Take5#4: Tackling Academic Reading

So – there we were W7 – and there they were, 63 first years, giving Poster Presentations to an audience of 70+ people. They had explored ‘learning spaces’ and constructed great arguments that referenced the reading (Thornburg and Giroux) and dazzled us with their Posters, their Prezis and their animations… It was thrilling

How did we reach this lofty pinnacle of academic practice?

Well – a couple of weeks before the Poster Presentations we prepared text-scrolls of just two key articles with which we wanted the students to engage:

Giroux’s article on lessons to be learned from Freire:


And Thornburg on metaphors of learning spaces:


We chose these to seed thinking about the pedagogical and physical spaces necessary for University teaching and learning – and as a prequel to the students’ own participant observations of the University’s formal and informal learning spaces.

Did you say Textmapping? Huh?
Textmapping (http://www.textmapping.org/index.html ) is an active reading strategy that involves using a text that has been turned into an A3 scroll. As a group, readers collectively mark up the text to show structure, content & relevance to their assignment. The fear of academic reading is broken down in the collective action on an enlarged text (yes – the big-ness is part of it) – and the point of reading is perceived when the texts are obviously relevant to an activity.

Seeding Poster presentations

Once our students had marked up their scrolls – we had them illustrate them – bringing the ideas alive with pictures and cuttings from newspapers and magazines. Thus, each group turned their reading notes into a poster-like collage – and subsequently presented their collage to the class.

That was W4; W5 they roamed the University in investigative groups… W6 we looked at presentation techniques and W7 – those wonderful Poster Presentations… and the surprising joy of hearing the seed articles used brilliantly to make sense of their mini-research projects.

If you are wrestling with Academic Reading, this textmapping really works – students start to see the point of reading – they lose their fear of reading – and they become successful at reading – what more could we want? 

Here’s what the Take5 website has on Promoting reading:

We know that academic reading is part of being a University student and that students must read. However, typically students resist and even fear academic reading. Do support academic reading with in-class activities – and possibly by setting ‘reading’ assignments: make some class time for students to learn how to read ‘academically’. 
See Study Hub:

reading: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/reading.html

referencing: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/referencing.html

Here are some activities that have worked with us:


Textmapping article on Formative Feedback

Compile annotated bibliographies

Real reading

Visual reading

Reading Dossier

Subject Dictionary

1: Textmapping:

Introduce students to the concept of active notemaking and reading (do use the Study Hub – and/or ask CELT for PPT sessions to teach from).

In groups: ask students to annotate A3 scrolls that you have prepared from articles that are interesting and challenging but quite short.

After they have been annotating for about seven minutes – feed in an assignment question that they should answer using the article. Tell them they have X-minutes to prepare a three-minute presentation. The notemaking should change quite dramatically – for now they are focussed and have a clear and urgent reason for the reading.

Each group presents – there is discussion.

Meta-reflection: How did the notemaking change when the assignment topic was introduced? What does this tell us about successful academic reading…?

2: Textmapping of Academic Writing article: Set students to read, annotate, engage with: Wilkinson S (08) ‘Optimising teaching and learning through the use of feedback on written assignments in History’ in Investigations Vol 5 (1) pp30-35

In groups: Produce 50-word essays on Either: Successful University writing Or Successful University reading.

Peer review essays, revise – post to own blogs… Reflect on the session… 

3: Compile online annotated bibliographies using Social bookmarking sites like Diigo or by using FaceBook as a Reading Journal.

4: Real reading: set students the task of finding a fresh, relevant journal article pertinent to your subject. After justifying their choice – each student has to produce a formal, short review of the article – pithy and well-written enough for publication. Publish the reviews in a class website.

5: Visual reading: set students the task of turning a relevant article into a comic book: for other students; for non-initiates; or for their auntie… (See https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Notes+as+comic+books&espv=2&biw=1152&bih=755&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=dUgQVI-rI9Lb7Aa3mICADg&ved=0CDEQsAQ )

6: Reading Dossier: set students the task of compiling a Reading Dossier or Journal wherein they make brief notes on ALL the reading they do for your course. Items recorded must be pertinent, adequately recorded for future referencing – and should be pithy (key words – not sentences); made memorable in some way (highlighting, mnemonics, illustrations); and hopefully should be tied to your assignments. Tip: Award prizes for the best Journal/Dossier.

7: Subject Dictionary: Especially suitable for first year students – in one specific module – or across a suite of modules – require students to produce their own Subject Dictionary for the people, theories, concepts that they are learning in your subject. As with a Reading Dossier, items recorded must be pertinent, adequately recorded for future referencing – and should be pithy (key words – not sentences); made memorable in some way (highlighting, mnemonics, illustrations); and hopefully should be tied to your assignments. Tip: Award prizes for the best Subject Dictionary.

