Bergen Community College: Reading, Writing, and Presenting in STEM Courses
STEM teachers often lament the fact that their students struggle to read content for understanding, write in the vocabulary of STEM fields, and present their ideas well orally (RWP). In fall 2015, the STEM faculty at Bergen Community College identified RWP as the focus of its professional development initiative under a nationally funded STEM grant. At the beginning of this endeavor, a colleague provided a link to a National Council of Teachers of Mathematics article titled “Anticipation Guides: Reading for Mathematics Understanding” (Adams, Pegg, & Case, 2015). Based on insights gleaned from this article and my own experience with cooperative groups, I developed the following pedagogy to address RWP concerns.
Most STEM classes follow a common structure: Professors introduce the content of a unit and students practice problems related to the concepts in either homework assignments, labs, or both. Assessments are implemented and graded, and these steps are repeated for the next unit. However, if the professor replaces lecture and demonstration with textbook reading and student presentations as an introduction to each new unit, RWP can be practiced and mastered. The reading is assigned the day of a test for completion before the next class meeting. Along with the page numbers for the reading assignment, an anticipation guide is distributed. This reading guide is developed by the content area professor and informed by the stated content objectives for the lesson and best practices of literacy teaching. As suggested by Adams, Pegg, and Case (2015), students are directed to read the questions on the guide (written in the center column of a three column sheet), write what they think the answer might be in the left column, then read the textbook to find the correct answer to the question. The correct answer is written in the right column along with a description of where in the text the answer was found (citation).
At the beginning of the next class, the professor quickly assigns a quiz grade—for completion only—to each student’s guide and breaks students into small groups. Each group is responsible for answering one of the reading guide questions and writing its answer on a piece of poster paper. After approximately five minutes, the professor directs the groups to move clockwise to stand in front of the next poster over. Each group then reads the work presented and writes comments and questions. After a few minutes, the professor directs each group to move clockwise again and to repeat the same process. This activity, called a gallery walk, continues until the groups have circled back to their own posters. Once facing its own poster, each group reads the comments and prepares to present the answer to their assigned question to the class.
The summative aspect of the lesson—presenting—allows students and the professor the opportunity to ask questions, highlight misconceptions, and reinforce big ideas. In order for professors to most successfully guide student presentations, a monitoring tool must be prepared by listing all of the possible ways a STEM reading question could be answered, both correctly and incorrectly, noting appropriate interventions (questions) aimed at clarifying, correcting, or reinforcing concepts and procedures relevant to the anticipation guide questions. During the presentations, students are responsible for both engaging in the conversation and taking notes on the content.
This lesson structure takes the place of the introductory lesson that a professor would otherwise present. In this way, students have the benefit of practicing reading, writing, and presenting in the content area. By using the scaffolding support (anticipation guide) suggested in the literature and holding students accountable for the reading (quiz grade) as recommended in Aagaard, Conner, and Skidmore (2014), textbook reading assignments, the gallery walk, and group presentations support student learning without adding to the already crowded curriculum by replacing professor presentation with the RWP protocol.
The anticipation guides discussed in class through the gallery walk and summative protocol support students' deep understanding and memory of the introductory content while scaffolding their ability to read for learning, write in the language of the discipline, and present to their peers. Reading guides, written to scaffold the skills needed to read introductory units of course textbooks effectively and used as the basis for a gallery walk lesson, aid students in transitioning from novice to educated STEM readers.
The pedagogy described above has been implemented and refined by the author each semester since its inception in 2015. In addition, students attest to the efficacy of this pedagogy in both their RWP skills and in their ability to cite their research. Sample comments from end-of-semester surveys are provided below:
The anticipation guides were
- A good experience that helped me learn the topics and helped me understand the textbook
- Fun; analyzing a math textbook seemed intense and impossible, but it was easy
- Motivating because they allowed the student to actually read the textbook and find information
The gallery walk was
- Good because we learned how to fix our own problems and talk about them
- A good perspective to see the thoughts of everyone
- Beneficial to me because I would see what I did right and wrong
- Helped me in gaining more understanding
- Helped me become more comfortable talking to a group
- Helped me learn the material
Aagaard, L., Conner, T. W., II, & Skidmore, R. L. (2014). College textbook reading assignments and class time activity. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 14(3), 132-145. http://dx.doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v14i3.5031
Adams, A. E., Pegg, J., & Case, M. (2015). Anticipation guides: Reading for mathematics understanding. Mathematics Teacher, 108(7), 498-504.
Sara Mastellone is Associate Professor, Mathematics, at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey.
Opinions expressed in Member Spotlight are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.