrite their sentences to be accurate.

For those of you who want a bit more of a demonstration, this video clip does the trick!

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Have learners of varying abilities work together to develop sentences.
  • Invite learners to share their sentences with the class.
  • If learners have never completed possible sentences you will need to model the process for your learners.
  • Provide clues for younger readers by writing sentences and leaving blanks for them to fill in vocabulary words.
  • Give learners the vocabulary words in both English and their native language. Ask them to write sentences in English.
  • As a post-reading game, learners can share their sentences without disclosing which are accurate or inaccurate. Teams of learners then try to decipher, based on their reading, which sentences are accurate.

The research that supports this strategy

  • Moore, D.W., & Moore, S.A (1986). “Possible sentences.” In Reading in the content areas: Improving classroom instruction. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Stahl, S.A. & Kapinus, B.A. (1991). Possible sentences: Predicting word meaning to teach content area vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 45, 36-45.

Posted in Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Great reading strategies: ‘Word Maps’ for dealing with important vocabulary

Over the course of this summer I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. as this is the first post of the series, please read on (although you should probably skip this section in subsequent posts).

As far as I’m concerned, when implementing strategy training of this kind in your classes teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful. For more on what I consider to be fundamental considerations in using reading strategies, please take a look at the opening paragraphs in the first post in this series.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Putting it into practice with second language learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading

Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Sound OK to you? Ok, let’s get started…

2. Vocabulary: Word Maps

When to use: I’d suggest this should be used either before, during or even after reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

Word maps are, quite simply, visual organizers that encourage vocabulary development as part of the reading process. Using a graphic organizer, learners are given the opportunity to think about terms or concepts in several ways. Most word map organizers engage learners in developing a definition, synonyms, antonyms, and a picture for a given vocabulary word or concept. Enhancing learners’ vocabulary is important to developing their reading comprehension.

So, why use word maps?

  • They’re useful in helping learners to develop their understanding of a particular word.
  • They help learners to think about new terms or concepts in several ways by asking the following questions: “What is it?”, “What is it like?” and “What are some examples?”
  • They help learners not only use prior knowledge but also to build on it, and visually represent new information.

Example

Here’s what a completed word map looks like:

An example of a completed word map using a template from 'read write think'

An example of a completed word map using a template from ‘read write think’

A blank version of the above template is available here, courtesy of the read write think website. An alternative template is available here, this one thanks to reading quest website.

How can we use word maps?

Here’s a basic step-by step guide for implementing this strategy in your language class.

  1. Introduce the vocabulary item and the map to the learners.
  2. Work through the process of how to use the map by putting the target word in the central box.
  3. Ask learners to suggest words or phrases to put in the other boxes which answer the following questions: “What is it?” “What’s it like?” and “What are some examples?”
  4. Encourage learners to use synonyms, antonyms, and perhaps even a picture to help illustrate the new target word or concept.
  5. Model how to write a definition using the information on the word map.

For those of you who want a bit more of a demonstration, this video clip does the trick!

Considerations: Putting it into practice with second language learners

  • Give learners who need extra help the chance to work with a partner.
  • Allow learners to use pictures to illustrate when appropriate.
  • Keep it realistic in terms of the number of words learners need to map.
  • Provide learners with sentences each containing the target word. The sentences should provide enough context clues to enable learners to complete a word map.
  • Allow learners to refer to a dictionary, encyclopedia or other reference book for help in completing the word map if you think this will be beneficial. Ask them to compare their definitions with what they find.

The research that supports this strategy

  • Baumann, J. F., & Kameenui, E. J. (1991). Research on vocabulary instruction: Ode to
  • Voltaire. In J. Flood, J. D. Lapp, & J. R. Squire (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English Language Arts (pp. 604-632). New York: Macmillan.
  • Colorín Colorado. (2007). Using Science to Develop ELLs Language Skills (here).
  • Jones, R. (2007). Strategies for Reading Comprehension: Vocabulary Word Maps (here).
  • Jones, R.C., & Thomas, T.G. (2006). Leave No Discipline Behind. The Reading Teacher, 60(1), 58-64.
  • Schwartz, R. M., & Raphael, T. E. (1985). Concept of definition: A key to improving learners’ vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 39, 198-205
  • Texas Education Agency. (2002). Teaching Word Meanings as Concepts (here).

