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American Annals of the Deaf

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Working Text: Teaching Deaf and Second-Language Students to Be Better Writers
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Notice that my markings fall into several categories.

1. My interpretations (brackets): This is where I add my own ideas about what I am reading. I sense that Mathilde’s husband is initially happy about the invitation but that Mathilde’s response is odd; that Mathilde knows to be careful to not ask for too much money for a dress; that her husband does not speak up about his own desires. None of these ideas are actually stated in the text, but I am jumping off from the text to add my own two cents. My goal is to have these two cents grow into a provocative claim about the story through continued discussion written into notes on the whiteboard.

2. My questions (question marks): I wonder why Mathilde’s reaction to the invitation is so strange and strong, what “all the official world” might mean.

3. Big points (underlines): I underline the reason why Mathilde says she cannot go to the party.

4. Unfamiliar words (circles) and phrases (wavy lines): I circle and look up words students might not know, including their parts of speech—students must understand how words function in a sentence before they can use them properly (for more about why this is so important, see chapter 3). I also try to massage definitions to fit the story, situating them in an understandable context, as seen in the definitions for colleague and frugal. This will help students remember definitions; wavy lines call their attention to how meaning needs to be discerned from groups of words.

5. Referring back to what was already said (double-headed arrows): the word card is referred to as invitation, them, and they later on in the text. Students might not recognize this if it was not marked for them.

By copying several exact mark-ups that teachers model onto their own copies of the same text, students begin to learn how to approach or work new texts independently. Using brackets slows students down to reflect on text; question marks help them see where to keep reading to perhaps find answers, or to know where to begin a class discussion by asking their own questions; underlines shout out, “This is important!” Finding understandable definitions of unknown words moves students along in their reading and offers them new ways of lifting the level of their writing once they understand their meaning. Most important, the markings give students something to go back to when they are asked to think more deeply about a possible thesis and to subsequently write their essays. They will remember better the aspects of the story they have already made some notation about, and right before them are words and phrases to draw upon when they reference points in their essays. As I see it, this is one of the most authentic ways of learning English: learning it simultaneously with making a point about something of interest.
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