Reading is Thinking
“They’re not thinking!” I’m sure many of you have had this reaction after asking your students questions about their reading. As a Reading Specialist, I knew I needed to find a way to get them thinking. After all, thinking is the essence of reading. Research led me to annotation, or writing responses during reading to make connections that would promote understanding. Annotating text is an active reading strategy, which has become aligned with close reading. Students respond to the text by jotting down their thoughts as they make connections or encounter concepts. Doing so promotes comprehension and learning.
I set out on a mission to teach my students how to think about their reading. First, I read a passage straight through with no prosody and noThink Aloud comments. A follow-up attempt at discussion was met with little response. Next, with a second passage I selected for this purpose, I modeled what went through my mind while I was reading. I consciously included various meaningful connections during this Think Aloud exercise, such as how one part reminded me of a childhood experience, how the passage was similar to another story we read, how one part was confusing, how I figured out a difficult word, and the like. Afterwards, we discussed what my different thoughts had been. Then I asked my students a series of questions on the same passage. Their ability to give informed answers was encouraging, for me and for them! We talked about the difference between the two reading experiences and concluded that the second reading was more engaging and ‘stuck’ in their brains better.
As with any new strategy, it was imperative to practice. Again, I started modeling annotation. Instead of Think Aloud, I was Writing ‘Aloud’, or making my thinking visible. I demonstrated on the white board how I would write in the margin next to the words where my thinking began, or circle a sentence and connect it to a remark in the margin. We talked about the types of connections I made, which we named and charted, such as Text-to-Text, Reminds Me of…, That Surprised Me!, etc.
In order to aid their practice and success of students, I gave them a purpose for reading to focus their annotations. Since we had studied character traits, I used this as the purpose. They were to comment on parts of the next section that revealed the character’s personality. They had their own copy of the passage and worked in pairs. i I selected a few pairs to reveal their responses on the white board. Their enthusiasm, willingness to share, and the discussion that ensued was a great success, as were their annotations, which gave evidence of their thinking. We added identifying character traits to our chart of connections and left it as an open document to add to as they learned more strategic connections in reading. Besides text-to-self and text-to-world, future entries included inference, foreshadowing, author’s purpose, remaining questions, etc.
As the students became more proficient with how to annotate, it was important to emphasize why students should be annotating. The purpose of annotation is to engage students in active reading strategies during reading to promote understanding, which became more evident to the students themselves. Equally, the purpose of annotation is to be helpful in retaining the information after reading, in order to recall facts or events for discussion or testing. To show them this positive consequence, I shared with them the annotations, without the passage. Students could easily remember the content and their conclusions after reading.
The students often wanted to know if they had ‘enough’ notes in the margins, or on stickies. Frequently, I would model and explain the hallmark of a quality annotation is that it moves the reader forward to understanding, that there is an important connection to the purpose for reading.
All of this took time, as we began our journey into annotation, but the return was a hundredfold. At first, I gave value-added points to encourage the use of this strategy. As their achievements in reading increased, most students came to appreciate and enjoy annotation, which was validated with measurable increases in their testing scores. Annotation became a critical part of practicing close reading and increasing reading comprehension.