Ann O’Tate

I teach at a boys’ school. I urge my students to all date the same girl — Ann O’Tate. As socially awkward and potentially inappropriate as this sounds, I tell my students that it will be a difficult, yet rewarding relationship: You may choose to dump her, but she will never desert you. She will challenge you; she will keep you up at night; she will rob you of time that could otherwise be spent video-gaming, sleeping or Skyping with your grandparents. She will make you think like you’ve never thought before.

Who is this girl? Ann O’Tate. Get it? Annotate.

This is one of the best ways to make effective, and long-lasting, study notes. Annotating is more than simply writing things down. It involves explaining notes to one’s self, in writing, all in one’s own words. It involves drawing diagrams, writing captions, and solving problems in the margin. It involves processing the material, not simply “reading it over”.

Proper annotation is a great way for a student to learn. A student must put considerable time and brain power to prepare fully annotated notes. Different coloured pens may be required. But when it’s over, the notes will shine. They will reek of understanding. Another selling point is that notes this thorough, will make for excellent review, months after the material was covered. Perfect for final exam preparation.

As teachers, we need to show students what proper annotation looks like. Do we use different coloured markers (or chalk) at the board? Do our PowerPoint lessons incorporate colour? Do we insert arrows to explain why we do what we do? Do we explain and caption figures?

I would like to think that I do this. And when I do, I explain why I do it. Students need to understand why we use certain techniques to explain the concept at hand. Sometimes I purposely make my board notes look like a dog’s breakfast; I explain that part of their job is to translate these notes into an annotated work of beauty, worthy of the finest textbook and an award of merit for layout.

In spite of my daily epistles to this effect, it is, for many, a work in progress. Sometimes students don’t have enough time, which I understand. But what I don’t understand is laziness. For Pete’s sake, people — this is your education!!!!!

So tell your students: don’t be shy, ask Ann O’Tate for a date.