Marking Up Texts: Our Methodology

In our class, we regularly check our books and count book check grades when calculating our participation. We use the following 10 point scale:

  • 9-10  Significant Passages of the text are highlighted/underlined with key words circled and marginal notations are meaningful and consistent throughout the assignment.
  • 7-8 Significant passages are highlighted/underlined and some marginal notations are evident.
  • 6  Some underlining/highlighting is evident although it is inconsistent and there are few, if any, marginal notations.
  • 4-5  Student brought their book, but did not highlight or underline.
  • 0-3  Student did not bring a book.

We let students develop their own methods and are quite open to a variety of different styles. Some use highlighters, others different colored pens. Some keep notes in the front pages of their books, and some rely solely on the margins. Our guidelines are much less exacting than the method of my 11th Grade American Literature teacher and personal teaching hero Marie Stone, who would merely have us turn to a page and grade us simply on whether we had the correct passage marked, had written character names and key themes at the top, and taken notes in margins that met her criterion of what was important.

Yet like Stone, we require our students to consistently mark up their texts. We do this for a variety of reasons, and, in fact, using it as a way to hold our students accountable for the reading is perhaps the least important. We insist our students master this skill during their junior year  because it is the best mechanism we have for making them engaged and active readers.

Throughout my 10 years of teaching, I have found that there is a direct correlation between my best students and those who demonstrate active reading by annotating their texts. In fact, it is nearly always the case that our students overall grades almost exactly mimic their performance on book checks. Of course those students who consistently score well on book checks are the most diligent, but more importantly, they are the most engaged and have the best command of the material. It isn’t so much that they have an easier time recalling the text or finding salient passages to augment their points in our discussions or when writing papers, they do, but more importantly they demonstrate the critical thinking skills necessary to dig deeply beyond the surface of the text and make the broader connections necessary for success in our course and beyond. Through developing a method of annotating texts that works for them, they gain possession of the active reading skills that will serve them well as they continue the lifelong process of learning.

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