Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Scaffolding reading (kind of)

Recently, while discussing approaches to ESAP and the challenges students face, I was struck by something a colleague said. My colleague is the business lecturer for students trying to progress to undergraduate studies. The point he was making is that students are required to do a ferocious amount of reading. For instance, the coursebook they work with, Business Studies, is 816 pages. For a native speaker, this is daunting. For someone with a 5.5 in IELTS, it is Everest. If that student is also not a big reader in their own language, then it becomes an abyss.

One way of helping the student, I believe, is to offer tasks to guide them through the reading they have to do. As my colleague rightly pointed out, there is a good chunk of reading that they have to do outside of the classroom, probably on their own. However, I think there are a number of things we can do to support them in this, which don't take a great deal of time to prepare.

For want of a better term, I'll call them guided reading worksheets. If you've ever taken your students on a tour of a museum, handed them a worksheet and let them loose, the principle is basically the same.

You (or the content teacher) tell them which chapter(s) they are to read. You then create a worksheet that adds a bit of structure to their reading. The type of things such a worksheet could include would be:

  • Your Questions (you skim the text they've to read and generate 5 to 10 questions for them to answer)
  • Summaries (ask students to write specific length summaries of specific chapters)
  • Vocabulary searches (find and look up key words (say 10) that you identify for them)
  • Examples (if the topic is a concept (e.g. stakeholders), ask students to find examples from the local area)
  • Their Questions (tell students that they have to email you (or the content lecturer) with one question each based on the assigned reading)
  • Divide up (you ask certain students to read certain chapters - they've to summarise for each other)
  • Other reading (give them an article from the business section of a newspaper - they have to read and then identify as many chapters from their course book that have some relevance to the topic of the article)
  • Assign the chapter - they have to find one image to represent the main point (sorry, scraping the bottom a bit here)
This doesn't have to be done in the form of worksheets handed out in class. Students could be emailed the chapter to be read, given the relevant task and given a deadline to complete. 

I know it is not very original or very autonomous. However, I think that in many cases the physical act of sitting down and reading itself needs to be scaffolded. Whether or not you follow up on the task, at least there is a clear starting point there for students struggling with the volume of reading they need to get through. 

This is perhaps overkill, but here is a sample handout I did up for Unit 6 of the Business Studies book.

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