Academic Reading Circles: Initial reactions

In my last post (click here), I outlined the academic reading circle assignment that I had planned for this semester. The academic reading circles took the place of focus questions (read and answer questions at home) and the hope was that students would interact with the material and each other, prior to class, more than they have before. If the ARC is successful, students will get more out of each class because they are primed for the new content. In this post, I’ll share some examples of the ARC working and failing, along with the changes I will make for next semester.

There are several things that I overlooked at the start. First, I had planned for students to use the blog as a place to share the specific information related to their role and discuss the content. I had imagined ongoing discussions that were so riveting they spilled into class. What I am finding, though, is that many students treat the ARC like a focus question, simply doing their part and signing off. As you can see in the picture below, participation varies – some classes tend to look around and read more, while others get in, write, then get out.

blog dashboard

Next semester, I will make sure to give detailed instructions related to the direction of, and type of interaction that happens on the blog. Here is an example of what the discussion leader posts:

blog discussion leader post


As you can see here, the discussion leader does a good job of presenting a discussion question to the group, and it’s not outrageous to thin that a nice discussion would follow. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. Below is an example of some interaction on the blog.


blog interaction 1This type of interaction is fairly common. Students compliment each other on their posts, or share something that was making the post difficult. While it’s nice to see, this kind of interaction doesn’t get the most out of the blog. In addition complimenting and asking for help, I would like to see interaction that promotes a deeper understanding of content. In the next picture, the students begin to develop an idea together. This is the kind of interaction that really gets the most out of the ARC and blogging.

blog development


To deal with this problem I plan to give one more responsibility to the discussion leader. As it is now, the only responsibility for the discussion leader is to:

  • Create the blog post.
  • Create 3 comprehension questions about information in the reading.
  • Create 1 discussion question about something you are curious about in the reading or something you do not clearly understand.
  • Keep track of the time during the discussion so everyone gets a turn.
  • Remind members that they should not read exactly from the textbook.
  • Ensure that no one person dominates the discussion and everyone speaks.

Since the discussions are not happening at the beginning of class, the discussion leader will also lead the group’s self-assessment. After the discussion leader posts their questions, they will respond to the discussion question answers posted by their group members AND keep track of who writes what. The discussion leader will keep track of how many times each member of their group interacted, and what they said. For example, the categories might be something like this:

Group Member Comp. Response Disc. Response Role Response Question Compliment
A 1 2 1 2 2
B 1 2 1 1 1
C 1 2 1 0 0
D 1 2 1 1 1

So, instead of leading the discussion at the beginning of class, the discussion leader has more responsibilities related to what happens online. Now, at the beginning of each class, the discussion leader has each member sign the form (the above table), confirming that their contribution to the blog is correct, and then hands it in to the teacher, who can use it for assessment. Hopefully, signing a form that is handed to the teacher provides just the right amount of push from the top to promote more online interaction.

Feedback and responses from the student survey will be up in my next post.

Thanks for reading!


3 thoughts on “Academic Reading Circles: Initial reactions

  1. Good details Bill. Thinking about using Edmodo to start something like this with my reading circles. Some good food for thought here as I set it up.

    1. Hey Chris! Aloha! Blogger has been working well. I think there may be an issue with archiving the posts in Edmodo, maybe not though. I do this with TED talks in the GEP class too.

      1. Will keep you posted if I try it. So far Edmodo has been great although there are a few more features I wish it had (but isn’t that always the case?:) Will be curious to see the student responses/feedback.

        Have you done any video-blogging/vlogging?

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