Making Marks: Building Relationships Through Annotation Checks 


Cheney Luttich

Being tasked with teaching annotations has been a learning curve.  As a result of SCC’s Dev. English Department’s focus on integrated reading and writing, this write-leaning instructor learned (or continues to learn) how writing and reading are inextricably linked.  Annotations are key to navigating both.  I’ve also learned that what is instinctual to me is not for some students.  To me, annotations just make sense, and it was initially hard for me to make sense of the fact some folks couldn’t make sense of that which seemed like common sense to me.  (I’m sure some of the first students who received my guidance in annotations during my early days found it as dizzying as the previous sentence.)  


After reading journals and research about how one can go about teaching annotations and trying those methods it in my classrooms, I’ve assembled a system that works for me.  It’s malleable yet predictive, organic yet formulaic.  And while I won’t go into that system unless everyone wants me to in a later post, I will share the pleasant surprise that has come of it–relationships.  


I front load my course with developing reading skills, so by week six, students have knocked out five of the semester’s ten annotation checks.  I’ve got a trusty rubric complete with instructions outlining the particular check requires in terms of techniques and number of annotations per page. 


As students work in small groups on the day when a check is due, I go around the classroom and sit by each student.  I look through their book and study their written engagement.  I inquire after the questions they write in the margins.  I ask about the synonyms they write next to challenging words.  I explain to them how what they wrote on a particular page showcases their reading comprehension.  If a check’s guidelines require something more than what they produced, I show them where and how to do so.  They can go home, make those adjustments, and return the next class to recover those missed points.  


What happens is that by the time we’re in the fifth or sixth week of the semester, I’ve hung out one on one with each student and engaged in quality discourse multiple times.  It’s always wonderful to see the soft-spoken folks share their voices through annotations, but it’s even more awesome when the brief conversation that comes from the methodical annotation check translates into hearing more from that quiet voice.  


Another perk I’m finding is that students are more accountable when they know they’re going to sit face to face with me while I look through their book.  I imagine it’s not fun to have your instructor sitting next to you knowing your book’s pages are in pristine condition.  In the span of 5 annotation checks, I’ve had students go from failing annotation grades due to not doing much for the assignment to producing excellent annotations.  I’ve had students try to pass off their used book’s previous owner’s annotations as their own, but my clever one on one conversations reveal their ploy.  They eventually bought new books, and it’s wonderful to see their many brilliant marks and read their brilliant thoughts—ploy free. 


I’m 6 weeks in to the semester, and while I still struggle with names due to the mask’s camouflage, I know my students better than if I didn’t take the time to meet individually for weekly annotation checks.  And in a time when it seems relationships are hard to build due to all things COVID, this is a nice pedagogical win.   


Cheney Luttich teaches Developmental English at Southeast Community College.  In her free time, you can find her spending time with her family or studying anything related to nineteenth century clothing.