CELFS Teaching and Learning Network

All aboard the ARC: reflections on academic reading and listening circles

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by Katherine High

One of the most enjoyable courses I have taught so far at CELFS is Advanced English Language (ADV): a 10-week EFL course of 2 hours per week for C1 or C2 international students. Assessment includes a short piece of reflective writing entitled Roots & Routes, exploring the themes of cultural identity and future-plans, and a group presentation of a thematically-linked text. Each week texts are explored from different perspectives in small groups of 3 or 4 – forming the reading and listening circle (RLC).

Even though this was not an EAP course, I initially felt that students should at least learn some academic skills for their discipline-specific courses, especially as most had not studied at a UK university before. Unlike on other EAP courses, the assessment weighting for content (i.e. personalised reflections) was much higher than for structure and organization. Despite these different weightings, specifically highlighted on the criteria is a highly relevant and transferable skill for students of any discipline: the ability to wave between the abstract and the concrete (Maton, 2013).

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My initial skepticism about the relevance of this EFL course soon dissipated when I observed how text-processing was actually much deeper and broader than on the other EAP programmes I was teaching due to the four roles within the RLC: language, context, meaning and visualization.

As a synthesis of the roles set out in Seburn’s (2011) Academic Reading Circle (ARC), these four areas for text-analysis really encouraged students to develop their critical thinking skills, as many were for the first time considering audience and purpose, and the impact of language and style on the reader – all directly transferable reading skills (Cots, 2006). Building upon Daniels’ (2002) and Furr’s (2004) reading circle roles, Seburn later introduced the visualiser role whereby students select digital media to further illuminate a text. On ADV, this role was further adapted: students had to create their own visualization of the text.

Clarke (n.d.) asserts that language teaching and learning at tertiary level should foster creativity, a hallmark of academic excellence. As a higher-level thinking skill, creativity demonstrates a cognitive process that moves beyond prescriptive models and rules (Adams, 2015) – essential if students are to develop their own stance and voice. While certainly adding a creative element to text analysis, it was soon apparent that students assigned to the visualization role became over-whelmed by the task at the expense of linguistic processing. Rather than scrapping this role altogether, I adjusted the RLC to 3 rather than 4 students, and the whole group had the option to create a visual. This team-effort still led to some very creative and thematic representations of the texts, helping to imprint key concepts (such as the fluid notion of home) that were later referred to in the assessed tasks.

On evaluating the course unit, several students commented on how the RLCs introduced them to a new approach to language learning:

ADV gives us the opportunity to think and create our own opinion.”

I really liked the fact that this course does not focus on simple grammar, but on a wide range of language skills

In terms of the language selected for analysis, I was at first concerned by the students’ fascination in poetic / metaphorical language; I felt the need to push them towards more transferable lexis, even if it wasn’t wholly academic. For example, on reading the prologue to Jeremy Paxman’s book The English, students were fixated on terms such as stiff upper lip, sensible shoes and tweedy manner. My newly appointed EAP teacher-self felt conflicted. I was reading Wingate (2015) at the time, who highly values specificity in EAP: all tasks should be directly relevant to assessment. Given the EFL communicative aspect of the course however, I realized that an understanding of these culturally loaded terms allowed for greater opportunities for personalization as students could make direct comparisons with their own cultural backgrounds. Therefore such language analysis was entirely relevant, as it provided memorable content to cite in the assignments.

Even though this was an EFL course, through the RLCs this programme soon revealed a strong alignment of some core EAP principles including creativity and transferability. Students were better able to process texts, and in doing so store up a bank of memorable sources to reference and synthesize. This September I would like to encourage further reflection and evaluation of performance within the RLC so learners are better able to analyse a text the following week (Seburn, 2011; Todd, 2003; Garrigan, 1997). Perhaps they could even create new roles in line with their own strengths to further enhance learner autonomy and develop critical thinking: both essential skills within their community of practice regardless of what they are studying on their year-abroad programmes.

 

References:

Adams, N., (2015) Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning objectives, J Med Lib Assoc 103(3), 152-153

Clarke, M., (n.d.) Creativity in modern foreign languages teaching and learning [Online] Available at: http://www.creativeacademic.uk/uploads/1/3/5/4/13542890/creativity_in_modern_languages.pdf (Accessed 24/05/17)

Cots, J., (2006) Teaching “with an attitude”: Critical Discourse Analysis in EFL teaching. ELT Journal (60/4) pp. 336-345

Daniels, H., (2002) Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. (Second edition). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Furr, M., (2004) Literature Circles for the EFL Classroom [Online] Available at http://www.eflliteraturecircles.com/litcirclesforEFL.pdf (Accessed 24/05/17).

Garrigan, P (1997) Some Key Factors in the Promotion of Learner Autonomy in Higher Education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 21:2, 169-182

Maton, K., (2013) Making semantic waves: A key to cumulative knowledge-building, Linguistics and Education, 22, 8-22

Seburn, T., (2011) Academic Reading Circles (ARC): The first ARC appearance ever [Online] Available at: http://fourc.ca/arc/ (Accessed 24/05/17).

Todd, R., (2003) EAP or TEAP?, Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 2, 147-15

Wingate, U. (2015) Academic literacy and Student Diversity. (1st ed). Bristol. UK. Multilingual Matters

 

 

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