Naked mole rat gets dressed

I just woke up from an alarmingly specific dream in which an assortment of my SA students and colleagues all earnestly explained to me something they called the “highlighter method” of annotating texts.  In the dream, this was something they taught in SA’s middle school, and it went like this: everything that’s just expository information was highlighted in yellow (like sunshine); all the concrete sensory details went in blue (like ice); and then everything else was highlighted in the remaining colors (orange, pink, purple, green–whatever the student had, and according to the student’s preference) to show “emotion.”  It was a terrific system, they all assured me!  Every single word was highlighted!  A reassuring system that anyone could use, but with room for individual choice!

I hate waking up spluttering.  Also, I woke up at five-thirty because I’m used to it.

I also had to laugh, though, because this dream was so clearly a reaction to some conversations I had with the GGE and Dr. Tea on Tuesday–not about annotating, but about taking on a new role at SA that would allow me (if salary negotiations work out) to stop working at NLNRU.  I think this is what I want…that’s a whole other post.   I thought my concerns were about what I’d be giving up at NLNRU (money, connections, prestige, and the increased opportunities that come with all three), but apparently my subconscious is aware of the flip side of that–what I’d be confined to at SA, what might frustrate me if my only institution were SA and I had no outlet for higher-level teaching and I was responsible for deciding whether we should all teach annotation in a particular way (or some such thing).

Clearly this is something I have to continue to think about.  Nothing is settled yet.

And by the way, I’m actually quite interested in how to teach annotation–or, rather, how to get high schoolers to annotate in a way that improves their reading comprehension and their ability to engage with, analyze, question the text.  I model it but I have never been able to bring myself to do “book checks” for annotation as some of my colleagues do.  This is not because I think it’s completely useless, but because I hated to annotate as a teenager (but read well) and am still a pretty minimal annotater, even when preparing to teach.  I also, generally speaking, dislike the mixed results of book checks–that is, it seems to me that for every student who actually engages significantly more with the text because of annotating with the knowledge that the book will be checked, there is one student who dutifully makes marks but doesn’t read better, one student who would have annotated anyway, and one student like me, who chafes at being asked to annotate and doesn’t read any better because of annotating.  So it seems like a small return on effort.  I probably should have done it in ninth grade, just to help those students who didn’t go to middle school at SA, and may not have learned annotation then; now that I’m teaching eleventh and twelfth, I feel better about letting them do what they want about annotating, and just modeling it occasionally during discussion with a piece of text projected onto the board.  I know they read more carefully when they know there will be a reading quiz, and they probably annotate more then, too.  I pride myself on making reading quizzes that actually test how successfully they have encountered the text, ones that can’t be done just from reading online plot summaries.  They know if they haven’t read well.  But is that enough?

Heading off to do a community service project today with a bunch of SA students and to muse further over the possibility of changes next year…

2 responses to this post.

  1. Oh my gosh, I had to laugh at your dream as well … in part because it’s not so far outside the realm of possibility that someone would actually come up with a similar system!

    I model annotating as well, but I never do book checks, because I can’t bring myself to require a certain form of annotation as though it’s the only right one. I’ve developed what is perhaps an idiosyncratic annotation style that works for me, but D. never, ever writes in a book, and I’ve seen any number of other styles that are different from mine but clearly do the job for some people. What I will sometimes do in class is give them a particular annotation assignment (“in this passage, underline all of the adjectives; what do you notice?” or “mark the moments on this page where a character does thus-and-such”), and then I point out the ways in which making such observations and noting them on the page can be helpful. But I can’t bring myself to grade students on how or how much they annotate, in part because there are enough FGS students who are obsessive but not always thoughtful that I think they’d mostly just start highlighting the whole damned book (much like your dream!).

    I’ll be interested to hear about the SA possibilities as they unfold!


  2. Posted by meansomething on November 25, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    We have those obsessive-but-not-thoughtful students, too! I like those specific annotation assignments. I will keep you posted on the possibilities…


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