Cross-curricular ‘marking the text’ emphasized

Aidan Backus, Online Editor

Annotation Infographic
If you feel the need to underline, highlight, or (circle) this sentence as you read it, you’ve had experience with close reading.

Close reading is a technique in which the reader takes note of small details in a text and then extrapolates from those notes to understand the bigger ideas. Some students do this by highlighting, writing in the margins, and making other annotations. Although the district has forbidden writing in textbooks and many teachers do not allow students to write on tests, close reading can be applied to just about any assignment that requires reading.

Marking the text and other close reading strategies have long been staples of English classes, but this year they are being introduced into classes across the board. This dictate emerges from Common Core curriculum, encouraging students to develop valuable problem-solving skills for both the workforce and college.

“We want to graduate students who can think, not regurgitate,” Principal Bill Atterberry said.

Aside from the mandatory close reading and text-marking done in several classes, annotation can also be useful while studying, allowing students to decipher meaning from academic jargon.

“Understanding what the author is trying to say is a big study skill,” senior Anthony Nguyen said. “If an object is ‘at rest,’ you need to know that means its acceleration and velocity are zero.”

As with any coursework, many students procrastinate, copy, or otherwise avoid completing close reading assignments and find all types of ways to justify their laziness.

“I feel the reason people don’t always mark the text is work ethic,” Nguyen said. “If you want to motivate students, you need to address work ethic — how much time they put into studying.”

“Sure, marking the text helps [with comprehension],” freshman Helen Le said. “I just don’t think [active reading] should be mandatory.”

Biology teacher Lauren Fromm rebutted that annotation is like any other homework — students don’t want to participate out of slothfulness, but putting effort in is necessary to learn.

“[Close reading] is easier with Pre-AP and AP students, because they would do it anyways,” Fromm said.

Some students argue that because they cannot write on long, reusable multiple-choice tests, annotation is
counterproductive. AP U.S. History teacher Heather Blount recommended bringing “a piece of scratch paper with you on a test … if you can’t do close reading without it.”

Similarly, online SBAC examinations feature virtual calculators, highlighters, and notebooks, allowing students to annotate during testing.

Because Common Core reform is a cross-disciplinary effort, close reading has been adapted to every discipline.

In the social sciences, close reading can be used to facilitate understanding of primary-source documents and quotations. This is especially important for AP European History and AP US History exams, which include a “Document-Based Question” that requires test-takers to analyze passages written in a certain historical era.

“If I hand you an article about the antebellum or pre-antebellum South and ask you, ‘What’s this article about?’ … you should be able to read it all by yourself, understand what it’s saying, and answer questions about it, without me having to hold your hand step-by-step,” Blount said.

Music teacher Joe Sandoval applies text-marking in multiple ways: in jazz, musicians are required to highlight marks of articulation, dynamics and key so they won’t ignore them when practicing music; in piano, students annotate biographies of composers to learn the historical context of the music they are studying.

“Bach and Beethoven had abusive childhoods, and yet they were successful,” Sandoval said. “I hope students can relate to that.”

Even math and science assignments can benefit from a good close read. Fromm’s students, for example, highlight lab reports; in math, students annotate word problems to help them understand what the problem is asking.

“Before, when [students] would see a word problem, they would just want to give up because they didn’t want to try,” math teacher Lou Vang said. Vang assigns daily “warm-ups,” complex word problems that allow students time to practice their critical thinking skills.

Adapting to changes in curriculum has been a struggle for some students — and teachers. As teachers work together to implement effective strategies to help students develop a deeper understanding, students must be willing to accept that school is no longer about rote memorization. It’s about learning to think.