Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I'm getting ready for the new school year that starts in April and I have been thinking about my upcoming lessons. One of the skills that students learn during the first few weeks of my class is annotation. While reading fiction and nonfiction texts, I encourage students to mark important information and take notes. Although each student is free to develop his or her own system of annotating, I do provide some instruction on the basic methods. In general, it seems like a skill that students tend to improve by practicing and comparing annotations. Peer and teacher feedback on annotation can also help students refine their system. 

During our EVO session, Carla, Karen, and I have been discussing this general topic through blog posts and comments. Carla wrote a post, Learning by Retrieval: Forget Highlighting. I started thinking that annotating is a step above highlighting because the reader is more engaged with the text and can use these annotations at a later date to help prepare for an examination or essay. Karen's post, Are Tags the Answer further explored the ideas of marking texts and retrieving online information though tagging. Although everyone has different preferred methods, the key point is that students need to USE their annotation! By simply asking students to compare annotations, summarize main points of the text, or write review questions, they can revisit the content. Furthermore, students need to take one more step and reflect on their readings and annotations too. By engaging in class discussions, writing responses, or even dramatizing scenes from a novel, students need to revisit the text, their notes, and their understanding; these will lead to deeper processing.

I think annotating and notetaking serve several important purposes. One is to be an active reader. Another is to make thinking visible through writing questions, connections, summaries, or ideas. Annotating can even be a way to communicate with others. Most of us have the experience of borrowing a book from a friend, buying a used textbook, or paging through an old, forgotten book in the family library. These books and their notes are windows to the minds of those who read the words before us.


Gretchen Clark said...

HI Mary--Interesting post! As an extension to annotations, I have found that paraphrasing and summarizing of material also helps students think more deeply about the material. I would suggest a system where the students combines some sort of consolidation (such as paraphrasing or summarizing) + annotation where the student reacts to the content by evaluating it, analyzing it, questioning it or what have you might be a good combination. I don't teach literature classes like you, but I have the students do a bit of the above after more input oriented lessons on essay writing skill. Being able to write a summary or paraphrase of material learned AND react to it shows learning at a high level, I think. Nice post!

Mary H said...

I agree! Summarizing and paraphrasing are key skills for students. As part of the annotation process, students should write a brief summary at the end of the article or the end of each chapter of a novel.

If you have any good ideas for teaching paraphrasing, let me know! It is something that most students struggle with, so I'm always looking for new ways of teaching it.