Faculty know that the increased think-time provided by asynchronous online discussion allows for deeper and more active deliberation by students than is possible in face-to-face courses. But this advantage is often lost as online discussions ...
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Faculty know that the increased think-time provided by asynchronous online discussion allows for deeper and more active deliberation by students than is possible in face-to-face courses. But this advantage is often lost as online discussions revert to personal opinions and anecdotes. One method for keeping a discussion on track is to organize it around close reading and analysis of course texts.
Close reading is about getting readers to focus intently and systematically on text in order to extract meaning from it (Brummett, 2010). Close reading is about more than simply demonstrating an understanding of a text; it is also about engaging with a text on a deeper level, which includes analyzing the structure and message, evaluating its overall quality, connecting it with other texts, and interpreting its implications (Shanahan, 2014).
I found that VoiceThread is a good vehicle for facilitating online discussion around close reading of texts. Here are three methods to use in your courses to improve the quality of your discussions.
Multiple readings strategy
One strategy is to have students engage in multiple readings of the same text for different purposes. Shanahan outlines foci for three separate readings of a text. During the first read, students focus on extracting the main ideas. During the second read, students consider how the text is structured, its purpose and audience, and key vocabulary. Finally, during the third read, students analyze key points, evaluate the quality, interpret its implications, and/or compare parts within the text or compare the text to another text. This strategy gives students practice with a procedure for conducting a close reading of a text, and the ensuing discussion allows faculty to see at what level students may have difficulty reading: comprehension, structure analysis, or critical thinking.
Students can work individually or in small groups to try out this strategy on VoiceThread. After explaining the strategy, I showed students how to create three different identities in VoiceThread in order to represent their thoughts during the three different reads. For example, “First Reading,” became the name of the first identity, and this was accompanied by a profile picture of a tulip. The next identity, “Second Reading,” was accompanied by the image of a hydrangea, etc. I provided students with the same images in order to streamline the process.
This process took one intense week to implement. On Monday - Tuesday, students posted comments in their First Reading identity; on Wednesday -Thursday, they posted in their Second Reading identity; and on Friday -Saturday, they posted in their Third Reading identity.
Students responded to different types of questions during each read:
First Reading: Identify the main points. What is the central idea?
Second Reading: How is the text organized? What is the purpose? Who is the audience? What are some key vocabulary terms or concepts?
Third Reading: Do you agree with the main idea? Does a concept in this text remind you of something else we read? What are the implications of this text?
Text set strategy
Another strategy is to create a text set, or a set of related texts around a central topic or concept (Boyles, 2014). Each text set created should have an overarching inquiry question to guide student thinking (e.g., How would you define the concept of Literacy in the 21st century?). Readings should be assigned in a logical order so as to build student understanding gradually, methodically, and deeply in relationship to the inquiry question. Through their text discussions, students would be prompted to go back and forth among texts in order to explore relationships, identify points of comparison and contrast, and integrate ideas. This strategy helps students develop deep knowledge about a topic over time, and encourages students to return to previous readings. It allows faculty to gauge students’ deep understanding of a topic over time.
I modified the text set strategy slightly to be in the format of a jigsaw discussion. In this way, students are reading all of the texts in a set, but they are becoming experts in one area. This strategy took three weeks to implement.
Week 1: I introduced my students to the inquiry question and briefly introduced each article. Students had two weeks to read all texts in the text set independently, but they were assigned one text on which they would become the class expert. In small expert groups, students discussed their assigned text. I conducted these discussions on discussion threads, since these seemed to work better for back-and-forth discussion.
Week 2: In their expert groups, students reviewed their discussion threads and summarized key points. Together they created a VoiceThread about their article. The purpose of the VoiceThread was to teach the other students in the class about the article and to discuss how it related to the guiding question.
Week 3: Students viewed each other’s VoiceThreads in order to learn more deeply about the articles they read but were not assigned to develop expertise in. Students commented on each other’s work and engaged in discussion and reflection.
Finally, a third strategy is to teach students how to self-monitor their understanding during reading and to problem-solve if they cannot extract meaning immediately (Cummins, 2013). A simple way to help students self-monitor is to introduce a coding method. For example, students could place a question mark next to a part of the text they had difficulty understanding and would like you to review, an exclamation point next to information that was new and interesting to them, and a check mark next to information that they initially didn’t understand, but upon further reading and discussion they feel they understand. This strategy make students aware of their understanding of the text, focuses discussion around understanding of the text, and provides an assessment tool for faculty.
For this strategy, students can work in small groups or independently. This activity took one week to implement. First, I introduced students to the concept of self-monitoring, and I shared the coding system. Next, I created small groups and shared the reading for the week through a VoiceThread with each group. I asked students to mark up the text using my coding system and audio or video comments. In their comment, I asked them to explain why they chose to use a particular code.
VoiceThread has proven a powerful tool for implementing close reading and analysis strategies in my online courses.
Boyles, N. (2014). Close reading without tears. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 32-37.
Brummett, B. (2010). Developing readers in the academic disciplines. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Cummins, S. (2013). What students can do when the reading gets rough.Educational Leadership, 71(3), 69-72. Shanahan, T. (2014). This is not close reading (but we’ll tell you what is). Instructor, 123(4), 28-30.
Noreen Moore is an assistant professor of education at William Paterson University.