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A couple of years ago, we began a new series called Annotated by the Author, part of our Mentor Texts collection, in which we invite New York Times journalists, and winners of our student contests, to annotate their work, revealing the writing choices they made and explaining why they made them.
That series inspired Matthew Johnson, a writing teacher at Community High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., to have his students try annotating their own writing. Below, he tells us how this kind of self-annotation can benefit both students and teachers. He also shares three simple, yet impactful, ways students can “talk” to their own work.
If you’d like to learn more about teaching with Annotated by the Author, and our other Times mentor texts, join us at our live webinar on Thursday, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m. Eastern.
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— The Learning Network
How Students and Teachers Benefit From Students Annotating Their Own Writing
By Matthew Johnson
The first installment of The Learning Network’s Annotated by the Author series, where the science writer Nicholas St. Fleur dissects his article “Tiny Tyrannosaur Hints at How T. Rex Became King,” was an instant hit in my classes, and not just because it had a tiny dinosaur. For many students, the window into the motivations, methods and moves of a seasoned writer opened their eyes to what goes into professional writing and what their own writing can be.
Last year, The Learning Network began to have the winners of their student contests annotate their work, and, like the series, my instruction using these annotated pieces grew as well. We used Abel John’s discussion of citing evidence in his editorial “Collar the Cat” to help us define what makes a source useful and reputable. Varya Kluev’s and Elizabeth Phelps’s insights into descriptive writing were just right to seed a conversation about how to artfully extend metaphors. And just this fall, I shared Ananya Udaygiri’s explanation of why she picked Animal Crossing as the topic for her editorial to help some of my seniors pick the right college essay topics for them.
As I watched these students in the series so thoughtfully dissect their pieces time and again, I also began to wonder why we don’t regularly have students annotate their own work in the classroom. Suggesting that students annotate, or talk to, texts as they read is commonplace, but before the Annotated by the Author series, I’d never seen someone ask students to annotate their own writing. Then, last winter, after reading Maria Fernanda Benavides’s particularly insightful explanation of how she shifted her sentence structure to match her emotions in her narrative “Speechless,” I decided to try having my students annotate their own writing, and I haven’t looked back since.
The Benefits of Annotation for Students and for Teachers
For students, the potential positives of unpacking and explaining their own writing were instantly apparent and significant. These are some of the common advantages I found:
Annotation develops metacognition. The act of annotation is the very definition of metacognition, which is when students think about their own thinking and processes. Engaging in this sort of metacognition has been shown to significantly improve student learning outcomes, in part because it requires students to actively engage in monitoring their own growth instead of relying on the teacher to do it for them.
It positions students as active, serious participants in their own writing growth. Regular annotation of their work also recognizes students as purposeful writers and decision makers who have something to say about their craft, which is very different from how student writers are often approached. This recognition can be both empowering and motivating, especially for students who have often felt that their voices weren’t heard by those around them.
And it makes students better readers. Annotating and unpacking their work can act as a safe training ground for students to learn to better dissect and discuss the work of others in workshops and peer review.
For teachers, student annotation can be equally useful, as it opens up the following opportunities:
It helps us to see students’ thinking. Annotation allows teachers a glimpse into the students’ inner monologues about writing. These monologues can help teachers better plan and calibrate lessons so they meet the needs of students.(Video) Annotate ContentFormRhetorical
It allows us to give more targeted feedback. Teachers can be more precise and responsive when providing feedback to and conferencing with students when that writing has annotations because they allow the teacher to see the student’s mind-set, process, understanding and motivations, and allow the teacher to respond accordingly.
And it reduces our workload. Annotation helps students to more accurately self-assess their work, which can save teachers significant amounts of time when it comes to assessment, even as it helps students better understand and chart their own learning journey.
