Teaching with Annotations
A great benefit that teaching with a Manifold text brings to your classroom is the possibility of conducting social annotation activities and assignments.
Why Teach with social annotation in Manifold?
- Social annotation helps develop critical reading skills because it forces students to re-read course texts and generates conversations that are inherently tied to details of the text – whereas student conversations conducted through blog posts and traditional discussion boards often wander, the physical proximity to the text in social annotation encourages more text-based discussions.
- Social annotation empowers students as co-creators of meaning and illustrates the ways that texts are networks of meaning in which students play an active part. It visually levels the playing field between the text and student writing because the text itself and the annotations are visually linked. Social annotation provides great low-stakes practice talking back to texts and using texts for self-expression.
- Social Annotation can help students see that reading and writing are never solitary activities carried out with static materials; rather, reading and writing is always an interaction, at the very least, between the person who wrote the text and the person reading and making sense of it. Books and other scholarly materials have always been social enterprises, from their conception to their production, but annotation, and collaborative annotation in particular, give us a better way to visualize the social network that exists around a book.
- Social annotation teaches important digital literacy and civic engagement. Social annotation is being used more and more as a part of the way we interact with digital media in our social interactions online as well as in the public spheres of digital reading, politics, and journalism. Browsing Kindle’s popular highlights reveals that thousands of users are highlighting texts as part of their regular digital reading practices. And Twitter and Facebook are often used as social annotation tools meant to generate conversation. In the realm of politics and journalism, examples of social annotation include the use of web annotater Genius by Obama’s administration to mark up State of the Union addresses on the White House website, by politicians including Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley inviting constituents to mark up speeches and letters on their official websites and by Washington Post and the New York Times to fact check and process executive orders and speeches coming from Trump’s White House. Not to mention, of course, the way prolific comments sections of articles published online can be thought of as annotations. Social annotation helps teach students how to engage in the digital public sphere, which more and more is the primary public sphere with which they will engage beyond the classroom. One of the most important things we teach is how to become an engaged citizen in the world, and social annotation can give students a sense of what that means and to get started in responsible and productive ways.
How To Teach with Social Annotation:
- Assign social annotation as a reading practice
Many students have never been taught how to annotate. It’s a great idea to start with a discussion of what the goal of annotation is in a given context, what are some different types of annotations, and what makes an annotation particularly productive. Introduce annotation as gloss, question, rhetorical analysis, close reading, and a means to make connections to other course materials and the broader world. Then, you can assign a number of annotations and a number of responses to classmates’ annotations.
Having students collaboratively annotate readings before class produces a heat-map of where students were most engaged, and where they were not. This can be valuable for leading class discussion; areas that are heavily annotated are often as expressive as areas that are not annotated at all. Un-annotated areas often indicated passages that made students confused or otherwise uncomfortable. Both following up on a cluster of comments and asking why no one commented on a particular passage can help shape class discussion.
- Social annotation as discussion leading
Manifold’s social annotation tool can be used as a text-anchored discussion board. You can leave discussion questions as annotations in the text, and ask students, or groups or students, to respond to them in threaded replies. Alternatively, you could ask a student or a group of students to lead a discussion in the text by posing questions as annotations and requiring the rest of the class to respond in threaded replies. You can then either have the discussion leaders begin class by expanding on the conversation that occurred in the margins, or you can begin class by pulling up the discussion and pushing it further.
- Social annotation as creative act
Students can achieve new levels of comprehension through creative annotations through which they play with an assigned text. Some creative annotation assignments include asking students to respond to a passage in a character’s voice, or asking them to write a haiku or lymeric in response to a passage.
 Adapted from “Back to School with Annotation: 10 Ways to Annotate with Students,” by Jeremy Dean, https://web.hypothes.is/blog/back-to-school-with-annotation-10-ways-to-annotate-with-students/