Posted in Teaching ideas, Theory | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Great reading strategies: ‘List-Group-Label’ for pre-teaching vocabulary

Over the course of this summer (in the Northern Hemisphere!) I’m going to be posting a long series looking at communicative classroom reading strategies. I’ll start each post with this little bit of blurb explaining my thinking behind the series, as well as what you can expect to find in each post. as this is the first post of the series, please read on (although you should probably skip this section in subsequent posts).

First, here are some considerations: When using any teaching strategy, teachers should…

(1) help learners to understand why a strategy is useful, and
(2) describe explicitly how the strategy should be used.

This means that teacher demonstration, modeling, and follow-up independent practice are all critical factors for success in using these strategies. I’d also say that learner discussion following strategy instruction is also helpful.

Each strategy in this series of posts will include most if not all of the following:

  • Advice on how to implement the strategy in your classes
  • Examples
  • Considerations for second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners
  • The supporting research / recommended further reading

Downloadable templates will also be available for most of the strategies we’ll look at here on the blog.

Sound OK to you? Ok, let’s get started…

1. Vocabulary: List-Group-Label

When to use: I’d suggest this should be used before reading
How to use: Individually, with small groups or in a whole class setting

Basically, ‘List-group-label’ is a form of semantic mapping. I love this strategy, as it encourages learners to improve their vocabulary and categorization skills and learn to organize concepts. Categorizing listed words, through grouping and labeling, helps them to organize new concepts in relation to previously learned concepts.

So, why use list-group-label?

  • It enables learners to organize their understanding of specific vocabulary and concepts.
  • It builds on prior knowledge about a topic.
  • It actively engages learners in acquiring new vocabulary and content by activating their critical thinking skills.
  • It teaches categorizing and labeling skills.

Example

An example of the 'list group label' strategy.

An example of the ‘list group label’ strategy.

How can we use list-group-label?

Here’s a basic guide for implementing this strategy.

  1. Select a main concept in a reading selection.
  2. List:
    1. Visually display student responses.
    2. At this point do not critique student responses. Some words may not reflect the main concept, but hopefully students will realize this as they begin grouping the words in the next step.
  3. Group: Divide your class into small groups. Each group will work to cluster the class list of words into subcategories. As groups of words emerge, challenge your students to explain their reasoning for placing words together or discarding them.
  4. Label: Invite students to suggest a title or label for the groups of words they have formed. These labels should relate to their reasoning for the grouping.
    1. Have students brainstorm all the words they think relate to the topic.

If you want a more visual example, watch this video of the strategy in action.

Considerations

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners…

  • Ask learners to return to lists it as they read through and the text related to the major concept they brainstormed about. They may find they should add words from their reading or re-label the groups of words they created.
  • Encourage learners to discuss lists with others outside their initial small group.
  • Get learners to write the lists or type them using a word processing program.
  • Provide learners with pre-established categories to use to group words.
  • Create graphical representations of words in order to help learners to connect to prior knowledge.
  • Ask learners to create their own drawings to accompany the words.

The research that supports this strategy

  • Lenski, S. D., Wham, M. A., & Johns, J. L. (1999). Reading and learning strategies for middle and high school students. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
  • Taba, H. (1967). Teacher’s handbook for elementary social studies. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Tierney, R.J., & Readence, J.E. (2000). Reading strategies and practices: A compendium (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Posted in Teaching ideas, The teacher perspective, Theory, Uncategorized | Tagged | 5 Comments

Interview: Mark Barnes introduces the ‘Hack Learning’ app

I’ve been following the work of Mark Barnes for quite a while (I highly recommend following ‘Teachers throwing out grades’ group on Facebook) and was very happy when he got in touch with me recently to discuss a new app that he was developing.

The whole idea of ‘Hack Learning‘ was instantly appealing, and I’m happy to say that, now it has become available, Mark has agreed to answer a few questions about the app and how it came into existence.

____________________

What inspired you to create this app?

I created an education book series called The Hack Learning Series, books that solve problems with simple ideas. While working on the first book and planning others, I started looking for ways to spread the word about Hack Learning. I watched a webinar about how publishers can deliver content directly to readers, in an unconventional way, with a mobile app. I reached out to a developer, and before I knew it, the project was under way.

Click on the image to learn more about the 'Hack Learning' app.

Click on the image to learn more about the ‘Hack Learning’ app.

How easy was it to develop the app?

Anyone can do it, if you have the right people behind you. There is a ton of engineering behind any app, and you need experienced coders. The hackers behind the Hack Learning app are from a company called Papertrell. They specialize in making apps for book publishers and other content providers. I basically told them how I wanted the app to function and they made it happen. They code the app, but I add all of the content and do most of the graphic design. I can add a video or podcast to the app in about an hour, depending on how much time I spend on graphic design.

