Reading chart

 

Reading chart

I took the idea of creating a reading chart exercise from an essay on team-based learning at arthistoryteachingresources.org.  I assigned the first three chapters of Assmann's Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, an accessible but challenging text, for my 1010 course.  I created the chart (attached) and asked them all to fill it out and bring two copies to class.  The class broke into three groups and discussed their charts in the groups, each one facilitated by an undergrad TA (who had also filled out the chart).  I created a "script" for the TAs to lead discussion through the charts.

The basic idea of the chart was to have them extract two key points from each chapter and then to find an example (of a practice or an object in the contemporary world) to which they could connect one or both of the key points.  So the goal was to help them extract useful insights from the reading and apply those insights to actual examples from a different time and place.

After giving them time to get started without me, I came back into the classroom and circulated among the groups.  Overall I was happy with the quality of the discussion.  Certainly they were focused, much more so than in a free-floating discussion.  They had all read the text and were very engaged with it.  Asking them to apply the reading to examples of their own choosing also really got them focused.

One surprise, and slight disappointment, was that their key points were very similar to each other's, as if they had all gone for the most readily understandable points.  By contrast their examples were more diverse.  If I were to tweak the exercise I might ask them to choose for their second key point something that was interesting but not entirely clear to them.  

I see this technique as very promising.  The chart prompts a more searching, purpose-driven reading of the text.  Discussion in class builds easily on the preparation done before class.  A learning process seems to be set in motion.  It is time-consuming though.  This exercise took an entire class period of one hour and fifteen minutes.  But learning is time-consuming.  My own conviction is that if we are going to assign meaningful and challenging texts, we need to give the students the tools and time to really learn something from those texts.

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