Teaching Smarter Not Harder: Improving Students' Close Reading Skills Through Interactivity

Theresa Tinkle

Three innovations stand out in this re-invention of  English 350, a survey of literature before 1660. First, instead of prioritizing highly specialized knowledge of cultural contexts, the instructional team prioritized undergraduates’ development of close reading skills. Second, the usual order of things in a large lecture course was reversed in that students spent more time performing close readings themselves, and less time merely observing instructors’ demonstrations of the skills. Third, the introduction of technologies less commonly used in the humanities made it possible for students to receive meaningful feedback on varied forms of practice without increasing grading time.
 
In the 2010 course, multiple-choice quizzes in CTools spurred engagement with the material and mastery of the shared language needed for literary analysis. Professor and GSIs alike wrote economical comments in response to essays, targeting just one or two areas for each student’s future attention.
 
In the 2011 iteration, many quiz questions were converted to i>clicker questions and employed during lecture. Students began posting close readings on CTools and commenting on their peers’ posts before discussions. A newly created assessment rubric with clearly described levels of achievement boosted the new cohort’s performance from start to finish (as compared to the 2010 cohort).
 

Student Comments

In a hall “filled with more than 50 students, every single one showed complete engagement with material that was truly difficult, but was made amazingly accessible.”
 
“By the end of the first class…all 80 students [were] performing impassioned close readings of Chaucer and roaring with laughter at the meatier bits of wit.”
 
“Improving our skills of close reading – something that is often hard to learn even through one-one-one engagement – was accomplished stunningly, even in a lecture hall of so many students.”
 
“Lecture was constantly a place where we as students were given a genuine role in the learning process.”
 
Above photo:
Theresa Tinkle (English Language and Literature)
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