You are currently viewing Going “Paperless-Ish”: Digital Annotation for Teaching and Learning

Going “Paperless-Ish”: Digital Annotation for Teaching and Learning

Context: Why Annotate Digitally?

  • Reading is a foundational element of any education.
  • Young people are reading less.
  • SAT scores in reading have declined steadily over the past 30 years.
  • Digital annotation could help improve students’ reading skills.
  • Kami is an easy to use digital annotation tool that is perfect for classroom use. 
  • Reading and writing are the foundational elements of any child’s education. Unfortunately, the role of reading in our culture has seen a significant decline as technology has advanced since the golden age of television in the 1950s.  A 2014 Common Sense Media research project found that “Reading for fun drops off dramatically as children get older, and rates among all children – especially teens – have fallen precipitously in recent years.”  A 2019 American Psychological Association study examining teen media use and reading between 1976 and 2016 found similar results prompting the authors of the study to adopt the subtitle, “The Rise of Digital Media, the Decline of TV and the (Near) Demise of Print”.  
  • Even someone who has spent an entire lifetime developing their reading skills and who is “…supposed to be an author – words are kind of my job” like Michael Harris has not been able to escape the effects of technological change in our culture.  Due to the constant draw of social and online media, Mr. Harris laments that “I have forgotten how to read” in a popular article in the Globe and Mail.  Upon sharing this observation with a friend, his friend simply replies, “Yes! Everybody has…Nobody can read like they used to. But nobody wants to talk about it.”
  • Based on the information above, it should be no surprise that the mean score on SAT, the granddaddy of all standardized tests, in reading has shown a significant decline over the past thirty years while mathematics scores have shown a net gain.    Clearly, students are reading less and even when they are reading, they are reading differently.  As a result, they are getting less reading practice outside of school, especially with complex texts like they might encounter inside the classroom,  and may need increased instruction in reading and additional reading time during school hours.  However, many teachers, especially secondary teachers, lack the training or expertise necessary to teach reading explicitly and effectively.  How might we address this conundrum?
  • Fortunately, digital annotation of texts may offer part of the solution.  Annotation can help boost student reading comprehension while being applicable in almost any subject area, and it is easy to implement for teachers who are not experts in reading instruction.  
  • While digital texts have performed somewhat poorly when compared with paper on measures of student reading comprehension, these studies often disallow the use of digital enhancements to reading (text-to-speech, instant definition of unfamiliar words, etc.) that are one of the benefits of reading digitally.  Learning to read carefully and manipulate text through digital annotation could be part of the solution to helping our students gain some of the skills that have been lost during our technological revolution. 
  • The remainder of this post will explore some of the benefits of digital annotation as a teaching tool and how to use Kami, an easy to use and exciting digital annotation tool for students and teachers

Reasons to Use Digital Annotation as a Teaching Tool

Click or tap on each reason to learn more.

Let’s be honest: copy machines in schools seldom work correctly.  The video below accurately depicts your experience with and feelings about the copy machines at your school. (Some things are worthwhile simply because of the aggravation and annoyance from which they spare us.)

In her 2004 essay in English Journal entitled “Beyond the Yellow Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension”, Carol Porter-O’Donnell identifies several ways that annotation may lead to increased reading comprehension for students.

The benefits of annotation may include:

    • Annotating helps teach reading as a process
    • Annotating changes comprehension – “connecting the new to the known”
    • Annotating slows down the reading
    • Annotating promotes more active reading
    • Annotating helps improve writing

In the same 2004 essay, Carol Porter-O’Donnell quotes some of her students on their experience with annotation and reading comprehension.

“I have found that my style of reading and comprehension has changed dramatically. Instead of approaching a book passively, I have used the tools that I acquired through annotating to really analyze the book as I read…” – Becca (Student Example)

“It is so much harder to fake read if you have to annotate like we do now. So now, I actually read because it’s too hard to fake annotate.” – Manny (Student Example)

What if annotation on a computer could be as easy as, if not easier than, annotating on paper?  You would be interested in trying it, right?  Well, quite simply, Kami makes annotation that easy and is currently the ideal tool to use for annotation in K12 classrooms.  

What makes Kami so great?  Ease of use is clearly the focus of the Kami Online Annotation app.  Both teachers and students can quickly sign-up for Kami using Google or email. Kami fully integrates with Google Drive and Google Classroom, tools with which you are likely already familiar and using daily.  Teachers can easily create Kami Assignments in Google Classroom and students don’t have to worry about losing paper assignments.

Most importantly of all, Kami provides a number of supports for students. Kami has the ability to read text to students with a built in text-to-speech feature and offers the ability to instantly define unfamiliar terms with a built in dictionary feature. Furthermore, there are a number of ways for students to interact with text in Kami: highlighting, drawing, text, voice and video commenting, and more. 

Getting Started with Kami, An Online Digital Annotation Platform

The best way to get started with many tools (obviously excluding chainsaws and other power tools that could cause a loss of life or limb) is just to experiment with them.  While Kami is a powerful tool, it is not a power tool, so my suggestion is just to sign up and play around with it to see what it can do.  

The video and links below will get you signed up for Kami and give you some ideas of what you and your students can do with Kami.  Play around.  Have fun.  Then share Kami with your students to help them improve their close reading and reading comprehension skills.

How to Sign-Up with Kami

Kami Links and More Resources for Learning

Kami Sign-Up Link –

Kami Google Chrome Extension – Kami in the Chrome Web Store

Kami YouTube Tutorials – “Kami in the Classroom”

Complete Kami Users Handbook – “Kami Users Handbook”


Final Thoughts

I’m excited to hear about your experiences using Kami with your students.  Please feel free to reach out to share your questions and observations via email or in the comment section below.  

Happy adventures and happy reading!