Nearly three years have passed since I wrote about academic reading circles here, the last being in September 2012 on the Visualiser role. I didn’t realise then that five posts on ARC would collectively build an online audience of nearly 5000 views. Looking back at the first ARC post ever, I had little intention of this activity becoming a central figure in my pedagogical repertoire, the focus of many talks, or my first foray into vended publication. But I’m very glad it has. While its evolution has never been a solitary task, with the support of colleagues willing to experiment and students embracing an unfamiliar classroom activity, my ownership over ARC has been ever present.  I feel responsible to share it with other teachers, clearly explain its value, gather evidence of its effects, and adapt accordingly. As I do so, my enthusiasm for working with students grows with every passing ARC cycle. So as the ARC book was released this week, it feels like a natural (and necessary?) time to look back at that first post and discuss the evolution from it to now.


“Likewise, the more you engage with a reading, the less work you’ll need to do later when using it as part of your research.”
This remains a key result of ARC: the idea of saving time in the long run. How I try now to impart this wisdom upon new ARC groups is through experience. By explicitly connecting the content of ARC texts to a writing assignment, project, or some other form of  assessment, students more often realise that the effort they put (or didn’t) into their roles during the ARC cycle impacts the time spent re-reading and writing later on.

“And despite strong encouragement, it’s rare that any student will fully grasp how to engage even if they have the gumption to run with it on their own. This has been my experience.”
Still true, though I’d like to clarify that it’s through examining the text–first individually with a defined role, then within group work–that improved comprehension and deeper engagement actually happens. How this individual work leads to co-constructive building of text comprehension is detailed within each role in the book much more than any blog post or lesson plan I’ve written.

“Each role needs really to serve two purposes: help engage with material and practice research essay skills.”
Reading and writing are twines in the same rope and therefore incorporating research and writing skills into the ARC roles is a natural partnership. The way in which this is done, however, has drastically refined since the first iteration of these roles out of experience. For example, amongst other seemingly connected duties, Highlighters used to examine author reference to outside sources, gather and define all unknown vocabulary, and check for indications of text formality (i.e. punctuation use, grammatical flexibility, etc.). Through experience, it became obvious that too many fragmented tasks led to little skill transfer to research and writing. You can’t rest on what you’ve always done when evidence reveals its ineffectiveness. Now, Highlighters solely focus on vocabulary use in the text: key terms, topically-related vocabulary, and tonal language. Not only does this lexical focus bring a narrowed purpose to the role, but it connects awareness to application.

“Otherwise, the Discussion Leader, Summariser, and Connector roles are fairly self-explanatory.”
Gone is the Summariser role. RIP. Efficiency wins out in the end. The Leader role absorbed the duty of summarising key points in the text since a) the Leader already establishes a baseline of comprehension among the group so summarising is a natural fit; and b) the workload across the roles was not equitable. Now it is, at least moreso. Plus, now you only need five students per group (often only four) instead of six: much more doable for the average ELT class size.

“A new feature added in this year is to reflect on the process each week before moving on…Beware, the answers vary from the extremely wishy-washy…to the more meaty… .”
I draw your attention to the warning. As time went on, the six reflection points mentioned in this post drew far more of the former type of answer or worse, lip-service to what it seemed students felt I wanted to hear. The bottom line: the answers I was looking for arose from emergent comments during the group work. The written reflections have moved much further toward a practical function: supporting the next person to have the role.

“Here are two quick videos of students giving it a go: 1st Week – 16 students, mostly Mandarin-speakers; Week 2 – 28 students, mainly Mandarin-speakers, 1 Russian, 1 Indonesian” 

arcs_2500Did anyone watch these videos from start to finish? I’m not sure I can build an evidence-based argument for their value… I can, however, confidently argue for ARC purpose, timeline, role duties, exemplar tasks, and downloadable activities in the book. It’s not a research paper, but it’s informed by research, much of which is listed in the further reading. It’s not a student book, but it’s a teacher resource book entirely aimed at helping students with reading. I’ve taken a very long time to transform this from a couple blog posts to a concrete text.

During this week since the release of the book, I have repeatedly stared at the pages on the round, Amazon, and Smashwords sites, and my copy on my iPad, with awe and disbelief. Maybe this feeling will dissipate over time, but I can’t believe this part of the ARC journey is finished and the next part can begin!

A sincere thank you to anyone who uses ARC with their students. Please let me know how it goes when you have the chance.

EDIT: If you use any information from this post, related ARC posts linked below, slideshares, or the book itself, please attribute it to Tyson Seburn, with a link to the related post, presentation, or book. Thank you!

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