Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
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Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
An Educator's Reading List of Contemporary Literature, Literacy, and Reading Issues. Visit us at
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How Annotation Reshapes Student Reading

How Annotation Reshapes Student Reading | Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading |
How Annotation Reshapes Student Reading
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:

I wanted to like this article a bit more than I did like it. But, it does contain several elements of really good ideas and reasoning behind annotating as one reads to make the article well-worth consideration.


My only reservations being the tone implying that there is essentially only one way to annotate that is effective and that straying from that "way" is counterproductive. I don't doubt that for the author his or her (?) annotation method are sufficiently effective to justify which elements of annotation and marginalia work and don't work.


And, I have no doubt that for students yet to have discovered the value of annotation, that the suggestions are excellent starting points for incorporating the practice into their reading habit.


And in my own case, I certainly find the case for employing highlighting and marginalia as far more effective than attempting to accomplish similar goals via note taking on paper in a notebook "away" from the original text where one not only has to record thoughts but also has to scribble at least bits and pieces of the text being thought about in order to solidify the connection of thoughts to to text provoking those thoughts. 


And, if and when literally used for review purposes, which is a common practice, though in many cases, the act of writing notes and marginalia can be amazingly affective whether reviewed or not, it is for many quite a bit more off-putting to have to read and review ping pong style; shifting one's eyes back and forth between what is written in the book and what is written in a note book about what is written in a book.


Alternate thoughts based upon my classroom observations about annotation strategies...


Yes connecting highlighting with symbols is a great practice. Yet, by highlighting using a color-coding system can often accomplish the same sort of benefit in one-fewer steps. That is perhaps one might create a color code of highlights with a system such as using yellow to highlight one thematic thread, while using blue to highligh a separate thematic thread. Or using one color to represent vocabulary of interest or importantance while using another color to highlight what might be the essential articulation of a paragraph or page's focus. The possibilities are endless. It can be as simple as choosing one color to note topic sentences, another to note evidence, and a third to note commentary. A quick scan of highlights by color and THEN by any textual annotation associated with the highlights of the same color builds a strong bridge between those highlights throughout a reading. 


And to a certain extent, I'd agree that marginalia such as "Wow!" can be even richer when notation of the reason for the exclamatory remark is included, though I would not be so presume to suggest that without the additional notation "doesn't warrant taking up space." Wow!" is an indicator of having had a joyful Vygotskian moment so significant that the notation may amount to little more than a redundancy or, perhaps worse, an attempt to guess what a teacher might want one to say about the point.


However, on the other hand, I am much more in agreement when the personal reactions is "Boring!" On one hand "Wow!" is a very personalized connection to a mind opening moment, while "Boring!" is in many ways merely a pre-emptive articulation of one's closed mind moment. 


I prefer color coding with RED myself to indicate a passage that I have serious reservations about, YELLOW to indicate passages that I have mixed feelings about and GREEN to indicate passages where I might have written "Wow!" and then if needed, I'd jot just a very brief few words of reminder regarding why I color-coded as I had. In the case of the RED highlights, by defining them as passages I have serious reservations about, I focus more upon the reasoning behind the red highlight than upon a sort of automated no further thought required dismissal. 


Why do I use RED, YELLOW and GREEN? Personally the connection to traffic lights helps me remember the meaning I've assigned to the colors. When students asked what they should do if they didn't have a RED (pink) highlighter, I always replied that they could use any colors they wished, I just use these colors because they have a mnemonic impact on me.


The code is personal not prescribed. For example, when I'm working on a Google Lit Trip, I use GREEN to highlight any information of value regarding placemark locations. Why? Green = the color of place; at least often enough that it works for me. I use BLUE to highlight passages where I might be able to find an engaging interet site to explain or supplement references made in a passage. Why? Because traditionally BLUE is the most common color for text links on the internet. 


One related strategy I'd suggest for students who express a concern for their ability to concentrate on or remember important elements of a reading assignment, was the use of tiny post-its. Rather than suggest that they should pay closer attention or worse that they really "ought to be able to read at a level where this shouldn't be an issue, I'd suggest that they try the following for just 3-4 reading assignments.


