Friday, April 29, 2016

Inquiry into digital annotation

How might this inquiry project inform one I hope to conduct using digital tools in high school literacy classrooms? 

Here's an excerpt from Douglas Reeves' Reframing Teacher Leadership

Project: A mark in time. A study on the impact of text marking and reading strategies on student reading comprehension.
Abstract: We wanted to know if the implementation of reading process before, during, and after reading activities) coupled with text-marking strategies would improve student reading comprehension. We began our journey to discovery in January 2007 and tracked our students' progress through April 2007, Text-marking was evaluated using techniques and a rubric developed by Scholastic Red. As well, student work was evaluated for implementation of the reading process as we moved through the unit. Students were also given pre- and post-surveys aimed at gathering information concerning attitudes about reading and strategies or techniques the students used to assist in their comprehension of text.
The thing I like best about Reeves' book is the appendix, where he lists inquiry project after inquiry project, some involving a whole school, some led by a single teacher interested in pursuing a nagging question. Flipping through and skimming those projects, the book conveys to me a tone of possibility. When I talk to k-12 teachers who are interested in using digital tools in their classrooms, those conversations have that same hopeful tone of possibility. With an eye toward mining possibilities, I read these inquiry projects catalogued by Reeves and I wonder how emerging digital tools create opportunity for powerful iterations on these projects, most of which were conducted with a spirit of innovation along with traditional tools.

The specific project I cited above, creatively titled "A Mark in Time," asks broad questions about text marking and reading comprehension and uses specific tools from Scholastic. In this post I will explain how this inquiry might evolve to study the use of digital annotation and its potential role for civic action.

While I'm not familiar with the aforementioned Scholastic rubrics and strategies, I have a background with reading strategy instruction and annotation. In my middle school literacy class I used to pass out page after page of Fountas and Pinnell's Thinkmarks, which are behind a paywall now, but represented pretty creatively on Pinterest. As an example, the screenshot below, taken from Jennifer Findley's blog post, Reading is Thinking: Using Thinkmarks, shows a straightforward, if elementary, application of the concept. In my class, I used to use this version and ask students to record their thinking, then I'd give them feedback on the thinking strategies I saw evident. We'd use these annotation-friendly bookmarks to prepare for book groups, to record our ideas during guided reading, and to inspire reading responses.

Jennifer Findley's Thinkmarks

My Thinkmarks borrowed from Fountas and Pinnell

Over the course of six years in that middle school literacy classroom, I used different instructional approaches with these bookmarks but I'd always emphasize the importance of stopping and jotting thoughts while reading, particularly as a way of preparing to talk about text. Not all students embraced Thinkmarks, but I remember a few who loved writing them and tried to dazzle me with the sheer volume of their recorded thoughts. One girl brought me a stack of 100 Thinkmarks after a long weekend, slapped them on my desk and said, "Bam! 100 Thinkmarks!" Such are the joys of the 7th grade literacy teacher. 

Social annotation online provides a new and potentially rich dimension for thinking about text marking strategies. The online tool enables readers to write digital notes alongside online texts. A reader might take write a huge number of private notes visible to only herself, before publishing her most important three or five notes to for the class to see. She might also choose to make them public online to initiate a larger conversation. 

What approaches?

The inquiry project in Reeves' book sought to study the effectiveness of one instructional approach. By reflecting on how I used to ask students to use Thinkmarks, I can imagine a number of strategies I might ask students to try on which I could then study. Here are two:

1. Read through a text or text excerpt and jot down all the questions you have. After you've done this, read through your questions and try to answer them yourself with the information you have now. You will find yourself selectively rereading and also making inferences and predictions. What else do you notice when you try to grapple with your own questions? Share your most important annotations with a peer and ask them to respond to your inference or prediction. 

2. Find a complex sentence in a challenging text, then do this:
Close reading activity for annotating a sentence from NYT. #iste12 #engchat— Joe Dillon (@onewheeljoe) June 25, 2012 Share your rewritten sentence with a peer. Ask them to check your replacement of pronouns and to provide feedback on your interpretation of figurative language. 

These two approaches would yield a few types of student work- the original annotations and the peers' responses- that I could monitor for improvement. I could also ask students to tell me how helpful these strategies and the peer responses are for supporting their meaning making. 

What about saving the world? 

As Sherman Alexie might say, reading teachers are trying to save lives. A worthy inquiry, in my mind, should effectively bridge the work of helping students make meaning of the texts they read while also helping them see how they can make change in their community and the world. That heady goal will require more than Thinkmarks piled on a tired teachers desk. Hopefully, it is the kind of goal that will drive teachers to look to digital tools and the web for the possibility they hold. 

Interested as I am in social annotation, and tinkering the way I do with* in professional learning settings, I'm inspired by the real world innovative use of the tool that might inform reading instruction and English language arts. I learned recently about the organization Climate Feedback at that is working to "to comment on the accuracy of a variety of climate change media articles using the emerging technology of web annotation." 
Screenshot of the Climate Feedback website,
This type of annotation effort is a model for educators because these scientists approach online texts purposefully, leveraging the flexibility of the web in order to publicly comment on the credibility of texts and reporting. This type of purposeful, interest-driven reading and response is why we want learners to make sense of texts and develop agency as writers in the first place. In 

1. For students: Immigrant students, or students whose parents are immigrants, have an important expertise with the issue of immigration. Teachers might invite students to annotate texts in popular media to publicly comment on the way journalists treat the issue. 

2. For teachers: Teachers who are interested and experienced with using digital tools in the classroom have an important expertise in an emerging field. Those teachers might organize to comment publicly on the popular media's portrayal of the role digital tools play in schools, and how digital tools are marketed to schools. 

Moving forward, I hope to post about the development of inquiry projects like this that mark an evolution of sorts from those described in Reeve's Reframing Teacher Leadership. I also hope to collaborate with educators who have interest in exploring the inquiry possibilities I've outlined. By this coming August, I plan to report out at a conference (teaser below) that is in the planning stages now. Please place any questions or ideas you have in the comments below. 

* When I look at this post and the associated annotations, I'm excited by the sheer volume of notes alongside this chapter from a curricular resource. My glee at the responses is akin to that eighth grade girl who slammed Thinkmarks on my desk. I look at the margins and think, "Bam, 76 notes!" 


  1. I extremely like having the objectives set out before you. A dear companion of mine has nervousness and it influences him extraordinarily. I'll see about imparting this to him to check whether it encourages him out. If not, at that point I think he'll need to go get some expert help.

  2. I do not think it could be a wise decision as there always have all sort of people in there. What if the wrong guy is there too. for more help on your writing.