When developing my annotation assignment, I was initially concerned about the clarity of the information I wrote. I was equally concerned about the content of the information I provided as a prelude to the actual instructions. Would my students understand what I wanted them to do after reading my instructions? I wanted to provide them with information that would help them understand the definition of annotations, the purpose, the procedure, the various ways one can annotate, and ways to evaluate one’s annotations. I was also concerned about the passage I selected. Unlike my peers’ poetry selections, I decided to use an excerpt from Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir A Place to Stand. This memoir is one that I had often used in previous classes, and it is a book my students had immensely enjoyed. I used it so often that one year I decided to use a different book for a fresh perspective, and then I never returned to it. But because it was one of the more popular texts I had used, I decided to return to it and use an excerpt that seemed to resonate with and captivate my students’ interest.
I wondered how my annotation comrade would respond to this assignment and specifically the text. I was surprised to read she actually enjoyed the text, and that her annotations led to a solid critique about Baca’s figurative language. Her annotations guided her analysis of how the author used figurative language to “strengthen the theme of prison and freedom.” It was a smart critique, and it was exactly what I intended my students to comprehend – Baca wants his reader to deeply understand how his mastery of language provided him with an emotional and intellectual freedom.
This excerpt inspired my annotation comrade because his narrative, of have been raised in the foster care and prison systems, emphasized freedom through language. My students, who are often first to college, are typically at the beginning of their academic journey. Many of them are not avid readers and some have rarely read any text, so I try to choose texts that can engross them. My annotation comrade’s critique validated my text selection; I want my students to get hooked on a story, to get excited, and to want to read more. This excitement was evident in my annotation comrade’s response, “Baca’s text is inspirational…he discovered his voice and freedom.” She then compared this memoir to Malcolm X’s and Emerson’s concept of the “active soul.”
I had initially been concerned about the clarity of the instructions, but my annotation comrade stated that the assignment was “well-designed” and she also said it “guides the student nicely.” Her use of annotations enhanced her analysis, and this was exactly my aim. I want my students to use their annotations for invention, engagement, and for analysis. My annotation comrade wrote an eloquent analysis that stemmed from a conversation with Baca’s excerpt. This end result validated the assignment and encouraged me to use Baca’s text next quarter.