04 June 2012

Annotating Part 1

This is a photo of my copy of Heart of Darkness which I still have from high school in the mid 1980s.

A somewhat impenetrable book to me on first reading (excuse the Heart of Darkness pun), I have notes like this on most pages of the second half, accompanied by copious underlining. I was a serious note-taker, making footnotes with numbers and filling the top and bottom margins of the page. 

As I read the notes now, many of them seem to be my teacher's explication of literary devices, themes or contextual events. (Themes were big in  the '80s.) As this was a text for my final year of schooling, I was keen to get down everything my teacher said, knowing at the time that he knew more about this HSC game than I did.

Some of the notes were made later, particularly in the first half of the text as I went back to marry up the pre- and post-Kurtz sections. The highlighting came some time after the notes, as I was revising for the final exams. Both of my HSC novels have selected pink bits, which obviously represent what I deemed significant once I had negotiated the text sufficiently.

No one taught me to annotate, or gave me directions for the types of annotations I could make.  This artifact of my education shows my initial annotations as comprehension devices and memory aids, in the case of Heart of Darkness, helping me to understand the text. As my understanding develops, so do the annotations until they represent my interpretation of the text, arranged in layers on the page.

I know now that I am the type of learner who likes to write. Annotation came naturally to me because I find writing about texts and ideas part of my process of learning. But annotation does not come naturally to all students. In an earlier post titled Thinking and Reading, I wrote about the importance of teaching students one specific way of using annotation, making personal connections with a text. Over the next few posts I would like to expand on how annotation - both pen/paper and online - can become an essential learning tool for literary and non-literary texts. 

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