#Take5 #3: World building

The apocalypse is over – we struggle out of our bunkers into the forlorn landscape. All is dust, rubble, destruction – and we have been tasked with world building:

  • What world would you build?
  • How do you ensure everybody is housed, in good health and well fed?
  • How will your world run?
  • How will you educate people?
  • What laws might be needed?
  • What are we talking about?

Simulations and role plays
Learning is intellectual and cognitive – learning is also embodied and emotional. Arguably, successful learning is active whole body learning. To facilitate whole body learning, we have devised a set of simulations and role plays that can be adapted for any subject – and that work at any level. We have embedded these into Education, Community Development and Law – but they can be tweaked to work in any subject.

WHY: Simulations and role plays have multiple purposes:

  • Excellent for getting students speaking with each other – starts to break down isolation and helps promote bonding
  • Reassures students that they are not alone in fears, misunderstandings and general feelings of being lost
  • Emphasises role of discussion in active learning
  • Improves the class atmosphere when everybody has bonded as a group of real people
  • Promotes critical and analytical thinking – and the ability to construct evidenced arguments.

HOW: So we have devised a set of three simulations – and a couple of other activities – that take people through several different role plays:

  1. It’s WW3 you and nine other people are in your bunker  – you cannot all survive – who goes and who stays?   Never can tell… When undertaken with Law students – five groups of 10 – not one group saved the lawyer.  A point not lost on the cohort – or the tutor. Undergraduate law students could see a world without Lawyers!   Progress?
  2. The Apocalypse is over  – you emerge from the bunker – what do you do now? This discussion has students thinking about what is needed for society to function – and whether or not they want to strive for things like equity and social justice.
  3. Learning, self-efficacy and the fear of failure
    We return to our post-holocaust scenario – but part of the preamble for the third session is a discussion on learning – and the fear of failure. We briefly mention resilience, self-efficacy, models of success – and the belief that ‘we can’… and then ask students how they would build self-efficacy in the embryonic communities emerging from the rubble…
  4. Role play and critical thinking: Discussion to resolve Moral dilemmas (resources available): Students in pairs discuss and resolve a moral dilemma. Tip: Get students to draw the issue and the resolution.
  5. Role play – students as producers: after engaging in role play and simulation work, require students to design and develop ideas for role plays to tackle key course topics, theoretical issues and/or concepts. Students can devise their ideas, produce supporting resources – and trial their simulations with groups of fellow students…

The phoenix will rise from the ashes

… but better – fairer – kinder – wiser!

Not only do students tend to enjoy the talking, thinking, debating; when these activities take place in the first few weeks of a course, students start to make friends – they feel more comfortable in the class – and they feel happier with more people … AND – it keeps them guessing!

And students said:

What can I say?! This was the “game” I have enjoyed the most, even more than the one of the previous week. It helped growing my “SENSE OF DUTY”, the future society was now in my hands too. This “game” was very well designed, because it was something more than a game, it was a real LIFE EXPERIENCE.

My group was very WELL-MATCHED, brilliant and logical ideas, sharing and absolute respect for others.

I will remember this experience, because I have learnt a lot from it. I have LEARNT the importance of listening to others; I have LEARNT to respect others’ ideas and, most important, I have LEARNT to assign the right value to all the small things that life offers to us (food, water, a house …) that we, sometimes, take for granted.

We have downloadable resources supporting these activities on the website:
http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/take5/index.html – and we are more than happy to send PowerPoint slides and handouts!!

PLEASE email us if you want more information<span “font-size:12.0pt;=”” font-family:”trebuchet=”” ms””=””> – AND if you would like to share YOUR simulation/role play activities with more people:



Further reading

Simulations for Economics: https://www.economicsnetwork.ac.uk/handbook/printable/games_v5.pdf

Usable ideas: http://www.joe.org/joe/1989summer/tt1.php

What would Wikipedia say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roleplay_simulation

Take5: It’s week two, I’m on my knees – but here’s a post on Inquiry Based Learning!

Last week we met our new students – typically faced with lecture theatres full of unknown faces – exuding anxiety – or hiding their stress behind faces of studied nonchalance – or boredom – or both! Adrenalin and cortisol levels were flying high – everybody’s brains shrank to the size of a pea and panic ensues as we realise that we have forgotten everything – remembered nothing – impostors all.

So – the Take5 question for us was, could we find a different way to introduce a module that did not involve us telling and the students forgetting everything we said… and we felt that we had some of the answer in Inquiry Based Learning – taking a little detour through Object Based Learning.

Inquiry Based Learning (IBL): as the name suggests – encourages a more curiosity-driven approach to teaching and learning.  Proponents of this approach recommend that we:

  1. Are flexible
  2. Foster inquiry by scaffolding curiosity
  3. Design a course architecture for participation
  4. Teach the students, not the subject
  5. Provide opportunities for experiential learning
  6. Embrace failure as part of the learning process
  7. Are not boring – and that we
  8. Foster joy.

(See http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/03/creating-classrooms-we-need-8-ways-into-inquiry-learning/ . This blog looks at IBL with a focus on school students – but the aims are the same.)

