Annotation and close reading

pexels-photo-632470.jpegWhen I was a sophomore in high school I was assigned selections from Hamlet to read in my English class. I read it, understood it, and took notes in the margins as I was asked to do. But the following day I was told I didn’t have “enough” annotations and was assigned a detention (a Friday Evening Inconvenience – it was boarding school).

But what is “enough” when it comes to annotation? As a college student I think I finally learned to annotate so that my thinking – at the time I took the note – was clear to me when it came time to use the note.

I think that, as teachers, we need to help students connect to the text through annotation. This starts with how we select the text and how we select the assign the annotation. We have to give them clear guidelines and support. Annotation is a skill that needs to be developed

Chunk – How can you break up longer texts?

Purpose – What’s the learning objective? Make this explicit to the students so you can all begin with the end in mind

Quantify – How many comments do you expect per paragraph, per page?

Notations – What do you want to see in the margins? Symbols, questions, definitions, specific connections? Symbols or color coding should include a key each time.

Rereads – When you need them to reread for fluency or in a coaching group, give them a different purpose or lens for the next read

We can use technology or low tech tools to support students through universal design.

  • Color coded sticky notes with questions or comments written on them
  • Hypertext annotation to definitions, expansion of ideas, etc.
  • Kami – potential shared annotation
  • Google Docs – comments in the margins
  • A document camera will allow you to model the annotation, with out-loud metacognitive thinking about why and how you are annotating, for students. Some document cameras will allow you to record the whole thing for playback later.

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Digital Interactive Notebooks

I feel ridiculously proud of myself right now because I figured out how to make an interactive notebook that students can keep in Google Drive and edit as they (and I) see fit. There are some outstanding ones on Teachers Pay Teachers so my new goal is to make great ones that are specific to AP Language and AP Seminar. Wish me luck. I’ll need it.

So, here is what I came up with. My friend Amy got some outstanding tips on multiple choice from the AP conference this summer and so we have been incorporating more consistent reflection after full-length multiple choice practice. The issue though is that my students lose their forms from the last go around of reflection so can’t comment insightfully enough to help them grow as I would expect.

I just adapted the form that we use with the school colors (black and gold) as the background and their junior class color (blue) as the editable areas.

DIGITAL notebook AP MC Profile


Because we work on multiple choice every Monday in AP Lang, it’s great to change up the approach to it a little. I got a set of Plickr cards at the ISTE conference this summer and they’ve been a hit with students. My only complaint is there are only four answer options when AP questions always have five choices. It just means I need to spend a little more time editing before class.

Each Plickr card is assigned to a student so data is saved. Augmented reality through the Plickr app on my phone is a great way for me to get a quick read of the class. THe cards are directional and the corresponding letter for the answer choice is on the front so kids know which way to turn. img_0744

Twitter in the classroom

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-46-26-amYears ago, when Twitter was first emerging as a social network, I encouraged my seniors in Digital Composition to use it in class as a way to comment on literature. I think it was in 2009 or 2010 and it was mostly successful. Students hadn’t heard of Twitter at that point though and they didn’t really “get” the point of sharing and discussing on a public forum.

Over time, I started using Twitter more for a Professional Learning Network (PLN). I had trouble attending Twitter chats but I followed hashtags and conversations the next morning to find out what was current and compelling for other educators around the country.

This year, one of my teaching collaborators for AP Language & Composition realized we needed to meet students where they are, on Twitter, as we strive to make sure they have exposure to and working knowledge of current events. On the AP Lang exam students need to have a wide variety of CHELPS (Current events, History, Experience, Literature, Pop culture, Sports/Science) to help them with evidence on the argument.

So, we came up with a hashtag for our classes – #southaplang – and very short ones for each teacher so we can keep them straight. Every Monday we send out a tweet with a question or request for comments and a link to an article on a trending topic or a popular idea in the media.

So far… it’s awesome! Kids without Twitter accounts can turn in their tweets on paper or any other method if they prefer. A few students created new Twitter accounts just for this assignment to keep the tweets separate from their personal accounts. And we don’t need to follow them because we can find their tweets with the hashtags.


Put Some Excitement into Citations!


As an English teacher, I struggled to teach my students to use MLA citations.  Why?  Students didn’t see the need for citing.  They failed to understand its purpose and if students don’t comprehend the purpose of a task, they often don’t put forth their best efforts to accomplish it.

In South Carolina, tenth graders take the High School Assessment Program (HSAP) test during their spring semester.  As part of the ELA section, the research questions can include the proper form for MLA citations.  So, although I prefer to use citation generators like BibMe and KnightCite, I know that our students need practice in creating citations to prepare them for THE TEST. (Please don’t shoot me – I don’t agree with THE TEST, but it is a reality, and if I am not doing my part to prepare our students for it, then I can’t look teachers in the eye…

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Flipped lesson – Drive, Grit & Success – creating an Outlier?

In the same vein as my flipped lesson for Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, this is a flipped lesson for AP Language students on Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, Daniel Pink’s Drive, and Angela Duckworth’s work on the importance of developing grit in students. This incorporates the standard WSQ assignment, class discussions (both in class and online), thesis statement building, rhetorical analysis, mind maps (for organizing ideas), reflective writing, formal argument writing, public speaking, and Socratic seminar.