What exactly can people find on the app?

The goal is to deliver amazing content that is both educational and inspirational, and even though I’m an author, I know that not everyone wants to absorb content through books. So, Hack Learning provides multiple paths to learning. The app has feature length books, short format books, how-to videos, podcasts, and brief articles. It is rich with beautiful graphics and media. It has the best of all content delivery worlds.

What do you expect to be adding to the app in the future? How will you develop content further?

There is new content every week. I spend a great deal of time now on acquisition. I talk to authors, bloggers, podcasters, and screencasters about their projects. When I see something that is a good fit for the Hack Learning audience, I approach the producer about the possibility of adding it to the app. All of the Hack Learning Series books will be on the app—the first is coming later this summer. The second this fall. We’ve got the Join Up Dots podcast—one of the most popular inspirational shows on iTunes. We’ve got Talks with Teachers and we recently added KQED Public Radio podcasts, and I’m always looking for new podcasts to add. The site is all about variety. There are some marvelous books coming from some big names in education and inspiration later this year and early next year.

Where can we find the app?

Hack Learning is in both the Apple and Google app stores. The easiest way to find it, though, is to go to HackLearningApp.com. It contains info about the app and direct links to the store of your choice.

What advice do you have for teachers thinking about making their own apps?

Find the right people to help you do what you don’t know how to do. A legitimate, interactive, beautifully designed app like Hack Learning doesn’t happen with some do-it-yourself toolkit. It takes smart developers, graphic design expertise, plenty of time, and great content. Running an app with thousands of users is a big job. It’s exciting and fun, but it’s not easy.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to talk to us.

Posted in Life outside the classroom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Dogme essentials: Going materials light

A couple of days ago Phil Wade delighted us with a post about physical distance in the Dogme language classroom. He’s back again here with the second mini-series on the Dogme approach; this time he’s looking eschewing the use of materials as and when possible.

If you want to know more about the Dogme approach before reading this post, I suggest having a look at this (implementing the Dogme approach), or this (preparing Dogme materials), or maybe perhaps this (video clips on Dogme ELT).

Dogme essentials: Going materials light

A big criticism people have of Dogme is about not using materials. How can you just replace a professional coursebook with stuff from the students? This is the common question and it is a good question. Well, there are teachers who decide to go full Dogme and throw out the book and there are others who decide to wade slowly into it. Another group, which I am a member of, are those who work with 0 budget so have no other option but to get creative.

along these linesFor me, Dogme changes the role of the coursebook from a bible which you spend 90% of class looking at and using to a resource which you may use for preparation, read from, use to show images or for recreating in the lesson. It becomes a resource for the course. Probably one of many. This first idea can be daunting for some. Just imagine confiscating all the class coursebooks and how confused everyone would look. But now think about what you really need in this week’s unit. There is probably a text, a recording, a speaking activity, of course some vocab and grammar too. Maybe even a writing box. Now, be very honest with yourself. Which of those things do students really need the book in front of themselves for?

Think about it. You normally set up a speaking activity by creating context then giving them instructions. Then, the students will read the instructions in the book, the task and whatever else is on the page and only then start thinking about speaking. Take the book away and they have to listen to you and then begin. You have taken the reading part away. For instance, if the task in the book describes 2 roles and then says ‘now talk to your partner and…’, it is easier and quicker to either make very brief notes on the board, dictate the roles to students or just explain them in very simple terms.

Here’s another example. The book has some PTV , a listening, a gist task and then some grammar focus. In total, probably a full page of exercises and reading. Take the books away and you can decide whether to do the PTV, leave it or have it as another focus activity later. You are also now free to play all or just some of the recording. You could also pause it or let a student control the playback. As for the questions, do you want gist, detailed, focus or all of them? Pick the ones you want or the ones that seem relevant and as above, write them on the board or explain them. I like to do them orally by stopping the playback and just asking a question or asking 5 at the end.

As you can see, you can use the book as a resource but adapt it as you see fit. This is still a Dogme lesson in a way as it is based on speaking, the people in the room, is personalized, has no materials and is highly motivating.