As soon as you get to the end of a page, or possibly the end of a two page spread, STOP and jot on a post-it as few words as need to remind you of what plot element(s) occurred on that page or spread. 


Don't worry about spelling, complete sentences, or grammar. Just pause and note as you go. In fact, I tell them that I won't even check to see if they've done this. I'll only note whether they happen to be participating more often in class discussions.


Invariably, by intentionally interrupting the attention drift at consistent brief intervals and designing that interruption to be as short as possible by removing concern for spelling, grammar etc., attentiveness is enhanced signficantly. And, I was always amused by the students who after only a couple of days confess to me that they actually have "discovered a short cut." It usually sounded something like this....


"Hey Mr. Burg, Guess what! I figured out a way to do this even faster. Instead of reading a page and then stopping to think about what I would write on the post-it before reading the next page, I started thinking about what I would write on the post-it WHILE I was reading the page so that I didn't have to stop and think about what I would write before I wrote the post-it note."


Always proud of having figured out a short cut, I always grinned at their "discovery," patted them on the shoulder and congratulated them for discovering "the secret."


So, I guess my bottom line on this particular article is that it is well-worth reading as it does focus upon extremely valuable strategies and offers several quite logical rationales for the practice of annotation while reading. My only concern is the tone suggesting that one shoe can fit all feet. Or, perhaps that regardless of size, one shoe style is the right shoe style for everyone.


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"Google Lit Trips" is the official fictitious business name of GLT Global ED, an educational nonprofit






Claire Williams's curator insight, September 3, 2013 7:27 PM

   This artical, shows not only what an annotation is but how to do so and how to teach it. It also shows reaons why it can be helpful and places you can use it. 

     There is also more to this artical than bears the eye, it involves other teaching techiques in the artical such as asking questions whaen reading.

    this artical might be helpful during the reading and writing log!!!

Jose's curator insight, February 6, 2014 12:50 PM

Is annotation really worth it? After reading this article, it re-enforces my belief that annotating when reading is very critical and helps you understand what is really going on. Although, i myself, only tend to underline and write on the side of the page, i found that using different symbols is also very helpful. As a reader, you have to develop a way of doing things. The ways that catch your interest and do not bore you 5 minutes into doing things.. So next time the teacher asks you to read, there should not be any doubts in your mind whether or not  you should annotate. 

Michele Rosario's curator insight, February 13, 2014 3:40 PM

          Annotations are definitely a necessity when carefully reading while recording your thought process.  As a student myself, I never really thought annotating was beneficial, and relied on just small amounts of knowledge I gain from the reads, in which does not help at all.  I understand very well how this author explains that the younger generations think it is boring and time consuming, because it kind of is.  Nonetheless, it helps build visual character to a read or book, as if they are little “short cuts” to what you thought of in the beginning. 

            The source used to post this article was on a site entitled, “ K-12 News, Lessons, and Shared Resources”, in which I believe is a very reliable source site.


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JK Rowling on the first Harry Potter, Hilary Mantel on Wolf Hall: glimpse authors' musings from the margins of their first editions

JK Rowling on the first Harry Potter, Hilary Mantel on Wolf Hall: glimpse authors' musings from the margins of their first editions | Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading |
Amsterdam to Wolf Hall, Booker winners and bestsellers – authors including JK Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Philip Pullman, Nick Hornby and Ian McEwan annotate their own first editions.
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:

I LOVE marginalia!


Imagine getting to look at the marginalia written by authors in their own books. 


Personally, I can't read a book without underlining, highlighting, and scribbling in the margins. I love my iPad for the same reasons. It's so easy to color-code highlight and underline and to create margin notes. And, best of all iBooks on iPads creates a special Table of Contents where I can see clips from every highlight, underline and margin note with live links. So highlighting locations for a possible Google Lit Trip in green makes it incredible easy to find those pages.


But, I didn't always write in my books. I used to think of writing in even my own books as being sacreligious. That is until as an adult I read my daughter The Velveteen Rabbit and came to appreciate that wear and tear on loved objects is a true sign of that love.