 What is success and how do we find it?

1) WSQ – Rhetorical Modes – read and annotate “How to Read Like a Writer” by Mike Bunn
2) online discussion on Drive video
3) Grit survey
4) WSQ (in-class) – Grit TED talk
5) reflective essay on Grit (using the question from the WSQ)
6) analysis and annotation on chapter of Outliers
7) coaching group on assigned chapter
8) read selection of Drive in class – discussion on the argument and content
9) informal presentation on the chapter of Outliers
10) WSQ & discussion – de Botton TED talk on kinder definition of success
11) read two reviews of Outliers – rhetorical précis for each – how valid and relevant is the criticism?
12) another selection from Drive – read and discuss
13) Mind Map of ideas from all of the sources
14) 4 square discussion – develop a thesis statement
15) question writing for seminar – What is success and how do we find it?
16) seminar
17) argument essay – begin from the class-developed thesis statement

This was created with some collaboration with my friend Amy Habberstad.



Film project


Parody “exaggerates the subject matter, philosophy, characters, language, style, or other features of a given author or particular work.  Such imitation calls attention to both versions; such scrutiny may show the original to be a masterpiece–or to be in need of improvement.  Parody derives much of its humor from the double vision of the subject that writer and readers share” (Bloom 620).  Think Weird Al Yankovic
Satire “is humorous, witty criticism of people’s foolish, thoughtless, or evil behavior.  The satirist ridicules some aspect of human nature–or life in general–that should be changed” (Bloom 622). Think Jonathan Swift

These days traditional word-processed essays are still required, but so are Power Point/KeyNote presentations, podcasts, videos, oral presentations with a multi-media component. Also, we have the tools that Web 2.0, the ability to edit and write the content of the Internet, have given us.

Everything is a persuasive argument, and individuals create an impression of themselves through their formal and informal writing and other composition. Students are involved in a portfolio process of smaller assignments that work in conjunction with two semester-long projects, one an individual problem-based research project and the other an episode of a student produced docu-drama about our high school.

Students created parodies of South Anchorage High School and Discovery Channel shows.

All of the forms, lessons, and resources are uploaded to Google Docs. You must be logged in to your ASD account to access these.
Information about each, and whether or not it is required reading is in the “Description” of the item. Click on the box to the left of the document name and you will see “Description” on the right-hand side.



oversee other jobs
responsible for equipment
acquire media release forms
stay in touch with teacher (executive producer)

Director & Primary Editor

story board the script
shoot the scenes and record the dialogue
edit a quality short feature


outline the plot
write the script
update the script as details change
maintain communication with other writers/groups to ensure continuity


use traditional communication and social media to promote Digi Comp films
maintain communication and pool resources with other publicists

Propmaster & location scout & talent scout

determine, with the director, locations, props needed, and actors
keep track of continuity in clothing, props, lighting, etc.
acquire prior permission, using provided forms, for filming at locations and using props
acquire media release forms for all people in the film who are not in DigiComp class

Blogging progress

In a project of this size and scope it is vital to stay focused and stay on-track.
One of your individual assignments is to blog twice a week on what you and your group have been doing.

Your posts should be detailed, use formal language, and be spell-checked and proof-read if you expect to get full credit. Missed posts cannot be made up for late grades.
I should be able to understand the basics of what you’ve been doing and be able to ask intelligent follow-up questions in class.


A variety of mentors from around the country have volunteered their professional experience to help you and your classmates.

These mentors will also be available to help students who are working on the docu-drama in that particular area in a Google Doc chat/share document. Be professional and respectful. Add your mentors to your Linked In profile. The connections you make today could be helpful in helping you get a job in the future.


You will use Google Docs to collaborate with your production group and the group of students in the same role.

The expectation is that you check in with others on a very regular basis. If you don’t see anything going on then ask a question, post an inspiring video, a new idea, etc.
I’ll be assessing your progress for students conferences through your group collaborative documents, Edmodo, and your Moodle blog.

Student examples:

The Walden Experiment

Created March 2009

What it is
Step 1: choose three quotes from Walden that “speak” to you personally

Step 2: find two contemporary books (other media must be approved) that relate somehow to your quotes and record the bibliographical information

Step 3: implement an action plan that makes a change in your life and is related to the quotes – you will give a presentation to the class during the first week in March


become vegan

eat a healthy breakfast every day

stop wearing a watch

live in a tent in the yard

keep a dream journal

stop cracking knuckles

create a piece of art every day

create a musical composition each week

read children’s literature

clean out closet & donate clothing

clean out storage boxes

At the end of the assignment students filled out self-evaluations with the following questions:

  1. What worked in my project these last few weeks? What did not work?
  2.  What brought me happiness/disappointment?
  3. Where was I successful?
  4. What were my greatest challenges/lessons?
  5. What am I most proud of ? What do I most regret?
  6. How did I grow, improve, and expand myself?
  7. What letter grade would I give myself (add +s and -s) for this project? Think about whether you pushed yourself enough and how you could have improved.