International English Center
Course context: Intermediate 1 Reading and Intermediate 3 Writing course, designed as academic preparation for international students. 10-15 students, meets Monday through Thursday for 50 minutes a day.
- Target of improvement/evidence:
Reading a text word-by-word or sentence-by-sentence and not seeing the rhetorical focus or structure of a text.
- What did you do?
I did an initial survey (and a word cloud) at the beginning of the term, and found a few interesting trends. It appeared from the survey that students were interested in reading material outside the textbook. Noted examples were from newspapers and from the Internet. I accommodated that, and found material from the Internet and news media to use in identifying text structures. I found appropriate material and modified it to simplify vocabulary in a few cases. This added several layers of practice compared to previous terms. I now had four sets of materials to practice on rather than the two sets I had used previously. In the past I had used one set of texts to teach from and one to use to assess students’ ability to identify text structure.
From there I modeled some of the behaviors I had identified as what an expert does – after an initial reading, scanning the text for clues as to the rhetorical focus. I used some example essays and did a read-aloud to point out how authors were building arguments in particular ways.
We also did some group work. Students were assigned one of four text structures to read and then report on to their group.
I used the same type of assessment I had used in the past. I gave students several paragraphs exemplifying different text structures; the students read them and attempted to identify the structure used.
- What difference did it make?
Based on classroom discussion, this was very effective in teaching students to identify the rhetorical focus or structure of a text. We did some group activities where students had different types of text which they read and then reported on to a group. Based on informal observation of this group work, students were doing very well in representing the rhetorical focus to their peers.
We didn’t get such good results on the formal assessment however. Based on the formal assessment, the modeling and increased practice didn’t have much of an impact. When students were asked to read paragraphs and pick which of five structures they illustrated, several students were not able to successful identify the structure of a paragraph.
The informal assessment gave good results, so I moved on to the formal assessment without considering a course correction. By the time I got the results of the formal assessment, it was time to move on to the next section of the curriculum. Course correction will have to wait until the next time I teach this course.
- What worked? What did you learn? What did you learn that might shape how you will improve the course next time you teach it (or have impact on other courses you teach)? What did you learn that you could pass along to a colleague?
There are a couple of things that might have contributed to the contrast between the good results on the informal assessment and the poor results on the formal assessment. The first is that the group work we did was effective in teaching each student to identify only the one structure that they were representing to the group. It’s possible that the students were not yet expert enough in the process they used to share it with their peers.
Another possibility is that the formal assessment did not do a good job of reflecting the skills and knowledge that the students gained in our classroom exercises. However I feel the assessment is a fair evaluation and I will continue to use it.
To expand my teaching efforts further and overcome the still existing bottleneck, next time I want to connect with the writing curriculum. The writing courses at this level also approach this skill and students are attacking it much more experientially, through essay writing. If I can use this to connect to the reading curriculum I think it will be more effective that what I’ve been doing. I could ask students to bring in samples of their own writing that are relevant to what we’re doing in reading class and use those as example texts. I also will stop using the group reading approach for this particular skill.
- Sharing with colleagues? What plans do you have for sharing with your colleagues (or have you already)? What kind of support would help with outreach to colleagues about this work?
Our group of three from the International English Center presented our experiments at a staff meeting. We have also tentatively explored the idea of presenting at the professional organization’s state conference.