For the past two semesters I have struggled with the implementation of a reading workshop for my online writing classes. My institution requires the use of a reader and my writing-about-writing approach also necessitates some reading, but I was resistant to using the old model of reading discussion that I once used. I simply didn't want to devote so much of our semester to reading and, while I consider reading important, I did want to use it primarily as fodder for our writing rather than a large focus of the class.
So I came up with a two-pronged approach to incorporate reading that is my own version of a Reading Workshop. The first part of the workshop is centered around building a class annotated bibliography of our reading lists with each student making three contributions to the annotated bibliography and then reviewing the contributions of other students. We build the class annotated bibliography on our class blog and I like the option of using labels on the individual AB entries so students are able to find readings that connect with their interests. The student contributions include one selection from the book we are required to use by our department and one selection from a list of online readings that I have generated and one peer-reviewed journal article that they locate and then submit for my approval. After we have completed the class AB, I then have students develop discussion questions that connect to their reading and then we hold class discussions using those questions.
I like many things about this assignment. I have always liked including some version of an annotated bibliography assignment in my classes as I think it is an useful skill for students to have and can scaffold their use of citations and summaries. I also like the fact that by cooperating in this way the students can cover a large number of readings in a relatively short amount of time and assemble the AB entries in an usable format that can serve as a resource for future assignments. I also like giving students some choice so they can pick readings to work with that either interest them or serve their writing in some way.
What I don't like is mostly about logistics. Giving students a choice means that there is a lot of back and forth with me and it is a time-consuming nightmare for a few weeks. I need to find a better way to do this for the fall semester. One solution is to push the assignment further into the semester by a week or two at the least. One of the drawbacks of teaching a general education class online is that there is a lot of fluidity to the rosters during the first week or two of classes. Maybe pushing the assignment past the worst of this will make it logistically easier to manage. I think I also need to break the assignment up into smaller bite-sized chunks. Apparently I overwhelmed students with too much information this semester. I also plan to stretch out the time that we work on this assignment. Last semester I had it stretch all the way to midterm but this semester I thought I could get it out of the way sooner. I think the midterm method is better. I think compressing the time was one of the contributors to my logistical nightmare. Honestly the assignment is not so burdensome that students shouldn't be able to finish it in the time I've allotted but clearly their perception is different.
And so my Reading Workshop is still a work-in-progress but hopefully next semester I will have it down pat! Stay tuned...
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