Three Ways to Have Students Annotate Their Work
Once one starts to look for them, there are numerous places where student annotations of their writing might yield such positive results — so many that I feel I am just scratching the surface. Still, over the last year, I’ve found some particular areas where they’ve made the biggest difference in my classes:
Short, Skills-Focused Assignments
Much of my grammar and rhetoric instruction involves students writing shorter papers where they use a certain grammatical and rhetorical skill in the context of their own writing. I’ve found this type of grammar instruction to be far more effective than the grammar worksheets I used to do, but for many years I also found it more time-consuming to read and assess those extra papers.
This all changed, though, when students started annotating the choices they made. For example, in my class, we do a short unit on the grammatical tools writers can use to add emphasis (colons, dashes, appositives, parallel structure, purposeful fragments and so on). To assess their understanding of these “emphasizers,” I have my students write a rant on any topic that they want and then use the comments feature on Google Docs to explain how, when and why they used the tools we discussed in class.
By using the highlighted comments as a guide, I can now assess these pieces faster because I know exactly where to look. I can also assess them better because I can see in students’ own words how well they understand the concept.
Feedback, whether it is from teachers or peers, tends to be a one-way street where the reader responds to the writer and then the conversation largely stops. I have found that while that approach can yield some growth, both peer and teacher responses often have a far larger impact when they are true conversations, especially when they are initiated by the author.
This is why I now have my students write annotations before getting peer and teacher responses to let the reader know what they are thinking, questioning and needing. Here is how I prompt them to do that:
These annotations don’t take long, but they often add a great deal — acting as icebreakers for conversation, ensuring that students get the help they need, and establishing a clear foundation from which both parties can work as collaborators toward improving the student’s piece.
Final Draft Self-Evaluations
More and more educators are growing interested in the idea of having students do meaningful self-assessment of their work in class. Self-assessment adds an additional layer of reflection and metacognition, and it can free up teachers to give feedback in the formative, or early, stages of student work, where it is most effective. Further, students assessing their work first can act as a bulwark against the possibility that students will feel blindsided or injured by grades and assessments because the teacher can see how they feel about their work first.
The trouble with self-assessment is that many students are unaccustomed to doing it, which can lead to problems with accuracy and students feeling unsure about how to evaluate themselves. Requiring students to use annotations to support their specific assessments can help with both of these issues: The act of finding and explaining the scores means that they need to be grounded in evidence, and the very act of looking for that evidence can help to train students in how to better assess themselves.
Here is the slide I use to prompt these kinds of self-assessments:
Annotation can be a potent tool for helping students become better and more savvy readers, so it makes sense that it would also be a potent tool for helping students to become better and more savvy writers. The secret I’ve found to using it, though, is that the annotation needs to be meaningful. As soon as it feels more like a hoop to be jumped through, as can sometimes happen with misapplied classroom-required annotations during reading, all of the advantages of annotating their own work vanish in an instant.
This is why I explain much of what I share above with my students as a way to make a case for the value of annotating one’s own writing. It is also why I now use the essays from The Learning Network’s Annotated by the Author series both as mentor texts for the craft of writing and for the craft of learning how to dissect one’s own work.
Because when it serves a thoughtful purpose, student annotation is one of the most exciting pedagogical tools I’ve found in a long time — one that opens students up to what revision and writing can be, opens up the teacher to providing better and faster feedback and assessment, and generally opens up powerful lines of communication between both parties that often lie dormant.
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Thus, it helped students focus, think critically and discourse to understand complex content. Annotating can be a powerful tool for both teachers and students to keep students engaged and improve their understanding and comprehension of what they have read.What is the importance of annotation for students? ›
Why Annotate? By annotating a text, you will ensure that you understand what is happening in a text after you've read it. As you annotate, you should note the author's main points, shifts in the message or perspective of the text, key areas of focus, and your own thoughts as you read.What are 4 benefits of annotating? ›
- Keeping track of key ideas and questions.
- Helping formulate thoughts and questions for deeper understanding.
- Fostering analyzing and interpreting texts.
- Encouraging the reader to make inferences and draw conclusions about the text.
