November 5, 2013
Thinking like an expert: Develop student skill with disciplinary approaches to reading
When I settle into my hammock with a new novel, I read differently than when I read an article in a scholarly journal or review a manuscript submission for a journal editor. Regardless of how skilled students may be with basic reading, they may need guidance in how to read scholarly materials, which requires students to adopt disciplinary habits of mind and approaches to thinking about problems and evaluating evidence.
Below are some suggestions for reading assignments from faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University. These assignments require students to read disciplinary materials and practice disciplinary approaches to thinking and reading.
Talk about what it means to be a professional in your discipline (e.g., geographer, biologist, social worker, or historian). How does a historian think about history, solve historical problems, read the historical literature, write about history, and so on? What questions do they ask themselves when they begin to read a particular text? What are the conventions for discourse in the discipline? Describe disciplinary thinking skills explicitly to students and, if possible, model them as you think aloud about an assigned reading to make these skills transparent and accessible to students.
Develop an activity associated with assigned reading(s) that supports classroom discussion or completion of a course assignment. For example, instructors in the Wilfrid Laurier first year course, Religion and Culture (Evil and Its Symbols), ask students to identify a short passage or identify a quote from the reading that is salient to them, write a short paragraph describing why the passage spoke to them, and explain how the passage connects to topics discussed in class. Students submit their work 24 hours before class. The written assignment supports discussion in the next class meeting. The students' total grade should be based in part on the quality of these submissions.
Model critical reading in the classroom. Professor Shelagh Crooks of St. Mary's University (Canada) provides students with a short reading (it could be a reading from the list of assigned readings). Students work in groups to answer the following questions.
• What is the topic under discussion?
• What is the issue at hand?
• What position does the author take?
• What evidence does the author provide?
• How credible is the evidence?
Student groups prepare and submit a collective answer to the questions.
When this activity is repeated several times over a number of class meetings, students develop increased skill and confidence in their ability to read disciplinary material with a more critical eye.
Create a worksheet and pose questions to structure reading and reflection on the content. The worksheet can structure either individual reading assignments and reflective writing or in-class group discussions of the reading. The completed worksheet can document the quality of reading or completeness of the group discussion. Instructors in different disciplines might include questions on the worksheet to reflect specific reading and thinking skills that characterize the discipline or the area of research.
Arrange a class visit from a disciplinary expert Bring a reading to life by inviting the author of an assigned reading into the classroom. Authors located in distant locations can visit the class via Skype or web-based conferencing technology.
Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Bean, 2011)
This tip is based on teaching strategy submitted by Jeanette McDonald and Anna Barichello, Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada) to the Western Kentucky University Teaching Issues Writing Consortium.
October 25, 2011
Develop skills in scholarly disciplinary research
Many disciplines expect that students will develop the ability to conduct research using the scholarly disciplinary literature. These research skills require information literacy skills in which the student can locate and evaluate sources of information.
This tip describes a collaborative project developed for a survey-level American history course by a historian and a reference librarian. This assignment could be adapted to courses in any discipline that uses visual materials (art work, artifacts, and photographs) as part of scholarly work.
Learning Outcomes for the Assignment
Assign a different image or artifact to each student. The student’s task is to write a 4-5 page essay that explains the image or artifact using information from scholarly sources and places the image or artifact in historical context.
Students need approximately two to three weeks to complete the research and writing components of this assignment, including time to request and receive materials available only through inter-library loan. Encourage students to meet with reference librarians out of class if they have additional questions about researching their image.
Essays must include the following elements
Library instruction associated with the assignment
The students will need two consecutive class sessions with a reference librarian in the library classroom. The first session is a library workshop demonstrating how to conduct searches in the appropriate library databases. The second session should be devoted to a discussion of the ethical use of information and the importance of citing sources. A brief demonstration of citation management software (e.g., RefWorks) can be provided or students can be referred to the library tutorial (http://library.uwf.edu/tutorials/writing_skills/refworks/). In addition, students should use some time during this session to begin their search for information about their assigned image. Both the instructor and the librarian should be available to answer specific questions about using the databases and evaluating the usefulness of information related to the images.
This tip is based on teaching strategy suggested by Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD (Department of History/Social Sciences and Center for Innovative Teaching, Learning & Assessment) and Susan G. Miller (Librarian), Community College of Rhode Island (http://www.ccri.edu/citla).
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