The Power of the Commonplace Text

Dennis J. Sumara, in Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters talks about the commonplace text. He hopes that people will pass their annotated copies of book on to other readers, which turns them into what he calls “historical documents” that show the way different readers have engaged with it.

I saw, on Tumblr a few years ago, a picture of John Green’s Paper Towns that had been read, loved, and annotated by a number of readers and I thought to myself, “I want to do that.”

This year, after purchasing my 9th copy of The Fault in Our Stars, I found that opportunity. But I’m not doing it. My students are. And this whole idea of creating a commonplace text was brought back up by a student who, when reading TFiOS, came to class with a list of quotes she liked. So I told her to write in it. Here’s some of the result.

Having never had the opportunity to annotate before, she went to town. And her reactions were some of the most awesome things to see as a teacher.

I think it is important to teach readers how to read closely and how to annotate text, but I think the first step to helping students learn to annotate is to give them the unstructured opportunity to do so — but with a text that speaks to them. She clearly made explicit her thinking as she read, something that many of my students struggle with.

I can’t contain the excitement I felt when I saw these (and some of the others that contain spoilers). And I don’t have words to express how excited I am about the next student who reads this text.

I hope she’ll continue reading this way, and inspire others to do so as well.

Do you write in  your books? Why or why not?

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