Findings indicate that annotations improve Findings indicate that annotations improve recall of emphasized items, influence how specific arguments in the source materials are perceived, decrease students' tendencies to unnecessarily summarize.What are the major benefits of annotating? ›
- Isolate and organize important material.
- Identify key concepts.
- Monitor your learning as you read.
- Make exam prep effective and streamlined.
- Can be more efficient than creating a separate set of reading notes.
Writing Helps Us Empathize
Writing can help us become better writing teachers. We're able to empathize with our students' positive and negative experiences as writers when we write ourselves. The goal is just to write—not necessarily to write well. Writing is hard for everyone; writing well is near impossible.
You can use annotation to go beyond understanding a text's meaning and organization by noting your reactions—agreement/disagreement, questions, related personal experience, connection to ideas from other texts, class discussions, etc.What are the main purposes of the annotation? ›
The purpose is to: learn about a particular topic through critically reviewing the literature. provide an overview of the main issues, arguments and research within a particular area.What is the purpose of using annotations? ›
Use of Annotations
Annotations are used for the following purposes: Instructions to the compiler: There are three types of built-in annotations @Deprecated, @Override, @SuppressWarnings that can be used to give instructions to the compiler, detect errors, and suppress warnings.
It helps us to see students' thinking. Annotation allows teachers a glimpse into the students' inner monologues about writing. These monologues can help teachers better plan and calibrate lessons so they meet the needs of students. It allows us to give more targeted feedback.
Annotating texts can help you keep track of what you've read and identify the parts most relevant to your needs. Even reading for pleasure can benefit from annotation, as it allows you to keep track of things you might want to remember or add to your personal knowledge management system.Why is annotating data important? ›
Without data annotation, every image would be the same for machines as they don't have any inherent information or knowledge about anything in the world. Data annotation is required to make systems deliver accurate results, help modules identify elements to train computer vision and speech, recognition models.Why do teachers grade annotations? ›
The reasoning behind it is to help students identify the important details within a text. Supposedly it teaches students to read in a more engaged fashion in preparation for a test, paper or other assessment that will follow the reading of a novel, short story or poem.How do you annotate students work? ›
- Determine Key Instructional Objectives. ...
- Select 2 Pieces of Student Work. ...
- Identify Specific Evidence of Student Proficiency and Struggle. ...
- Upload Annotated Student Work to Unit Reflection.
The annotation is a statement that provides the context for the selected piece or group of evidence. It describes the what, when, how and why to explain the significance of the evidence.What are the benefits of annotating design ideas? ›
The primary purpose of annotations are to explain aspects of the design that the recipient may not otherwise perceive, understand, or account for during implementation. They may be used differently from project to project, but they should always be serving this goal.What are the benefits of students writing? ›
Writing encourages students to use their imaginations, make connections, view a problem in various ways, strategize solutions, and tell stories. Writing also lets students exercise agency and feel joy at creating something new. 5. Writing encourages reflection and self-awareness.What are the benefits of students sharing their writing? ›
The main benefit of shared writing is that it helps reluctant writers and gives students who struggle for inspiration a starting point with their writing. Shared writing is much more than just a technique for giving your class a head start.What is an example of annotating? ›
For example, a note that you scribble in the margin of your textbook is an annotation, as is an explanatory comment that you add to a list of tasks at work. Something that has had such notes added to it can be described as annotated.What are 3 types of annotations? ›
: a note added by way of comment or explanation. The bibliography was provided with helpful annotations. : the act of annotating something.What is annotation in writing? ›
Annotation is a written conversation between you and the writer in which you actively respond to the text. Pretend you are talking to the writer as you read. This exercise will help you to find connections between ideas in the text and ideas in other sources.What are the benefits of annotating when reading fiction? ›
Annotating helps you truly absorb the book and understand the characters, underlying layers, etc. In case you ever want to check something or reread a favourite part, annotations are great for future references. They also come in handy if you are a bookish content creator online.Does annotating help you remember? ›
According to research, annotation helps with memory, comprehension, and overall understanding for what you read.Why is annotation important in visualization? ›
Annotations can improve clarity and offer more insight into the information displayed at a particular point on the plot area.What is annotation in teaching profession? ›
What is an annotation? An annotation is a statement that provides context for your evidence of professional learning and explains its significance. It is a story of your professional knowledge, practice, and engagement.Is annotating or taking notes better? ›
The advantage of having one annotated text instead of a set of note papers plus a text should be clear enough: all the information is together and inseparable, with notes very close to the text for easier understanding, and with fewer pieces to keep organized.What are you doing when you annotate? ›
It means to add notes (an-NOTE-tate) to text that you are reading, to offer explanation, comments or opinions to the author's words. Annotation takes practice, and the better you are at it, the better you will be at reading complicated articles.How do you make annotating fun? ›
- Highlight some favorite quotes.
