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Journal Article: Using paper scrolls to teach reading and writing in higher education classrooms

I would like to share with you a case study, just published, in which graduate students at London Metropolitan University were introduced to the idea of using paper scrolls to address the academic reading needs of non-traditional, international, and learning disabled students. They found this simple, ancient book format to be more welcoming, accessible, and collaborative than the codex (bound book); they found that it provides for a better dialogic encounter with reading.  

This work was anchored in the UK at LondonMet by Sandra Sinfield, Tom Burns, and Sandra Abegglen.  I contributed from the US (Dave Middlebrook). The article appears in the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, and is available here.  You might also find it helpful to view some photos of students using scrolls.  To that end, here is a pretty good collection of photos on twitter, from K-12 teachers in the US.

We encourage you to ask questions on this discussion thread and on twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

Dave Middlebrook's picture
Ten

My apologies for not making the link to the article clearer: https://journal.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.php/jldhe/article/view/467/pdf

Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, Issue 14, April 2019

 

 

 

Michelle Candy's picture
First

Hi Dave--thanks for sharing the research and, by extension, your methodology. I've got lots of ideas now on how I might use this technique with my corrections ABE students. Biggest issue I can see is lack of space to spread the text out.

Dave Middlebrook's picture
Ten

Hi Michelle. I am glad that you are considering trying scrolls and textmapping.

I do realize that you are working in a correctional institution, and that your students are academic outsiders in need of emancipatory teaching practices. With that as preface, my suggestion for a first lesson would be to divide your class into small groups of 3-5, and have them scroll one section – international, national, sports, arts, style/fashion, business – of a major national or international broadsheet newspaper (Wash Post, NYTimes, LATimes, Wall St. Journal, Economist, Guardian, etc). You'll need two copies of the paper for each scroll, because each leaf has two sides. Turn the entire section into a scroll (Just one section to start). Scroll the entire section, every page, including advertisements. There will be a lot to discuss (Consider how each advertisement attempts to manipulate us)!

Your students can do this. You need not worry about the reading level – in fact, that is kind of the point. This is all about visual thinking – seeing structure through the lens of typography (typography is not just the fonts; it is everything on the printed page: fonts and styling, headings and subheadings, paragraph breaks, illustrations, and even the use of space), seeing the range of articles and topics, and seeing how they are all assembled into the paper as a whole.

Have your students draw a brown box (just an example; use any colors you like, or just black pecil or pen) around every illustration, a green box around every headline, and a blue box around every article. Then ask them to focus on images and headlines – read the headlines and study the photos, and predict what each article will be about. Also ask them if they can see related articles placed close to each other; ask them what these articles have in common as well as what differences there might be in terms of the angle or viewpoint of the reporting. As they get more involved in their predictions, you can have them pick an article and read the first clause of each paragraph. Just the first clause. Then use thinking strategies, such as coming up with questions, predictions, connections, etc. Then if they want to dig deeper, have them read the last sentence of each paragraph, and use thinking strategies. Then the first few paragraphs at the beginning and the end, and use strategies. And then, if they are still engaged, the first and last sections of the article, and strategies. Finally, if they are still on board, have them read the entire article and use strategies. All along, have them highlight in yellow all unfamiliar words, and use context, roots, etc. to infer meaning (They can learn this stuff quickly when it is taught in context). And always keep dictionaries handy.

Just to be clear: I am starting from the assumption that your students are weak decoders with limited working vocabularies. Even so, they can do this. Some will stop at the surface (but perhaps will go further next time, or the time after that). Others go deep right away. Let them decide what they are comfortable doing. Odds are, every student will find an article that will pull them in. That's the hook. Don't tug too hard on the line; it might break. Just keep playing it. Let them engage on their own terms. The peer instruction and joint problem-solving that happen in small groups will be helpful in this regard. And reading the paper – albeit at a surface level – will be empowering and motivating for them. Remember: reading has socio-political implications – and the newspaper is perhaps the most empowering if you know how to read it and, simultaneously, disempowering if you don't, of all texts.

As for your concern about space, this is a very real issue. Today's New York Times A-section is 34 pages. That means that your scroll will be 34 feet long! And you will need at least one scroll for every 3-5 students! But you can set aside this concern. I have had this conversation with many teachers at all levels – P-12 and college – and in the end, after trying scrolls a few times, they all tell me that the space issue just doesn't matter to them anymore. In fact, it's why scrolls are so effective. Space is a critical part of the equation. Teachers see the benefits of space-hogging scrolls – multisensory engagement, real conversations, active use of strategies, greatly-improved comprehension – and they realize that they can fix the space issue: They can take down a bunch of posters on their walls, or move to the hallways, or combine desks to make tables, or use the floors (the floors are really popular). They can see the value of scrolls, so the space problem just goes away.

So perhaps this will help you get started. Any questions? Let me know how it goes! Thank you for your interest!

Leecy's picture
One hundred
Dave, I found the scrolling concept fascinating and remember coming across that idea earlier in another context, which I can't place right now. 
 
