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Common Reading Teaching Guide makes debut

For the first time in its 16-year existence, the Washington State University Common Reading Program has produced a detailed guide to help faculty and staff better use this year’s common book strategically and effectively in classes, assignments, activities, and programming.

“The 58-page booklet is online and packed with information, ideas, examples, and references to bring to life the 2022-23 book, Braiding Sweetgrass, for first-year and other students in creative and even fun ways,” said Samantha Solomon, principal investigator on the grant that funded the guide’s creation. 

“The project for me personally was very rewarding, as I had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues who made me think about the content in a new way,” she said. “I also think this guide will be helpful to many people in the WSU community who want to use the common book but aren’t sure what role it could play in their learning environment.”

Solomon is a member of the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement (DAESA)’s First-year Programs, the home of the common reading. Her grant teammates are: Julian Ankney, Dept. of English; Corey Johnson, WSU Libraries; Karen Weathermon, First-year Programs; and Kara Whitman, School of the Environment. 

“The teaching guide is available to everyone, and this is also the first year that the common book itself is available as a free download for students and everyone who wants to use it, thanks to WSU Libraries,” said Weathermon, program director. “While the guide provides plenty of information, we welcome users’ tips and suggestions about additional teaching ideas and resources that can be added to the guide throughout the year.” 

An inaugural TCI IDEA grant

Support for the guide came from a competitive Transformational Change Initiative (TCI) Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) grant announced in late spring. The grants joined several recent key WSU priorities and commitments in the provost’s office that promote IDEA.

“It’s rewarding to see that the project is having an impact so soon after being awarded grant funds,” said Erika Offerdahl, TCI director.

“The Common Reading teaching guide is the first product resulting from the inaugural set of four TCI IDEA-funded grants. We’re looking forward to receiving summary information on the teaching guide effort next spring, just about the time the second round of grants will become available.”

About the guide

The guide is divided into sections that include creating community and a sense of belonging; use of the common reading for WSU learning goals; campus, community, collection, and exhibit resources; and a Braiding Sweetgrass list of topics. The first half of the guide gives tips and examples that teachers could employ to help students personalize the book’s lessons, and details discussion-stimulating techniques and activities like jigsaw groups, using Canvas for students’ posts of quotes and news, a believing-and-doubting game, and the use of apps. The guide also breaks down ways to engage students in the WSU learning goals of critical and creative thinking, quantitate reasoning, scientific literacy, information literacy, communication, diversity, and depth, breadth, and integration of learning.

“All members of the team that created the guide are educators or provide teaching assistance, so it was natural and easy for us to tap into our personal experiences from many disciplines for these,” said Solomon.

The second half of the guide primarily deals with various types of resources that teachers using the common book could tap into to further bring the lessons to life for students. Examples include WSU and indigenous resources, Palouse Native ecology resources, and those available through the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art; Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC) in the libraries; and the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation.

The guide’s final resource section deals directly with this year’s common book. By Robin Wall Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi NationBraiding Sweetgrass is made up of essays that touch on topics such as ecology, climate change, sustainability, cultural heritage, and knowledge.

“Robin Wall Kimmerer will deliver a presentation to WSU students and community members in late January, so having the guide available this fall gives faculty and staff several months to use it ahead of time to acquaint our students in meaningful ways with the big ideas presented in the book,” said Weathermon.

The guide in the program

The guide team intends that the booklet will be updated each year, using specific examples from that academic year’s chosen book.

Common readings at WSU are used to create opportunities for WSU to share common intellectual ground with students.  Topics from each book are used in classes, residence halls, advising, and campus programs to raise opportunities for an exchange of ideas and knowledge across a broad range of university disciplines. Year-long presentations by guest experts from WSU and beyond invite interdepartmental collaborations that enrich information and learning available to all students.

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