Object Based Learning: Similarly, using Objects to provoke inquiry when teaching encourages students to generate questions – to explore a topic – to develop their own understanding in a very immersive way. We could say that introducing Objects for students to explore is one way to scaffold inquiry.

Our Leader Our Object

So – in our module, instead of telling the students about the module – we asked them to produce questions that they would like to ask. The group collectively produced 20 questions for the module leader (who bravely acted as our object for the day) – and they were great – ranging from ‘How will we be assessed… and how many assessments are there on the course?’ through ‘What is a workshop… what is the ‘inquiry’ part of the course – is the course more practical or more theory based?’ … ‘What is an educationalist – how is an educationalist different from a teacher’ … ‘What’s more important – the government or the student?’ … ‘Why study education… and can an educationalist change society?’ (Yes we can!) … ‘What is a peer mentor?’

By the end of the morning – and through the magic of discussion – we’d covered the course, its design, the assessments, some hopes and fears … (Um… we’re going to have to do a PERFORMANCE?!?!) – and doled out packets of porridge.

What others have done:

Frank Marsh –Intel & Law Enforcement

I have found the best way to teach critical thinking [is through OBL/IBL] . Pair your students up and then put an object in front of your class and tell them they have two minutes to write down 20 questions about that object. Why? Critical thinking is directly connected to the quantity and quality of the questions we ask. If I ask you a question and you give me an answer you are not thinking but regurgitating info. If I ask you a question and you ask me back 2 questions now I know you are thinking. Now take a topic your class is working on and give each group 2 minutes to write down 20 questions about that topic. Now give them 10 minutes to sort and organize their questions into 3 groups. Next ask them to answer their questions. Next ask them to organize their answers into a presentation.

A bit more about Objects and Inquiry

If you are interested in Object Based Learning you might want to check out UCL’s website – they offer opportunities for working with students across the curriculum (get your hands on their Dodo bones!):


If you are interested but do not think that you can make the physical museums – check out their e-resources:


If you are already using OBL/IBL in your practice – please tell us about it – share your tips and tricks!!

Week Zero – And so it begins!!

Welcome to Take5!

So – it’s Week Zero (W0): another day another dollar; another Semester and another Year.  Change is all around and we can’t help noticing doing Inductions and Preparation for Study courses how things move on. Buildings, rooms, modules, staff and of course students – all moving – all changing – and all diverse. ‘Diverse’ could be a prefix for London Met – and no matter what sort of student you have taught before – it’s all changing again.

Everybody is already exhausted and wondering where the summer went … and here we are – the Take5 project – trying to inveigle you into something that probably looks like yet more work – what’s that all about?

Take5: pick up and go teaching tips for time poor lecturers

Take5 is designed to help all of us working at London Met to share our passion for teaching and learning; helping our students to (learn how to) act powerfully within this strange beast that is University. Take5 is also for anybody working in urban, diverse spaces – and in emancipatory ways. We want you to share your passion and your ideas!

Take5 will offer ‘pick up and go’ teaching tips via our website (http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/take5/index.html) and this blog – and hope that you share your tips and tricks via the Comments section.

CPD note: Take5 can be a valuable part of our CPD – and participating can generate evidence for PRD and for HEA Fellowship applications.

A thumbnail of what we aim to cover in Take5 is:

Embedding Academic literacies and Learning Development: Typically seen to include: notemaking, reading, group work, presentation & seminar skills, positive thinking, memory, revision & exam techniques, reflective learning… – we will make suggestions as to how to embed these practices within the curriculum – BUT not in any sense in a remedial way. Yes – tricky!

Developing a digital student: The learning landscape is digital – and we want our students to operate successfully in a digital world. We make suggestions on how to develop digital literacies with our students. Quick tip:  We get students blogging-to-learn and have found that the quasi-academic writing of the blog helps them to process their learning and write better essays.

Visual and creative strategies: *All* students (not just art and media ones) benefit from being stretched visually and creatively – it develops digital literacy, supports analytical and critical thinking, builds self-esteem – and practically helps with notemaking and things like poster presentations.

Simulations and role plays: We have found that simulations and role plays early on in any course help students to think – to speak – and to bond with other students – thus improving behaviour in class – and promoting happier and more successful students who really *get* analytical and critical thinking.

Promoting discussion: talking with others does not come easily for many of our students: this is just an opportunity to fail – to show their weaknesses… So building in activities like Topic Mediated Dialogue, Image Mediated Dialogue and Debates really help our students to conquer their fears and find their academic voices.

IBL & PBL: Problems and Projects: Rather than ‘teaching’ the whole course, we recommend that staff set problems, challenges and projects that cover key Learning Outcomes. When challenged in this way, students exceed expectations – and lose the idea that teaching is about spoon-feeding.

Writing – Writing in the Disciplines/Writing Across the Curriculum: Building in many short, meaningful – and not remedial – writing tasks helps students discover the art of writing to learn – and breaks down their fear of writing and fear of failure.