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NowComment Enhances Students’ Composing Processes

By Chris Sloan
 | Feb 01, 2019

nowcommentIt’s common for ELA teachers to require students to cite the sources they use in their compositions, but it was always a bit of a mystery to me as to my how students were interpreting those sources and integrating them into their writing. When my students composed problem–solution online essays this semester, instead of having them link directly to their sources, I had them link to their annotations of those sources using NowComment—an online annotation tool that has given me unprecedented insight into my students’ writing processes.

As my students and I read George Orwell’s 1984 (Houghton Mifflin) this fall, we kept a running list of his predictions. Then, they were asked to craft inquiry questions about  whether there was any relevance to what they have observed, read, or experienced. For example, in her essay, Yulisa makes connections between the rampant xenophobia in 1984 and the treatment of foreigners in contemporary society. Not only does Yulisa provide links to her sources, it’s clear how her annotations contributed to the essay.

It’s worth noting that Yulisa obtained some of her sources from SolutionsU, a website that curates stories that serve as models for how to identify, analyze, and solve problems.  This turned out to be a valuable resource because, as the quarter progressed, it seemed like this assignment was creating a sense of doom among students. I found it especially helpful for this assignment to have them annotate sources that not only documented problems, but also those that offered solutions.

Another affordance of NowComment is that annotations are searchable and all in one place (using the blog feature in NowComment), which made it more manageable for students to reference as they composed their essay. Collaboration became a lot easier too; some students who were researching similar topics combined their collections using the group blog feature on NowComment.

NowComment also enables students to be critical readers. For example, when Anika remarks on a questionable source, Ari counters, “This sounds a little extreme to me. Is there any example that proves this or that puts it in context of what is really happening in the US?”

NowComment has also made it easier for me to help struggling writers. Yulisa’s essay was well written, but others weren’t. By being able to go to their annotations, I was able to make them aware of common problems, such as not providing enough evidence for their claims or where they had misread the text. In many cases, it amounted to merely going back over the source with the student to help them see the examples that were already present in the text but that they had overlooked.

And finally, unlike many other annotation applications, NowComment allows users to annotate videos and images. That makes it especially useful for the kinds of multimodal compositions our students are producing.

Chris Sloan teaches high school English and media at Judge Memorial in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the summer he’s an instructor for Michigan State’s MAET Overseas program in Galway, Ireland. Join him on the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

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