About the author

Phil Wade is an English and Business English educator interested in developing tailored effective teaching solutions. He is also the author a great range of freely downloadable e-books on teaching business English.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Teaching ideas, The teacher perspective | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Dogme essentials: Physical distance

Here we go with another thought provoking guest post from Phil Wade. If you want to know more about the Dogme approach before reading this post, I suggest having a look at this (implementing the Dogme approach), or this (preparing Dogme materials), or maybe perhaps this (video clips on Dogme ELT).

When I first got into Dogme, I looked for videos to see what it looked like. What I found were always small classes with teachers sitting in circles with students and often using small portable boards or moveable ones that were brought into the student space. My first impressions were that the resulting ambiance was very neutral and the teacher really seemed more like a helpful colleague. No desks and no books left students without defenses and had to rely on being themselves and their own skills. They could no longer pretend to be writing or reading or spend minutes looking up words in dictionaries. In the Dogme circle, they had to use what they had, listen, take part and contribute.

The 'dance floor'

The ‘dance floor’

Since then, I’ve been using and experimenting with Dogme and seating. In some classes it is hard to move students due to fixed rows but in others, you can. A small circle works wonders when used for real conversation. Over an hour, two or three it can get tiresome though. As with teaching young kids, varying seating every 30 or 45 minutes works well. Thus, this ‘coming together’ is just like mat time with the primary teacher used at the start and the end of the day to warm up and cool down students.

If you think of your room as just a room with 10/20 chairs and 10/20 tables then why do they need to be and stay in the order they are when you arrive? Yes, some other people may complain if you move and leave them in odd places but what goes on in your class is for you and your students. As long as things are left as before, nobody is bothered. With this freedom of placing, you can let your imagination go wild by drawing and envisaging seating for each task. For example, what works best for groups of 4 co-writing a story? One table? No table? A circle? Standing? How about the teacher? Should you be sitting taking notes, sitting with students or sat on a table enjoying the lesson?

Varying seating will be a shock for many students as they may have sat in rows for 20 years. Stick with it though but don’t get too crazy by using random seating in every lesson. Students like continuity so having 3 different seating types and varying them in every session is a good start.

About the author

Phil Wade is an English and Business English educator interested in developing tailored effective teaching solutions. He is also the author a great range of freely downloadable e-books on teaching business English.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, The student perspective, The teacher perspective | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Are we wasting time planning our lessons?

Marek Kiczkowiak has written an excellent post on his TEFL Reflections blog about the relative importance of lesson planning in the greater scheme of things.

Given that I recently wrote about approaches to planning your lessons in my post-CELTA series (you can find all of the posts listed here), I consider this to be great follow-up reading!

In his post, which I’m happy to say references mine, he makes logical arguments against placing too much emphasis on planning for an observed lesson, namely that purpose-written plans don’t reflect the kind of planning we do on a day-to-day basis, and that they don’t allow room for the ‘unpredictable‘. Instead of looking at planning as we often do, he suggests a seven-point action plan for effective planning as a tool for professional development:

'Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni' by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics

‘Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni’ by @eltexperiences on #ELTPics

  1. Pre-observation meeting where teacher and observer discuss teachers strengths, weaknesses and PD needs
  2. Observation
  3. Post-observation meeting where teacher and observer reflect on the lesson and agree on PD goals
  4. Teacher develops an action plan with the help of the observer and agree on the time frame, goals, action research tools, etc.
  5. Teacher carries out the action plan with support from the observer
  6. Observer and teacher meet to discuss the results of the action plan (possibly preceded by an observation)
  7. Teacher continues working on all (or some of) the same developmental goals OR go back to point 1 to start a new cycle

He also gives a great list of further reading, which I’m blatantly stealing and sharing with you here, although, to be fair, I’ve aded about 20 more recommendations to his list, too!

Read Marek’s post here.

Posted in Classic posts, Opinion | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Apps for ELT: Managing time with ‘My Study Life’

As we all know, one of the biggest movements in contemporary language education is towards the promotion of learner autonomy. While it’s something that I would say is easier to theorize about than to actually get learners to put into practice, I’m always on the lookout for practical tools that will help my students to take control of their studies.

my study lifeMy Study Life looks extremely promising, as it enables learners to organize tasks according to their particular courses. In order to start using the app, learners have to enter their course schedules at which point they can then start to enter tasks into each course, with each task assigned a due date. Your learners’ My Study Life homepage shows them the tasks that have and the due dates approaching.

Naturally, any study planner will only help a student if and when they get into the habit of using it. My Study Life could prove to be a helpful resource, as it works according to weekly schedules and offers timely reminders of what needs to be done and when. It works across all devices and platforms. Take the app tour by clicking here.

