Are annotations a waste of time?

Many teachers at SSES assign annotations, but is this really helpful for the student?



Annotations can be helpful, but what happens when you don’t know what to write?

Over the summer I was instructed to annotate A Walk In The Woods for AP Lang. And this task proved to be a difficult process for me. The assignment reminded me of my previous qualms with this note-taking style, and after giving it some thought, I came to the conclusion that requiring annotations in the form they’re currently assigned is not productive.

The main problem that I have with this assignment is that it forces the student to make notes that have no meaning to them, or that have been hastily written for the sake of completing the task. Personally, I found that a lot of the book consisted of information that I had nothing to write about. This led me to jot down thoughts and ideas that did not fit the purpose of this activity.

In reality, not every page of a text offers the student an opportunity to put this literary-analysis method into practice. There are times in this particular book when the author included something like extensive historical background, or a long, exhausting lecture of how different types of plants were discovered and by who. Those who are hoping to have analytical or insightful notes might find such instances to be an obstruction.

To me, annotation is about deep thoughts about symbolism, identifying themes within the text, conjuring up questions that arise; writing things like “same”, “haha, so funny” or “this guy sure loves to talk about plants” are not included in my list of appropriate annotations. But what else am I supposed to write about in these cases?

Most teachers who assign annotations expect there to be one or two notes every few pages. The assignment is not optional, so students are forced to write something, anything, no matter how off-topic it may be.

Are we not taught to promote quality over quantity? To have higher standards for our work and the results we produce? I’m not sure that this is the best way to encourage that mindset

Is there a solution to this dilemma? First of all, I acknowledge that the assignment cannot feasibly be made optional, since the majority of students will not feel the need to complete it. It can’t be taken away completely either, since annotations are still important in particular cases.

Therefore, I suggest a sort of middle ground. Annotations can be assigned, but not a certain amount per page. Notes will be made only when the student has deemed that there is something in the text worth writing about. Of course, there will be a minimum requirement, as this is still an assignment. It could be set to whatever the teacher wishes, for example, five annotations per chapter.

With this method, students will not feel pressured to write unnecessary comments that don’t reflect the reader’s thought and analysis. They can instead write what they feel is important and at the same time put in the correct amount of effort. This can keep students engaged and also help them to stay on topic with their work.