Using Annotations to Support Reading

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In our last post, we highlighted the need for faculty to think more intentionally about the ways in which they support student reading, particularly in college writing courses.  This might sound like it requires large-scale changes in teaching, but it doesn’t have to: we can start small.   In fact, the theme of this year’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning (ITL) Conference should help us realize that: “Small Changes, Big Impact.”  With that theme in mind and the conference just two days away(!), we thought that we would share a small change that can help us better support our students’ engagement with reading.

In her blog post “Annotation for Smarties – 5 Tips for Teaching Students Active Reading and Critical Thinking,” Jori Krulder briefly discusses her reasons and strategies for using annotation exercises to support her AP Literature students’ reading practices.  While she mentions that she uses annotations for a variety of purposes, her basic motivation is to help her students “think critically about what they read … [and] to actively engage with a text.”  The challenge, Krudler admits, is helping her students understand what it means to annotate.  Thus, her first tip urges students to put down the highlighter and take up the pen(cil).  That’s because annotation isn’t about highlighting every word that might be important but about engaging with the ideas that are.  In light of this, Krulder advises her students to comment on the text as they read: “forcing themselves to write their reason for underlining makes them consider their thoughts about that text, focusing and deepening their analysis.”

To support student identification of what is important, Krulder offers another strategy: modeling.  “When I’m introducing annotation, I show my students my own mental processes while reading, thinking out loud while writing on a text on the SmartBoard at the front of my room. I underline words and phrases, writing questions and comments and talking through my thought process as I go.”  Modeling is a particularly important strategy in writing-intensive courses that are built around the concept of initiation into a community or profession; it can help novices understand the kinds of information professionals use and the questions they ask about that information.

So what are the small changes that we can make here?  Talk with your students about how they annotate when they read, model what good annotations might look like, and consider assigning some annotation activities.

You can read Krulder’s full post by clicking on this link.

If you are attending Mason’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning this week, be sure to check out one of the sessions focusing on reading:

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