ARC Priming: A Quick Idea for Getting Students Started with Academic Reading Circles

If you are a reader of my blog or a follower on Twitter, you will probably note that I am a big fan of Academic Reading Circles. I have convinced at least one other faculty member to use them regularly, and I have given several presentations about ARCs. I own the e-book, but hope to get the paper edition one day, signed by Tyson himself.

Anyway, I am always trying to find new ways of tweaking ARCs to fit student levels, class needs, and in general, improve the quality of the work students do. Sometimes, the biggest struggle is getting students to analyze texts in-depth from the different perspectives (roles). It’s not uncommon for students to ask superficial questions as the Leader, choose irrelevant vocabulary as the Highlighter, or unimportant references as the Contextualizer. A lot of this comes down to introducing and scaffolding ARCs in the right way.

We typically build an abbreviated version of ARC handouts together as a class, working with all roles. I also get students of the same role to work together during their first ARC so that they can work together to build knowledge of their role, and so I can easily give feedback. We also work on the different microskills that ARCs encourage throughout the term, such as working with contextual references during non-ARC readings.

However, I have also found one other idea to be very effective at introducing and maintaining ARC perspectives: priming articles with guiding questions. I believe Tyson has mentioned this before, but I’m not sure where – I don’t think in his book. What I mean by priming is giving students articles that are annotated with a few questions meant to get them thinking and reading through the lens they have been assigned. I always provide printed copies of the articles and add line numbers for ease of discussion. I also provide comments in the margins that ask different roles questions. I have found that this priming is effective at getting students in the right mindset, assuring deeper analysis, and, in turn, a quality discussion.

Check out my example below:

A recent "primed" article given to students for an upcoming ARC.

A recent “primed” article given to students for an upcoming ARC.

12 thoughts on “ARC Priming: A Quick Idea for Getting Students Started with Academic Reading Circles

  1. Hi Anthony,
    Thanks for the post. I have recently signed up for a Dip TESOL teacher training course to finally get some sort of formal teaching qualification. The course is divided into 4 Units; the second of which is the coursework portfolio with 3 action research projects. One of these action research projects is a 15 hour developmental record of some aspect of teaching practice. I’m thinking that setting up an ARC would not only be highly beneficial in itself for my advanced learners, but also a great action research project if done with care. I don’t know if you would find the future findings of any interest.

    On priming, what I do a the moment is simply highlight interesting features in the article (without any comments or prompts) and then share the document on the cloud to the group. It’s then up to each one to figure out why an item has been highlighted and if it corresponds to them. In the future I was planning to fine tune and colour code the highlights according to role, just to give them a gentle push in the right direction.

    • Anthony Schmidt says:

      I think it would make an excellent research project. I would be very interested in results, and Tyson would probably be too. There is a lot of research on literature circles, but not Academic Reading Circles.

      I like your priming method too. It would be really good for scaffolding and introducing students to ARC for the first time. I usually have some general guiding questions, but actually marking up the text and having students practice with that is a great idea. I wouldn’t use it after a few cycles though, as learner-generated inquiry is important. But, it seems like a great starter!

      • Thanks for that Anthony. I’ll keep you up to date on how I get on. I’m on contact with quite a few trainee teachers so I may be able to get some others on board.

      • Tyson Seburn says:

        Hello Mark. Yes, I’d love to see more formalised research results. Working on that myself! Let me know how you’re doing sometime.

  2. Tyson Seburn says:

    Good idea, Anthony. You may be referring to a mention of prompts whereby the teacher creates some guiding questions by role for SS and puts them on the board to be discussed while in the group discussion (Chapter 9, p. 78). Doing so on the common text itself and giving that to the specific students by role beforehand would be a handy addition, albeit time-consuming I imagine as prep for the teacher.

    One thing I’ve added into our curriculum this year, particularly for teachers though, is a guide about each of the ARC texts being used. It incorporates a number of things we’ve done in the past on a sort of adhoc basis, but also a predefined list of guiding questions by role for these texts. For a curriculum planner like myself, it helps alleviate some of the work for the individual teacher but could easily be done by them themselves. This set of questions could just as easily be given to SS during the individual work as on-the-spot during the group work, too.

    • Tyson Seburn says:

      PS – Next time you’re in Canada (TESL Canada Conference – Niagara Falls?), I’ll sign that book. đŸ™‚

    • Anthony Schmidt says:

      I find the process of selecting articles to be more time consuming than priming with a few questions. Searching for an article that has the right balance of genre, language level, references, etc. is hard work.

      I do like the idea of a “guide”, although it wouldn’t really work for our context. How do your instructors use it?

      Appreciate the comment!

      • Tyson Seburn says:

        Well, the guide is more of a collation of materials we’d previous used for each text, but into one document. What’s different is we’ve been identifying G/A/P, main idea, and summarising each text into sections like the Leader would do. We also add in a section on critically evaluation strengths and weakness of the text, as well as how to brainstorm further research questions based on perspective (e.g. sociocultural, economic, environmental, etc.). It’s more of an answer key so to speak, for the instructors, but I’ve seen some wipe out the answers and give it to SS as a type of post-ARC framework for practice identifying key components of the text they may have missed out on.

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