“The thing that bugs me most about annotations is that they make what could be a 10-minute read a half hour read instead.”
–Caroline C., Hinsdale Central High School
In January 2012 we posted reasons students are reluctant to read, among them boredom, poor skills, slowness, lack of interest, lack of confidence, and inability to retain the material read. To address the last of these problems, the inability to remember the material read, some literature teachers require high school students to annotate (add notes to) their texts. The age at which students are required to annotate texts corresponds fairly closely with the age at which students begin complaining that they no longer enjoy reading.
In my summer speed reading classes I ask my students who likes to read novels and who doesn’t, as we are about to do an exercise in their handbooks on “Novel Reading.” That’s when some say that they used to. That was up until they were told to annotate. Some teachers actually grade on the number of annotations in the book (at least that’s what a student told me).
It is good to delve deeply sometimes and to exercise the brain by seeing how the pictures of scenes were created and to look for subtle meanings. But we recommend using our layering process which entails overviewing the whole book (covers, foreword, etc.), quickly previewing what’s there, and then doing a quick read without stopping while enjoying it as the whole picture that the author painted instead of looking at the brush strokes on how he or she created it.
So instead of stopping all the time and making notes in the margins, we suggest that when you read you put a line or check mark in the margins where it is intriguing, poetic, deep, or just worth more pondering. (On a Kindle, you can just bookmark it.) Then when done with a short book or a section of a longer one, go back and re-read what you marked, dive in, and annotate it. The notes will be better because of the big picture, and the reader will be more satisfied. See how the artist used the brush strokes to make the painting after enjoying the picture. Trying to do both at the same time doesn’t work.