Annotating is the perfect way to ruin reading for high school students

I really enjoyed reading in middle school and I remember the days long, long ago when I would start a super long series like Harry Potter or A Series of Unfortunate Events and I wouldn’t put it down for too long until I was finished.

Now, ask me to read five pages for homework and I physically don’t have enough motivation to do it.

I blame high school. 

It’s not like I don’t think we should read in high school English class or that we should only pick the most exciting of exciting books; there’s obviously value in reading books like the Great Gatsby or Frankenstein that have literary significance and increase our critical thinking skills. 

But sometimes, the forced intensity of reading and annotations really pushed me away, so much so that I can no longer enjoy a good book.

Again, is annotating the worst thing in the world? 

No. I actually think it’s a really strong strategy to pull out important pieces of the text and I do think that we should learn about it and practice it in school. I think that kids should be shown that annotating is helpful should they choose to use it and I’m fine with a few assignments where we are required to annotate a paragraph or something.

But we were required to annotate entire books. And here lies the problem.

Sophomore year, I think Frankenstein was the first book we read. We earned points for each chapter based on how thorough our annotations were. Naturally, the teacher wasn’t about to look through every page to grade it, so they flipped through and saw how much it looked like we did. Naturally, annotations went from a few marks we could make to help us remember important things to entire margins full of notes that meant very little because they were far too plentiful. We would waste hours scribbling chicken scratch in our books and scrambling to finish during lunch so that we could get our five points and move on to the next full chapter that we wouldn’t understand because we would spend so much time making up annotations that we couldn’t actually read the book. 

I remember writing nonsense in that book the period before; “Dear [teachers name,] I do not have any more time to annotate. Please have mercy. This is way too much. I have been doing this for hours. Oh good, I’ve reached the bottom of the page. Onto the next page please don’t read this through.” 

As much as I tried to do a decent job, by the end of the book I was always so behind in the class due to other book related work that I would only have time to scribble down this type of nonsense. And by I, I mean the majority of the class. 

I always found that the books we didn’t have to annotate were the ones I comprehended the most, since I focused on reading and actually finding important information in the book rather than trying to fill a  page with writing. 

With annotating and excessive work for these books, reading became a chore. I can’t pick up a book now because it feels like stuffing what little free time I have with more work. I no longer enjoy it.

I think that school needs to restructure the way it does reading with students because I am not the only student who has experienced this phenomenon. Currently, the system is often counterproductive to its mission of developing kids’ love and talent for reading. 

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