Many teachers think that annotations offer an excellent way to peer into the minds of students as they read. I think so, too.
But right now, there’s a huge problem: Teachers don’t know what they’re looking for. There’s no agreement about how to assess annotations.
You don’t see this with writing. In a five-paragraph essay, all teachers are looking for five paragraphs. They’re also looking for a thesis, no matter if they call it a thesis, controlling purpose, overall claim, or main idea.
There’s just much more agreement with writing. It’s more public. We need to do the same thing with reading.
Many teachers like annotations, but few are ready to require students to annotate in a specific way. Annotating is considered “personal” to the reader; we shouldn’t tell students how to interact with the text.
I agree with this argument once students become advanced readers. In the same way that strong writers can break conventions once they learn the essay form, strong readers can annotate how they like once they demonstrate understanding of the basic requirements.
For most students, though, annotating is new and foreign, and there’s nothing wrong with teaching them one right way to do it. Several years ago, a few colleagues and I developed a system of annotating that we used in our ninth grade Humanities classes. This summer, I’m hoping to improve that system and to unveil it this August. I’ll keep you posted.