Posted in Life inside the classroom, Life outside the classroom, Teaching ideas | Tagged | 1 Comment

Interview: Tyson Seburn introduces ‘Academic Reading Circles’

In today’s post I’m pleased to be discussing a new book hot off the press, ‘Academic Reading Circles’, with its author, Tyson Seburn. I’ve known Tyson ‘online’ for a number of years now, have used his ARC materials in my classes and have followed this project from its early days on his blog. Therefore, I’m absolutely delighted to see it in publication, as well as having Tyson discuss his work here with me on the blog.

_________________________

Your book is titled ‘Academic Reading Circles’. Can you tell us briefly what these circles are and how they work?

Academic Reading Circles (or “ARC” as was coined by an early adopter) is an approach to intensive reading of non-fiction texts, like those encountered at higher education contexts, that aims to improve text comprehension by engaging learners with the content by examining the text through different lenses. They undertake one of five roles that focuses on a specific aspect of the text (e.g. contextual references, visuals, vocabulary, etc.), then work together as a group to co-construct a deeper understanding of text concepts. We all do this process to varying degrees simultaneously when reading in our L1, but in another language, especially in high stakes programs, it’s helpful to have this process broken down into manageable steps like it is in ARC.

Click on the image to learn more about ARC.

Click on the image to learn more about ARC.

How did the idea for this originate? What was happening in your teaching which made you see the need for this? How did you trial things?

It stems from experience in classes I teach at the University of Toronto to incoming international students. When faced with a typical required reading, my students spent a disproportionate amount of time focusing a word-by-word deconstruction of these texts. If I looked at their notes, the majority included merely scribbled translations of words above words. Though they could answer detail questions about the text like who/where/when, they demonstrated very superficial understanding of the main ideas, the support the author used and the culturally-specific references. Rarely could they discuss the author’s points with evidence from the text, and sometimes were even completely wrong.

They needed better instruction on what elements to look for and focus on for a meaningful understanding. One of my colleagues suggested a literature circles activity that they’d heard about, which breaks fiction down into different reading responsibilities for each student. While we trialed this back in 2010, it became apparent that the existing roles weren’t meant for the genres we used with our students. Shortly thereafter I experimented with adaptations to get the most meaning out of the types of texts my students face. You can get a sense of the initial adaptations from early posts on my blog (e.g. Intro to ARC, the Interactions of ARC, practical example of ARC). Since then, ARC has evolved to better meet the needs of undergraduate students and ultimately facilitate textual comprehension enough that they are confident to use their knowledge in assignments. The most recent iteration of ARC is very detailed in the book. The great thing about ARC is that while any teacher can use the approach exactly as is suggested in the book, adaptations for specific contexts are very doable. My students may be reading undergraduate social science texts, but I’ve witnessed teachers from nursing programs and engineering programs adapt them in interesting ways for their students too.

Tell us about publishing with ‘the round’. What attracted you to this publisher? What was the process of writing and publishing a book like?

That’s easy: Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield. They’re both ELT authors and I’ve followed what they have to say about our profession for a long time. Once they founded the round, its premise of “bridging the gap between blogs and books – and about the difficulty of placing innovative, niche or critical materials with the big ELT publishers” was a natural fit for me and ARC. I really liked the idea from their mission that the round was a community of authors—a bottom-up approach to publishing.

Read my interview with Luke and Lindsay!

The process has been relatively smooth, as far as writing something substantial goes. For me, writing was very spread out because of other projects I’m involved with (my graduate dissertation occurred during the same time period), but one where I learned a lot, from really owning material to embracing feedback from others to understanding costs involved to the humbling nature of being edited to the limitations of publishing ebook formats on Smashwords and Amazon. What’s been very consistent throughout is my enthusiasm for ARC and Luke and Lindsay’s encouragement and support. I’ve been able to talk with several of the round authors about their experiences and we’re all friends now.

What advice would you give for classroom practitioners who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

Find your idea and run with it. Be committed to it and enthusiastic about it. Put it out there for the ELT world and see what comes. It takes a lot of effort and a long time to reach your goal, but you need a goal to reach.

Where can we get your book?

It’s available on Amazon and Smashwords, depending on the device or e-reader you have. You can also download Adobe Digital Editions freely for your laptop if don’t own a mobile device. All links to buy are on the round’s page for ARC.

Adam, thanks for caring enough to support me on your blog. Thanks to everyone else who uses ARC in the classroom. Let me know sometime how it goes.

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