Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? (#2)

“I want kids to follow certain guidelines when marking text. This is what I ask of them:
Write the thinking next to the words on the page that cause you to have the thought.
If there isn’t room on the text to write, draw a line showing the teacher where the thinking is written.
Don’t copy the text; respond to it.
Merely underlining text is not enough. Thinking about the text must accompany the underlining.
There is no one way to respond to text. Here are some possible options:
Ask a question, make a connection to something familiar, give an opinion, draw a conclusion, make a statement.
Some of these points seem obvious to us as adults, but I find that if I am not explicit about what I want, I don’t get what I want. Because it is new to students, we have to spend a lot of time and energy on a small amount of text. Yet it is worth the time and effort. Thinking held on paper not only informs our instruction and can be used as an alternative assessment tool for a more accurate picture of student learning, but also helps students rehearse their thinking before they begin a writing assignment”
— Tovani, 2004, pp. 69-70

Marking texts is something I had always known. In high school, I vividly remember the pain of annotating and text coding. Though I loathed it at the time, when I would have to go back into the text to seek out a question, I appreciated it. Those markings and annotations captured my thoughts of that section in the moment, and made things clear for me as I reread it.

Doing these activities with my learners shows the same range of emotions I once experienced. This year more than any other year, I have made it a habit with my learners to mark and annotate texts. We use different symbols to hold our thinking, write questions in the margins, and personal thoughts or paraphrases in sections. This habit has been the most beneficial to my learners, and I think they would agree.

Because we practice backwards designing in my courses, my learners are able to see where they need to end up. This helps give them a purpose behind what they are annotating, what sections they are marking, and how diligent they should be in specific texts. This purpose alone helps shift their mindsets to the goal of what we are working toward. In this way, they then have the luxury of knowing they aren’t wasting energy or time on busy work. These markings and annotations also help guide my learners during Socratic Seminars and small group discussions and work. This leads to deeper understandings thanks to the work they have been pursuing. Everything leads up to a deeper understanding.

These same things can also be said in regards to the selective highlighting strategy. Educators can help give purpose to what their learners highlight by what their target of focus is. An educator can have their learners highlight key vocabulary, main ideas, supporting details, etc. Or they can be more specific, such as highlighting opinions of the author, cause and effect, comparisons and contrasts, etc.

Tovani, C. (2004). Do I really have to teach reading? Content comprehension, Grades 6-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.