Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Using symbols in annotations for meaningful reading of Comprehension Passages

It makes good sense to encourage students to read for comprehension rather than just read for facts. A large number of students across various grades and different schools will read the questions in a comprehension exercise before attempting to read the passage itself. What they are doing is to read only to answer the questions given in the exercise. This may work when all the questions are based on identifying facts or data, but then when the questions are based on inference or identifying the main idea and the supporting ideas, then these very students are left scratching their heads. One of the best ways to make students better readers therefore is to train them to read for ideas and not read for facts.

Students can also develop the ‘Talking to the text’ approach which essentially means making annotations in the text itself. One way of guiding students through this process is to use specific symbols or signs for different learning outcomes. A few of the symbols and the aspects they might represent are given as under:

1. image  The five pointed star is placed against the main idea in the paragraph.
2.image The Asterix is placed against each supporting idea in the paragraph.
3.image  The lightning strike or the exclamation mark is placed against an
                   interesting idea.
4.image The spiral can be placed against a sentence, the idea of which you don’t
                   agree with.
5.image You encircle a word or a phrase or a sentence whose meaning is not clear.
6.image  Underline a word or a sentence that you think is important. This is
                 apart from identifying the main idea
7.image A zigzag line under a confusing word or phrase or even a sentence
              means that you need help. The idea is that you first discuss it with the group or crew and
              then it is escalated to the teacher for help. Also, the zigzag line can              be used to identify ideas, sentences, words for further research.

Note: Although this blog post is focused on creating an awareness about the use of symbols, it is also important to mention that active annotation requires the annotator to write active notes in the margins of the text to complement the symbols.

The purpose of using the symbols and what they stand for needs to be explained to the students. The ‘talk to the text’ approach caters to learning in crews, so it is important that the facilitator explains to each group what is to be done while reading the passage. I would like to suggest that the students should not be given the questions along with the text! It is only after they have read the text that the questions should be given. Also, during the course of reading the text, students should be told that it is only after they have discussed the meanings of difficult words, phrases or sentences within the group and have not been able to resolve them that they escalate the same to the teacher. Sometimes there are students who bring a dictionary with them. It is for the teacher or facilitator to first ask students with dictionaries to look out for the meaning of the word. This will help further collaborative learning and the sharing of resources.  In some cases, also the knowledge of others can be brought into play, the teacher can do a cold call and ask from amongst the students if someone knows the meaning of the word or phrase in question. It is also important to ensure that any discussion of difficult words and phrases takes place only after the students are done with their reading and they have spent at least five to ten minutes discussing and exchanging notes within the group.

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