Collaborating On A Class Reading List (and what to do with it)

All, Teaching Tips

This semester I made my Writing II class textbook free (see why). Breaking up with my long-time text, Reading the World, was painful as there is so much I love about that collection, but now that we have embarked on the work of collaborating on a class reading list I am very excited. We were able to specifically tailor our reading list to my requirements (social justice issue with global implications) and student interests as well as work with readings that provided authentic writing models and jumping off points for argument essays. This makes crowd-sourcing our class reading list a twofer assignment which is my teaching sweet spot.

Crowd-sourcing Our Reading List

One of the goals for Morehead State’s Writing II class is to think about issues from a global perspective and one of my goals was for my students was to think about social justice, so I chose to use the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to help guide my students as they selected their readings and eventually their argument essay topics. We spent time discussing and writing about these topics together before I let them loose to locate their readings, so most students had a topic in mind when they began their search.

Students were then sent to the Longform or Longreads web sites to select an article about a social justice issue of global concern. It did not need to be an article focused on another part of the world, for example I chose this article as my model, just a topic that was also an important issue beyond America’s borders.

Writing Like Readers

After selecting our articles, we then studied these articles as readers and added our articles to the class reading list with six word stories summarizing the the main topic of the article and a brief reflection explaining our reason for choosing the article and how it met the requirements (social justice issue of global consequence). Students then examined the other articles on the list that they found interesting and selected two to craft their own six word stories and reflections to supplement those originally provided.

We then then prepared Article Snaps to support this study of our readings. Our snaps (see more examples of how I have used snaps in the past) included six word stories summarizing the the main argument of the article, an explanation of the six word story using evidence from the article, an image from the article that contributed to our understanding of the issue, a quote from the article that contributed to our understanding of the issue, a current news article to connect this argument to the world, and a quote from the news article that extended the conversation or added nuance to our thinking about this issue. Students then extended the conversation by examining several article snaps to identify themes and issues that could connect multiple articles. They researched definitions/descriptions of those themes and then sought out scholarly articles to extend our understanding of that broader issue. For example, I linked my original article (which focused on racism) to the larger issue of oppression (which had been explored by several other articles featuring women, incarcerated people, etc.) and shared an article exploring the physical and emotional damage caused by oppression.

This work provided the foundation for our Conversation Tables activity, my alternative to an annotated bibliography, described in a previous blog post.

Reading Like Writers

In a writing class reading obviously serves as a source of information and inspiration, but it should also serve as a mentor text for the writer to examine closely to learn the lessons that more experienced writers can offer. I have adapted Liz Prather’s “15 Ways to Look at a Mentor Text” to help my developing writers learn the not-so-mysterious ways of the professional writer. My students were directed to select a long-form mentor text (possibly from our existing reading list) that intersected with their chosen topic (and hopefully claim).

Guided by Prather’s 15 steps we engaged (I provided a model as well) in an iterative deconstruction of our mentor texts. Then through the magic of Google docs (note that Prather provides a worksheet on her blog post) we shared our deconstructions with the class and engaged in the study of style inspired by several Writing Commons readings that also included organization, transition, introductions, and conclusions. We also discussed some of the Harris moves supported by the National Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writer’s Program. The process wrapped up with each writer sharing the moves from their mentor text that inspired them as well as some general tips about good argument writing that they had gleaned from the activities.

Creating our collaborative reading list followed a spiraling path as we built on our ideas and added in more layers of information while connecting ideas across texts. We wove a web of readings and ideas to guide each student to a topic and eventually a claim for their argument essay. We developed a large curated collection of readings about social justice that could be mined to support an exploration of those claims. This curated collection then served as the warp to the weft of the student’s ongoing research as they wove in new ideas and sources. In addition to this tapestry, we also assembled a pattern book that could guide our writers through the delicate and difficult task of writing a long-form argument incorporating counterarguments and diverse sources of information. How do you help your students write like readers and read like writers?

Note: the activities in this process were supported by HyperDocs!

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