Encourage students to expand their repertoire of ways to read and respond to literature.
As someone who loves to read and write, one of my favorite things to do is annotate texts — whether it be a few scrawled words in the margins of my most beloved hardcover books or endless questions written on sticky notes falling out of flailing paperbacks, my annotations capture the spirit of my hyper-personal engagement with a text.
When I became an English teacher, I knew that I wanted my students to learn how to annotate, in part because I wanted them to capture their noticings and wonderings as they engaged in their own distinctive reading process. In “Literature as Exploration” (1995), Louise Rosenblatt wrote that every person has a unique, transactional experience when they read a text, in which they “live through” something special. I think of annotations like mementos of this special reading experience because they capture a moment in time in the transactional experience that would otherwise be lost.
Every time we read a text, even if it’s one that we’ve read hundreds of times before, we encounter a new transactional experience. As we annotate and re-annotate texts, we leave behind a trail of our reading experiences: our questions, thoughts, and wonderings. I desperately wanted my students to develop that experiential, transactional trail of their reading processes.
The Traveling Text
Imagine my surprise when I discovered, as a new teacher, that my students often responded to my call for annotations with, “I don’t know how to annotate!” or “Can you tell me what to annotate for?” or, worst of all, “I hate annotating. It’s a waste of time.” I can recall my naive shock when I heard my students respond in this way. In a desperate attempt to show my students the value of annotating, I began tirelessly modeling annotation strategies and my own methods of annotation, but doing so yielded little success.
With time, I developed an incredibly simple strategy for teaching my students to annotate. Essentially, I stopped teaching my students to annotate through direct instruction and, instead, encouraged them to teach one another. This instructional strategy was, in my teaching, a solution to the problem of students feeling like they “don’t know” how to annotate or that annotating has “no purpose.” I call this strategy The Traveling Text (download here).
The Traveling Text is simple, requires minimal teacher preparation, empowers students, builds community, and teaches annotation skills. And implementing this strategy with your students only takes four steps.
The impact of The Traveling Text
In my teaching experience, here are some of the impacts of this strategy on my students and our classroom community:
Teaching students to read for meaning (and for pleasure) is a daunting task. Often, our students come to us already feeling like they don’t know how to read and annotate literary texts in the “correct” way, one that highlights what a teacher or evaluator might be looking for.
The Traveling Text creates possibilities for students to expand their own repertoire of ways to closely read and respond to literature. But, even more importantly, the strategy encourages students to experience a sense of intellectual community and belonging with their classmates as they share with one another written artifacts of their own transactional reading experiences.