Talking To Your Text: How a Group of Students Used Annotations to Improve Their Writing Skills

Tara Lockhart’s and Mary Soliday’s article, “The Critical Place of Reading in Writing Transfer (and Beyond): A Report of Student Experiences,” examines the way in which literacy serves as a framework for writing across the disciplines. Lockhart and Soliday reported their findings from a four-year research study administered to students at San Francisco State University in Northern California. The students, enrolled in composition and writing intensive classes, were asked to respond to a series of questions that addressed how they perceived difficulties, successes and support (or lack thereof) in writing.

The article begins with a thought provoking question, “…how can we as teachers use this understanding to nurture the ways of reading that our students, our disciplines, our universities, and our society value?” This question of valuing reading is one I constantly consider given how little institutional support there is for the teaching of reading. In my reading classes, I often wonder what students learn. At the end of the quarter, I typically ask them to reflect upon what they have learned- how did this reading class help you? Although their responses vary, most emphasize how learning to annotate helped them in current and future coursework.

Lockhart and Soliday’s close examination of how reading transferred to other disciplines supports the anecdotal student responses I receive from my students. Similar to their study, my students also have said annotations helped them in other classes ( I have been teaching for over a decade, and this informal response to the question about what people have learned in my class always includes annotations. As the authors stated, annotation allowed for a rich engagement with the text. But it also helped with invention. The notes students wrote alongside their texts gave them ideas about what to write, what to argue and helped shape and structure their thesis. One student understood the integrated relationship between reading and writing, ‘I’ve become a better writer largely because I’ve become a better reader.’

The students’ interview responses in Lockhart and Soliday’s research were indicative of the learning happening in and out of the classroom. Some students stated reading and writing ‘were almost the same thing,’ ‘I now always read with a pen in my hand,’ and they felt ‘effective’ and ‘really smart’. They learned how to appropriately use quotations and how to organize their written work. But what caught my attention most was that the transferrable skills they learned were also emotional ones. Lockhart and Soliday termed these emotional skills “affective dispositions, “ and proceeded to explain how students gained confidence, felt accomplished, and gained perseverance. Reading was correlated with their affective learning, and their “affective disposition” increased their writing (and reading) success.

Lockhart and Soliday state, “reading was an outlook, a stance, a methodology”. They suggested integrating reading strategies into the curriculum, and they suggest training teachers in reading. Teacher training should include teaching reading theory, concepts and practical application at the university level, as most of the scholarship on literacy is currently within a k-12 framework. There are a few English Composition programs that award reading certificates in California, but a loftier aim would be to restructure English Composition graduate programs so they emphasize or specialize in college reading. According to the most recent comprehensive study by Stanford, “Getting Down to Facts 11: Current Conditions and Paths Forward for California School,” high school graduation rates in the state of California have gone up. However, students still fall behind the national rates in reading. The largest achievement gaps are in the poorest neighborhood- many students are a year behind their more affluent peers. According to the Stanford study, income inequities correlate with educational outcomes. Teaching reading becomes an issue of social justice. In my previous blog, I paraphrased an article that spoke to this social justice issue. Part of an educator’s duty is to promote critical thought and civic engagement, and reading is fundamental to it.




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