One of my favourite teaching strategies for active reading is the tried-and-true method Write on the Reading, from the Project for the Enhancement of Effective Learning (PEEL) an organisation of teachers who promote good learning behaviours through strategies targeting poor learning tendencies. In this case, annotating readings with notes – questions, points of contention, and so on – is a strategy that helps students to avoid superficial reading. I’ve embellished my writings-on-readings with colours to represent styles of thinking and organising principles, finding that students comprehend much more than with traditional reading and can readily apply their own opinions more effectively to the ideas in the text.
Recently, with my Year 11 Advanced English class, we’ve been exploring the version 2.0 of this strategy – a writing-on-reading of critical literature on Jane Austen in preparation for our comparative study of Emma and Clueless. I wanted my students to really appreciate the historical context in which Austen authored her novels and thereby have a much better understanding than they would if reading Emma ‘cold turkey.’
Google Docs makes conversion of PDF files, Word documents and other document formats easy, and we’ve found the comments feature really interesting for discussing the text in the margins. Here’s the start of a conversation about anonymity and female authorship in the early C.19th.
I love the way that these comments are recorded for future reference, and have found that discussing the comments can often be more insightful than a discussion of the original text. As an English teacher, I believe that what we bring to our analysis of texts is just as important as the texts themselves and I find myself learning so much from my own analyses and those of my kids.
I’ve also really enjoyed exploring colours and fonts as a way of representing different thinking styles and organising principles. As a starting point, I recommend teachers consider simple approaches, like:
Red = points of contention
Blue = big ideas
Black = further explanation/elaboration of ideas and/or key concepts
Green = other examples from outside the text
Of course, the most exciting feature of this technology is the extent to which it enables genuine collaboration. For this activity, I shared the text with my entire class and was amazed to see how effectively we were able to read the text, discuss, annotate and apply the information all in one lesson!