20 September 2012

4th preview

Struggles in higher ed reading averted through collaborative reading circles

Tyson Seburn (4C, University of Toronto) - Sunday November 18, 12:45 - 1:45, Room Estaunie

Look at this image. What is Superman doing?

Yes, that’s what I first thought too. I’m sure we’re not alone. Given what we know about Superman and his adventures, a second look enables us to realise he’s not trying to extinguish the light coming from that bad guy with his bodily fluids. We know that superhero cartoons don’t include that type of behaviour (at least ones with classic superheroes!). We know that it wouldn’t be befitting for the character of Superman even if they did. We search for other explanations for what is actually happening and (eventually) make more probable judgments based on our understanding of context.

Imagine, however, that you didn’t know anything about Superman. Or superhero cartoons.  Or hoses, for that matter.  If this were the case, our brains wouldn’t be able to connect this apparent situation with the hidden context. Our non-existent background knowledge wouldn’t fill in the gaps like it did above. What you see would be what you know. We would lose the cartoonist and writer’s intended meaning.

This same problem with context and background knowledge applies to our learners in their exposure to texts they encounter in their university classes, the news and even blogs. So often authors utilise references to key figures, events and places to demonstrate and strengthen their points. When our learners read texts they are assigned or even given for language practice, these contextual references are often missed or skipped over, leaving comprehension superficial and inadequate.

The “Contextualiser” role gives learners practice identifying and using contextual references in texts to help them better understand what they read.  It, along with five other specialised roles in the collaborative reading circles activity (I refer to as “academic reading circles” or “ARC”), have greatly contributed to improving my students’ reading abilities at higher levels.

If you attend this workshop, we will take a closer look at all six roles (Discussion Leader/Devil’s Advocate, Visualiser, Connector, Summariser, Highlighter & Contextualiser) and how they can help your students with their higher level reading too.