The article that you referenced helped me understand the scrolling concept better. It certainly opened me up to revisiting reading skills as "not just as a semantic or linguistic activity but as a socio-political one (Freire, 1970)." Your literature review also "categorically placed reading at university as a socio-political activity." 
 
I appreciate your conclusion that "Rather than exclusion and alienation, dialogue and empathy (Rogers, 1959) are promoted as everybody engages with text, with meaning, and with each other." I wonder if others have found similar outcomes using scrolls among our lower-level ABE/ASE/ESL students. 
 
Thanks for sharing this information with us. Leecy
Jeri Gue's picture
One hundred

Dave,

I have not used scrolls in an academic setting, but I found this very appealing.   I especially found the "active" sense of the scroll very interesting - in that students and instructors are able to stand up and move about the text.  So, students are interacting visually and physically.  I see this as very important for all students, especially ESL and SLD students.  

Thank you for sharing, Jeri

Dave Middlebrook's picture
Ten

Hi Jeri. You might find my earlier reply to Michelle (subject: "Thank-you for sharing"; she is also a corrections educator) to be of some interest. I am interested in trying a small test with scrolls inside a corrections classroom. Worth a conversation? I'm close by (New Jersey).

Dave Middlebrook's picture
Ten

Hi Leecy. My reply to Michelle (subject: Thank-you for sharing) might be of interest.

. I am pleased that you connect to the question of academic outsiders and emancipatory teaching. It's a huge issue in education; so many students struggling for a stunning variety of reasons. If the plan is for universal college education, at least at the community college level, we have a lot of work to do. Our kids are not ready. Our schools are not preparing them for college. Or perhaps more accurately, reading-expectations have changed; the bar has been raised. It's a different world, and our teaching has not kept pace.

I was so pleased when Sandra Sinfield and Tom Burns of LondonMet expressed an interest in writing an article on scrolls as an emancipatory teaching practice. I would be very interested in working on a similar project here in the US. Might you be interested in collaborating?

Leecy's picture
One hundred
If I were teaching writing per se right now, I would jump at the chance at collaborating! Thanks, Dave.
 
I don't think anyone would argue that "we have a lot of work to do. Our kids are not ready. Our schools are not preparing them for college." You continue that "reading-expectations have changed; the bar has been raised. It's a different world, and our teaching has not kept pace." 
 
Would you share a little more about how reading expectations have changed? How has the bar been raised? Are you referring to the type of reading required by widespread Web resources, higher reading levels required for entering technical jobs, or other realities? I would love to hear more. In my view, "our" teaching has never kept pace and our kids (and adults) have generally never really been ready. What are your thoughts and those of others here? Leecy
mindbodydave's picture
Ten

Wow, Dave!  I dig this practice!  I've done timeline writing with my students, but it is usually simple and makes its way to traditional sentence and paragraph writing.  

This approach has all sorts of possibilities.  I look forward to reading your article--beyond just looking at the Twitter pics! 

Thank you for sharing!

Dave

Dave Middlebrook's picture
Ten

Hi Dave. Glad you like it! I would definitely recommend scrolls for writing. It's great for big-picture questions, such as whether one's draft is as organized as hoped, and how it can be fixed. Glad to help you get started. Just let me know.

Jeri Gue's picture
One hundred

Dave,

After reading your first post, I began to look for additional information about using scrolls.  No surprise to you, I found a previous discussion in this LINCS CoP dated November 29, 2012, Scrolls and Textmapping -- for Strategies and Content Instruction: https://community.lincs.ed.gov/discussion/scrolls-and-textmapping-strategies-and-content-instruction.  For anyone interested it is well worth the time to go back and read this discussion.  I especially found interesting your use of color coding during the process of textmapping.  This adds, yet another dimension, to a very visual and interactive comprehension activity.  

There seems to be several examples of using scrolls and textmapping in higher education.  Has there been any documentation of using these strategies in ABE?

Thank you again for sharing, Jeri

Stephanie Lindberg's picture
Ten

I read about this when it was posted and tried it out last week. We used a short article from the Washington Post (six pages) that some students had read for homework. We are working on argumentative writing, and this article definitely had an argumentative bent, but we discussed some ways that the text looked different from an academic essay might. I began by giving students highlighters and asked them to just look at the text and share their observations. It was a small group, so we fit around one big round table and had the text across the middle of the table. Immediately, my students were drawing and talking about the text. Someone commented that there were bolded questions followed by regular text. There were subheadings that were separated from the text. There was a short biography of the writer at the end. There were paragraphs, but none were indented, there were just line breaks to separate the paragraphs. Someone noticed that the gray text was probably links to related articles, as this was an online article.

We had a great discussion about layout and design of an online article and how it is different from other types of writing. I also teach composition at a community college and plan to replicate this during the next semester. 

Thanks for sharing!

Stephanie

Dave Middlebrook's picture
Ten

Hi Stephanie. Might you be interested in working together to design a simple case study for the Fall term, and then writing it up for a journal?