Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
In order for a reader to truly engage with a text and begin to connect with it intellectually and emotionally, that text must be treated as a partner in the learning process. One way of making this engagement "hands-on" is for students to annotate, or "mark up," the texts they read. Marking can include underlining, writing comments in the margins, drawing symbols next to different sections, or any other form students find helpful and natural. This is a powerful way to bring home the idea that a text is not sacrosanct, but can be written on, reacted to, and "argued with," and that doing so is the natural habit of all proficient readers. Having students annotate as they read encourages them to be aware of what is going on in their minds as they process the information. Annotation can be a springboard to many other activities that use the reactions of the reader, from class discussion to essay writing.
To demonstrate the technique, the teacher can give students a photocopied text to read during class, with time left over for writing and discussing. This text should be copied in such a way that there is a lot of blank space left around the edges for taking notes. The teacher should read the first few paragraphs aloud to the students, then stop and ask them to take out their pens and "mark up" the text in some way that shows what they thought as they heard the lines. They might underline those lines that seemed most important, put question marks in the margin next to sections they didn't understand, circle words they didn't know, write reactions next to sections that caused an emotional response, or "talk back" to the writer in places where they feel moved to do so.
After giving students some time to try this, the teacher should ask them to share what they have done, with partners or with the class as a whole. It is best to hear from a range of people and collect a variety of responses. Teachers should refrain from judging the responses by deeming particular ones "good" or "bad"; students need to see that there is not a "right" answer. Some teachers might even want to share their own annotations with the class. It is important that teachers note the range of responses in the classroom and use them to make the point that every reader brings something different to the text.
This is a natural starting point for a range of reader-response activities. It reinforces habits that are second nature to proficient readers and shows students that their thoughts and reactions as they read are valuable. The technique can also be used to encourage students who are ordinarily reluctant to speak in whole-group settings; teachers can use it as a "scaffolding" step, preparing students before initiating large-group discussions. This will ensure that everyone has something to contribute. To add an additional step, the teacher can have students pair up before the whole-group discussion to share their annotations with a classmate. These students, by seeing that everyone has something different to say about the text, will be much more likely to venture their thoughts in a whole-class discussion.