Transcultural Literature 

Jonathan Burton | English 270 | Spring 2014

A long-time professor of literature, Dr. Jonathan Burton noticed that students often had difficulty with “close reading” skills when doing analysis on their own. He writes, “In student papers, I have found that students do not offer sustained close readings. Instead, they tend to do one of two things: either they quote from the text only within sections of essays where they are summarizing the plot, in which case they do not explain the significance of details; or they analyze a single detail without connecting it to other moments within the text.” To address these issues, he developed a space for social annotation using Google Docs, that he describes as “a digital space where students offer multiple responses to a single passage and are exposed to other students’ responses.”

Designed to be cyclical, students were divided into groups and then asked to annotate the same passages by responding to or expanding previous marginal notes. Then the first group was asked to synthesize the collectively produced notes into cohesive papers. This ensured that the students did their reading, that they had thought about it deeply, and that their analyses were more engaged and thoughtful.

Ultimately, the essays produced following this social annotation exercise were more thoughtful and offered more complex analysis than previous iterations. 

For references, check out Jonathan Burton’s shared materials:

Course Syllabus

Assignment prompt 

Sample text with student annotations:
Sample Annotations 1