Annotating for Argumentation

I spent the summer presenting at different conferences, edcamps, and unconferences on the value of using digital texts and tools to model, teach, and assess text annotation. I have also discussed the focus on argumentative writing with many district and school leaders. I always stress though that these methods can be be done just as easily with pencils as with pixels. Thus In this post I wanted to share my initial framework for annotating for argumentation regardless of the tool used.

Annotation: What is it?

At it simplest form, mark-ups on a text. A reading strategy as old as texts themselves. Yet at its most useful annotation is more purposeful coding rather than mark-ups dotting a page (Fisher and Frey, 2011).

Purposeful Coding

Purposeful coding is the act of developing an evolving system to mark-up a text to help support your understanding. It requires active and analytical reading, but also scaffolds active and analytical reading. So purposeful coding is always in development.

Most important, annotation must help support your understanding of the text.This requires a purpose for both reading and for annotating. There is no text annotation without purpose. Annotating without purpose is simply known as highlighting. So purposeful coding has a goal oriented focus.

Annotating for Argumentation

In order to support the annotation of argumentative texts you need to agree on important purposes for reading the text. Your students will need a list of different methods for reading a test. In order to develop potential purposes, preferably with students participating, you could examine the Common Core exemplars of argumentative, specifically the discussions of quality that follow the pieces. You could also examine the pilot writing rubrics released by Smarter Balance.

Once you have a list of possible codes: Claims, Evidence, Counter-Claims, Transitions, etc. develop a logical key of codes.

Then choose a a disciplinary text with an argumentative structure. Context is very important, as it is a source of evidence and a place to ground the issue. Every content and trade area should work to identify mentor texts. Overtime student work samples, from disciplinary based writing tasks, could be collected and used as anchor sets.

Model the act of annotating argumentative texts by modeling purposeful coding through multiple reads of the either the same tex or with multiple texts. Start by having students identify parts of the text that most affect meaning: claims and evidence. Code the document for the
central claim— the thesis or argument. Code the text for supporting claims. Then code the text for evidence.

Next code for organization. Have students try to number the Claims supporting claims and the evidence. Have the students annotate common transition words used in argumentative writing.

Then you could code for argumentation. Code the document for possible counter-claims and refuting evidence. Code for sources. Ask first, if sources are present. Then judge the credibility of that source.

Annotating with purpose is critical. Annotating with too much purpose is disastrous. As a teacher do not require t students to use all their codes all at once. Scaffold the act of purposeful coding by returning to a text and reading that text with a different purpose in mind. And of course, make sure to model every step of the way.

Remember, annotating argumentative texts is just one of many important methods to improve the argumentative writing of students. Most important students need exposure to multiple perspectives in disciplinary based argumentative texts. Annotation just provides an important tool for text based analysis.

The effective teaching of argumentative writing also requires the use of mentor texts; the creation of argumentative mini-lessons, both virtual and in-class, but always on demand; and most challenging identifying and providing feedback to encourage growth.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2011). Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives: Comprehending, Analyzing, and Discussing Text. Solution Tree. 555 North Morton Street, Bloomington, IN 47404.

Slider Image:”Highlighter.” Snowmanradio, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license:

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