Ironically, even though I've wriiten in my books now for years, with the exception of those in the process of becoming Google Lit Trips, I've rarely gone back to read my own marginalia. Even in graduate school well into my 40s, when I actually did much more of the assigned reading than I had done in my undergraduate days, I wrote extensively in my books, but hardly ever (if ever) actually went back and re-read my notations. EVEN in prepping for tests. And, yet I always seemed to do fine on the tests anyway.


As an aside, I have on rare ocassion, picked up an old college book I hadn't looked at in decades and found myself scanning my marginalia only to find that in some cases, I couldn't even decipher my own penmanship. And, in most cases, I couldn't for the life of me, figure out what the point of the margin note had been.


What I eventually realized is that the process of creating marginalia as I read proved incredibly affective in keeping my attention focused. It slowed my reading just enough to allow for immediate contemplation and noting in my mind the concepts I was physically noting in the book. And, in my case at least there seemed to be a distinct value in reading a little bit slower because I was looking for stuff to highlight, underline, and create margin notes for that was not a value I got when taking notes in a disconnected notebook or word processing document. Though when taking notes in a notebook or word processor, of course I'd make notations of the pages in the book that the notes referenced, there was a distance between the note and the reference. It was also a clear advantage in not having to write down any original text  in order to remind me of the text I was writing a note about. 


It all proved quite worth figuring out an acceptable way for the concept to be applied to student reading when writing in the book was indeed a serious crime. 


Knowing that traditional note taking worked well for some and not well for others, I never really required the method I came up with. But, saved it as an option for students who I knew had read an assignment but still had difficulty with quizzes. They were "reading" but not attentively and they didn't know the difference.


So I went to Office Depot and bought a bunch of  the tiniest post-its I could find. My favorites were about 2x1.5 inches and came in packets with 3-4 pads of one color and 3-4 pads of each of another 4 colors. I wanted them small enough to not "block" the text when in place and big enough to write up to 10-15 words and for arrows pointing at the line or phrase that I would have underlined. Then I'd tell the kids to try an experiment for 3 days and then they could decide for themselves whehter they wanted to continue the practice.


All they had to do was stop briefly at the end of every page and write any sort of note they thought might help them remember the plot events of that page. It didn't have to be sentences. It didn't have to be theme. It didn't have to be what they thought might be on a quiz. Just anything that would remind them of the plot events. I said if "dead dog" triggered enough of a recollection then that was enough of a note.


A couple of tricks worth noting... whatever kids write or draw they should write the note so the sticky edge of the post-it would be vertical and towards the center of the book. This way they could place the sticky so that just the thinnest opposite edge of the sticky could stick out beyond the page edge just enough so they could be easily seen when the book was closed.


I still remember one very typical response from a nice kid who always did the reading but just found it difficult to remember details the next day for class discussion or for a reading quiz. I waited a week after he started the practice and casually asked him if he was still doing it now that the 3-day trial period was up. To my surprise he told me he was not. When he saw the look of surprise on my face, he said, "You know why I quit?"


It hadn't occurred to me that it would be for any other reason than it had been a failure.


He said, "On the first day I did it, I read a page. Then I stopped and tried to remember what happened. And, then I wrote the post-it and went on to the next page and did it again until I'd read the entire reading assignment. But, it sort of took too long because I had to read, then stop, then think, then write before I could turn the page. So the next day, I figured out a trick!"


(He was so proud that he'd discovered this "workaround.")


On the second day I decided to think about what I would write on the note WHILE I was reading the page so that I when I finished reading the page I didn't have to waste any time thinking about what I was going to write on the note. I just wrote it and turned the page."


Of course, I faked a look of pride in his cleverness, though in truth, I was grinning on the inside realizing that I'd simply tricked him into practicing "attentive reading."


He told me that after using "his trick" on each of the twenty-page reading assignments for day two and day three of the trial, he had gotten so good at being ready to write the note that a second light-bulb lit up as he realized he really didn't even need to write the post-it anymore if he just read as though he were going to write one.


His grades took a dramatic turn for the better.



 Well, that's certainly not the reasons why authors engage in marginalia, But, here's to authors who write in their own books.


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