November 7, 2021

The “golden line” as an inclusive and equitable classroom strategy

Posted by Laura Guertin

I first learned about the “golden line” approach with students from colleague Dr. Kaatje Kraft (Whatcom Community College). We were in the same pod for the URGE (Unlearning Racism in Geoscience) program in early 2021 (see my blog post on my URGE experience), and Dr. Kraft brought this equity-based strategy to our discussions on assigned readings. This was such an effective tool for engaging our 12-member pod, I wanted to learn more and try the approach with my own students.

The idea of “golden lines” comes from WestEd’s Reading Apprenticeship. This evidence-based instructional approach supports “both academic and social-emotional learning (social, personal, cognitive, and knowledge-building),” and is modeled “to develop student academic identity, engagement, subject-area knowledge, and disciplinary literacy” (learn more from WestEd). This is how Dr. Kraft explains her approach to using golden lines with her students in her introductory-level Natural Disasters course:

Students are assigned readings and videos each week and asked to select a golden line from each passage that particularly resonated with them, they felt best captured the reading/video, or something that left them with confusion, and to explain their selection and then pose one question for each golden line to their peers. Students were then required to answer two different peer questions to engage in the content more deeply from the text itself or an outside source. This process models a more Socratic and inclusive approach to teaching in which some students lead a discussion while others engage in asking questions of their peers.  —  Kraft (2021), Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 53(6): doi: 10.1130/abs/2021AM-368143

Dr. Kraft has also published a full teaching activity on the NAGT Teach the Earth portal, titled Climate, Climate Change, and Racism, complete with teaching notes and a grading rubric.

With our URGE pod, we used the golden line approach with our two-week curricular units. We met in Zoom for discussions every two weeks, and in-between those live meetings, we were assigned articles to read and a video presentation to watch. Our pod set up a Google Doc where each of us could add our golden lines from the readings/presentation with an explanation. This allowed us to also comment on each other’s golden lines and engage in asynchronous exchanges about the content leading up to our pod coming together for discussion.

I decided to try the golden line approach in my asynchronous web course this semester, with modifications from Dr. Kraft’s approach. I’m having students read an essay each week from the anthology All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis in my introductory-level course for non-STEM majors on climate change. I didn’t want students to just summarize what they were reading for me. Instead, I require students to identify two golden lines from the essay and explain why they selected these lines, their connection to their selections, etc. Students enter the lines and the reasoning in a learning journal set up in Google Docs they add to throughout the semester.

As an instructor, I’ve never seen such incredible reflection and application of the course material as I have through these golden line assignments. And in a course of 60 students, rarely am I seeing the same sentence(s) selected by more than one student, which confirms for me that each student is able to connect their own identities and prior knowledge to what they are reading. I comment on the student golden line summaries in their individual learning journals, and it has been an incredible opportunity for me to make a connection with these students I never get to see in class and to help them grow with the course content. But despite the back-and-forth I am having with students, I do think there will be even more of an impact, growth, and connection to the discipline if I can get the students exchanging with each other. I’ll be teaching in person in the spring semester, and I am looking forward to utilizing current event news stories and carving some time out in each class period for a short read, reflection, and discussion with the golden line approach.

There are several other examples of how golden lines could be utilized with students one can find online – for example, see how Renton Technical College used the golden line approach when listening to Amanda Gorman recite her Presidential Inauguration poem The Hill We Climb (see The Hill We Climb Canvas discussion post).

There are so many benefits to using golden lines as a learning strategy, and I feel this teacher blog post summarizes the key points that make this an effective, inclusive and equitable pedagogy:

  1. Readers can identify with different ideas;
  2. It allows choice and provides access to others’ thinking;
  3. It honors a reader’s connections to text by inviting individual interpretation;
  4. This process surfaces confusions, misconceptions, and allows for support in comprehension and revision techniques for writing; and,
  5. It gives students agency.

I encourage instructors to consider using the golden line approach with students, within faculty professional development circles, and in any situation that would all all individuals to reflect upon material, make a personal connection, and then articulate the meaning of the material through written or verbal communication with others.