Friday, July 20, 2012

Critical Reading

I've been (slowly I'll admit) tackling my summer projects that I mentioned in the last post. The first part of the summer I was wrapping up a grad class, and the rest of the time..well the weather in New England this summer has been beyond beautiful. In fact it rained yesterday for the first time since school let out, so you can imagine its been tough to find the motivation to think about my classroom.


Well, that's not true I'm ALWAYS thinking about it, but todays clouds meant I finally sat down and worked some things out.

One of my projects this summer was to create stronger "Content Folders." I use the Schoology program to deliver the flipped classroom and one of the features I love is that you can create folders to house related materials. Students can easily see them and there can be folders within folders. Thus I can create a folder for example entitled Ancient Greece. Within that giant folder I have folders for each week with all the content that should be worked through. Student can work ahead to the next week if they master everything in that week's folder.

This is an example of last year's but of course I'll be "tweaking":

The inside of each week's folder looked like this, you can see the videos, quizzes and discussion threads:

Since this past school year was my first attempt with the flip, the folders only contained the lecture videos and the online quizzes. I knew I wanted each week to contain more, and I knew I wanted a way to introduce more reading into their weekly work. If you follow my blog you probably already know that I hate the textbook that my school system gave me. For one thing it was written so long ago that my name (yes I once was a student in my very classroom...a humorous discussion for another time) is written in the front of one (incidentally I used to offer extra credit to any student who found it), but I digress. So you can see the problem, hate the book, but value students reading content as well as watching lecture videos. Lo and behold my grad class (not an education class by the way) provided the answer to me. Prior to each class my professor (Prof. Carragee at Suffolk University) required that we read an assigned article and do a "critical reading" of it. At first I thought, "well I always read critically" but this particular professor required that we write a one page paper, in a very specific format that forced us to read critically and best of all come up with a question.

I decided to borrow the professor's idea and "tweak" it down to 7th grade level. One of the things that I am trying to do this year is go paperless (for the most part). The only paper handed out will be in the form of "coursepacks." At the beginning of each unit students will receive a coursepack with all the notes they need to fill in, all review questions, flashcard requirements, and yes critical reading assignments. I will post more on the course pack when I finish the first example. Essentially it will function as a workbook for the class. The "blank form" of the critical reading assignment will be found in the coursepack, students will write in the answers.

Every other week in their content folders there will be a reading. It may be an article written by an historian, it may be a primary source document, or something else that ties in with their lectures that week. Students may view the reading on their computer, download it to a mobile device or eReader, or they may take a hard copy in class.

After completing the reading they will fill in the following in their coursepack (the bold will be given, they will fill in the information on lines after):

Citation: A citation for the article you read using Chicago MLA format. We will be going over this in class, but this is a sample: (I'll include a sample for them)

Summary: 2 (and only 2) sentences summarizing the major point that the author is making in the reading. Believe it or not you will find it difficult to summarize something in only 2 sentences, you need to make sure you really understand the main point that the author is trying to make.

Critical Insight: 2-3 sentences describing something that you learned from the reading or a new insight that you gained. It could be something that you already knew, but now you understand better, if that is the case tell me why you understand it better now. What information did the author present that sparked your interest or made you think?

Critical Question: A question you have after completing the reading. It could be a critique of what the author has said (something you agreed with or did not agree with), or something further that you would like to know. This should be a well thought out question, not one that can be answered by the reading. It should be an open ended question (not a yes or no question). This is the most important part of the CR assignment as it forms the basis for our class discussions.

Students can complete the Critical Reading at any point during the week, and on Fridays after our CNN Student news quiz, we will have a class discussion based on their questions. 

Things I like about this: 
  • students will be exposed to the writings of various historians
  • they will be forced to think about what they are reading, not just go through the motion
  • they will get practice creating citations, something that I try to prep my students in as I feel that (at least in my district) history classes do not spend enough time going over, while English classes seem to do an excellent job of prepping students in something that they will undoubtedly be expected to know in college
  • class discussions will be a great way to end the week, and basing it off their questions will give the ownership of the material they have read, I will merely facilitate and play the "devil's advocate" where necessary 
  • I have tried class discussion in the past but often get a blank stare, hopefully the questions will prompt better discussions
Problems I foresee:
  • students not giving quality responses, thinking that because it is only 2 sentences they can just write "anything" rather than really trying to understand the main idea
  • questions not being deep enough to foster discussion (I think this will take some time initially but hopefully they will get the hang of it after a few discussions)
  • getting the classic "I don't get it" line as an excuse for not completing the assignments, I'll need to make sure students remember to utilize class time to ask me questions if they don't understand the reading
  • time management, hopefully I'm not asking too much
On weeks where they are not doing Critical Reading assignments they will be completing an internet literacy assignment..but more on that at another time!

Have you incorporated readings into the "flipped classroom"? Or into a traditional classroom? Did students complete them? Were they able to foster discussions? Am I asking too much?

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