Seeing student thinking in High School English is tricky - beyond a final essay or class discussion, there are few ways to check for understanding as students read. Knowing how my students process a text is so much clearer to me if I’m able to see how they interact with the text itself. This can take the form of annotations, marked up key lines and margin notes.
This past year, in a virtual world, my co-teacher and I had to reimagine how we would look at and assess student annotations. We could no longer pick up a student’s novel in passing to get a glimpse into their thinking. We were sending students the books to read along during class, but how could we ensure they were writing notes in their book and how could we “collect” them to assess the quality? At first, we used the “Draw-It” feature on Nearpod. It was fairly disjointed though because the annotations they made disappeared from their personal resources at the end of the Nearpod session- so even though they made great connections and highlighted key lines, they weren’t able to refer back to them in a meaningful way, especially when crafting a short response or completing the test.
Well, EdLight seemed to be the solution. Although EdLight was framed as a more math aligned tool, we saw it as the perfect way to capture annotations and provide meaningful feedback.
The Process- In 9th grade English, we are working on the skill of close reading and finding the strongest pieces of evidence to support the theme:
Over time, we saw improvements in the quality of annotations- students knew that if they didn’t produce a quality note the first time, we would ask them to look back through the Zoom chat and make a new note. We also saw an increase in participation from students, both off-mute and in the chat, because students knew we were looking for accurate annotations in-the-moment, so engagement and accountability increased.
It felt like we were finally seeing students’ thoughts and analysis in real-time and could see the process in the images/annotations they shared. Not only that, we could see the gaps or where the misunderstandings were and address them immediately. We also were able to see who was following along and who maybe got distracted in the middle of the lesson. It helped us inform our specific feedback not only in terms of that class and those specific annotations, but in the context of the book unit as a whole, especially when it came to the test or to the close read short responses. Looking at annotations during intellectual prep meetings, my co-teacher and I were able to see where there were whole class misunderstandings, which informed the specific recaps we gave the next day to address those gaps. These annotations also gave insight into who needed additional support, most often as an additional after school office hour support for the given chapter, or even the entire unit.
While we begin to transition back to ‘normal’ and more and more students are coming into the building, this new method of collecting annotations, providing real-time feedback, and having a portfolio of significant annotations and theme notes is one that my co-teacher and I intend to bring with us into the next school year.