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Annotation and Analysis with Genius.com (Formerly Rapgenius)

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A page from Rapgenius, now called Genius, that includes an excerpt from Junot Diaz's Drown annotated by my students and a portrait of the author.
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Brief Assignment Overview: 

This lesson plan builds on Andrew Uzendoski's lesson on teaching close reading using Rap Genius (now called Genius), focusing on teaching students the process of annotation, as well as how to articulate the building blocks of their close reading practice. Students receive feedback from the instructor on a close reading assignment in the form of annotations. They work both individually and in groups to close read and then annotate excerpts from a text using the interactive online knowledge project, Genius.com. 

Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Required Materials: 

-Computer for each students

-Projector to present

-Texts

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Prior to the Genius lesson, I assigned students a close reading activity for homework. They had produced one-paragraph close readings from selected short lines of poetry--their first fully independent close reading work. They were asked to make an argument about the meaning and importance of the lines that included both the how and why of literary analysis. In other words, students needed to identify something they found important about word choice, structure, etc. (this was the what) and then explain how they knew this was true (finding evidence), and finally articulate why the author made this choice. (These pieces of writing were used as building blocks for full close reading--skills we had been working on in class; I had previously given them several examples of complete analytical thoughts). I then annotated their written paragraphs to identify the "hows" and "whys" or to point out the missing evidence and explanation. We went over several examples using the projector. As we discussed my comments and ways to improve their close readings, I introduced the term "annotation" and we talked about how annotating can be used to improve their reading comprehension. This mini-lesson was useful in making sure that students both understood my feedback and began to learn the skills of active reading. 

At the end of this class I had students make accounts with Genius, read their introductory page, and explore the website. Genius allows students to see a public community of annotators at work and in conversation, as well as understand how the annotations can enhance meaning. I was glad that the text we were reading, Junot Diaz's Drown, was not up on the site and annotated, as I wanted my students to engage their own critical thinking skills before they read other people's criticism.

During the next class I assigned students to five small groups (4-5 students) and asked each student to login to Genius. Each group had a different short excerpt (1-2 paragraphs) from the previous night's reading to annotate. Students were asked to look up words in the OED or by using other resources (as they were often looking up Spanish and Dominican slang) and explain these, as well as provide succinct close reading paragraphs that made an argument about the meaning and importance of certain words, phrases, sentences (building on the previous assignment). They began by doing the work individually, but enjoyed seeing one another's comments appear on the page, and I encouraged them to engage in conversation as they annotated, as well as afterward. 

The groups presented their annotations to the class. Each group member was required to present at least one annotation. As a class, we discussed methods for strengthening each of the close readings and I explained how these paragraphs might be incorporated into their upcoming papers on the text. Because of the genius of Genius, students were able to comment on or revise one another's annotations. They are also aware that their work exists in the public sphere and may be edited by any member.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

-Introduce the building blocks or steps of close reading over the course of several classes

-Grade a close reading assignment using annotations that identify different aspects of the student's close reading (evidence and explanation, or "hows and whys")

-Prepare several examples of this completed assignment to show to the class (ask students for permission if projecting their work)

-Prepare students for the activity in a previous class by having them join Genius, read the introductory material, and explore the website

-Upload 5-6 excerpts from the next reading assignment to Genius (feel free to contact Jeremy Dean, Education Czar and alum, for help or advice: jeremy@genius.com) 

-Split the class into groups 

Instructions For Students: 

HW Assignment (close reading building blocks--I provide an example of each of the following steps. I also provide them with a packet on close reading that we review as a class prior to this assignment): 

1. Choose 2 lines from "Howl." Follow the steps below to produce a well-supported argument about the meaning of these lines. 

2. Paraphrase. First you will need to make sure that you understand all the words in these lines (use the OED). Next, state what is said and/or what happens in your own words. 

3. Make a list of observations about these lines. What's important? Refer only to details from these two lines. This will be your evidence

4. Analyze. Now you need to consider the meaning of these observations. In at least two seperate complete sentences, describe how and why two of the above observations/details contribute to the meaning of this selection. 

5. Argue. Produce a one-paragraph argument about the meaning of this selection. Each of your explanatory claims must be supported by evidence from these two lines.

Genius Group Activity

-Read over my feedback on your close reading hw assignment

-Find your assigned excerpt in Drown and reread this section to familiarize yourself

-Sign-in to Genius.com and search for the excerpt

-Begin by looking up any words you do not immediately understand, using the OED or other databases 

-Next, annonate these words, explaining their meaning and situating them within the passage

-To Annotate: highlight the selection and click the "annotate" button that pops up, then enter your text into the textbox. Note: if someone has already annoated this selection, you may add your own text by highlighting the selection from right to left. 

-Now, begin to close read the passage, adding annotations that provide context or further explanation

-Finally, choose a phrase or sentence that you find integral to the excerpt's meaning. Using the close reading steps, produce a one paragraph annotation of this material

-Discuss your annotations as a group and prepare to report back to the rest of the class

Evaluation Suggestions: 

I did not grade this assignment (except as a contributing factor to students' participation grades) but students will soon submit a short paper on the text that will showcase their active reading and close reading skills--skills that hopefully further developed through their use of Genius. We did evaluate almost every annotation as a class, considering ways to improve students' articulations. 

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

Students seemed excited about this assignment and were generally very positive about the results of their work. Several of them told me they loved using Genius (and most were learning about it for the first time). Next time, I think I would annotate an excerpt as an entire class (to go over process and discuss best practices) and maybe spend more time introducing the website rather than letting students explore individually, as it took a while for some students to start their annotations. I would also prefer smaller groups and more excerpts, so that each student had the opportunity to provide a substantial close reading, rather than one or two students from each group dominating the annotating!

Course Description: 

The banning of books continues today in the United States, speaking both to the fear of certain ideas and the power of the written word. In this course, students will read banned novels, short stories, and poems across cultural and temporal contexts, pursuing the following questions: What causes a text to be labeled “indecent” or “dangerous”? How is literature connected to political and social movements? How do these texts contribute to our understanding of what constitutes American literature?

The primary aim of this course is to help you develop and improve the critical reading, writing, and thinking skills needed for success in upper-division courses in English and other disciplines. You will also gain practice in using the Oxford English Dictionary and other online research tools and print resources that support studies in the humanities. You will learn basic information literacy skills and models for approaching literature with various historical, generic, and cultural contexts in mind.   

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