- Note characterization you found successful or unsuccesful.
- Highlight aspects of the book that made you feel something.
- If you didn't like something, write why.
- Sensory details that caught your attention.
- Doodle something inspired by the book on one of the pages.
It serves as a means for teachers to candidly share their insights, feelings, emotions, and ideas in a confidential manner. Similar to a diary, it is meant to inspire reflection on events leading to both success and failure in the classroom.
Teacher may give feedback about the content, organization and mechanics but the final decision in on the students' hand. Let the student improve their ability in adopting the feedback given by the teacher. By doing so, the students will not lose motivation to write by their own.How students can be benefited from writing well? ›
Study after study confirms that students who process course material through writing retain that information longer, improve critical thinking skills, and become more nuanced readers and writers. The more writing done in a course, the more the student engages with the material in the course.What are 3 benefits of writing? ›
- Writing Will Help You Recover Memories. ...
- You Will Be Able to Stockpile Ideas. ...
- Put Your Life Events into Perspective. ...
- You Will Feel like You Have Accomplished Something. ...
- It's a Great Mental Exercise.
- Collaboration helps students understand writing as a public, communal act, rather than as a private, isolated one. ...
- Collaboration therefore helps student writers to develop a sense of audience. ...
- Collaboration helps students to better understand the conventions of academic discourse.
Journaling helps teachers understand their students. Journals give feedback regarding: Academic performance: Reading through journal entries can help teachers identify writing errors in sentence structure, grammar and spelling.What are the benefits of keeping a personal journal? ›
- Achieve goals. When you use your journal to write down your goals, you can keep better track of your intentions. ...
- Track progress and growth. ...
- Gain self-confidence. ...
- Improve writing and communication skills. ...
- Reduce stress and anxiety. ...
- Find inspiration. ...
- Strengthen memory. ...
- Stream of consciousness.
Used in the academic context, reflective diaries provide opportunity for the students not only to think back on the learning activities, to explicitly and purposely identify what they have learned, but more importantly, to relate what they have learned to their teaching practice, evaluate their practice in light of ...Is there a need for the students to evaluate their own writing why? ›
Students who can evaluate their own writing are more independent and better able to complete polished pieces. As a result, they also become more confident as both writers and critics. Like so many skills, self-evaluation works best when taught explicitly.How do you evaluate your own writing? ›
- Ask someone to read your writing. ...
- Study best-practice examples. ...
- Assess your writing by reading aloud. ...
- Study your old writing for clues. ...
- Use an online readability checker. ...
- Take a writing course that includes personalised feedback.
Why Feedback is Important. Getting feedback on your written work is important primarily because it gives you an objective evaluation of your work. It's often difficult for us to fairly assess our own writing, but feedback from a good grader should help you better recognize your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
Being able to write in an academic style is essential to disciplinary learning and critical for academic success. Control over academic writing gives you capital, power, and agency in knowledge building, identify formation, disciplinary practices, social positioning, and career advancement.What are the benefits of reading and writing for students? ›
The more you read and write, the more you broaden your vocabulary and are able to articulate concepts accurately and more effectively to others. Increasing your ability to communicate also helps make you a better worker or student.