My Teaching, in the Form of an Annotated Bibliography

To preface this post with some explanation, this term I have tried out an Annotated Bibliography assignment that I got from a colleague at Baruch who adapted this from an assignment at John Jay. When I get back to my computer, I’ll try to upload/paste in the example “RefAnnBib.”


It’s merely an example, with no explanation, but my students have largely been massively successful with actually using it to look at how they might use a particular source in building their arguments. It’s a funny academic process genre (and very similar Jackie I think to your source rhetorical analysis!) but I’m proposing that the audience is their fellow group members and today, students’  Annotated Bibliographies (of just two entries each) became the basis for some really good group discussions about ideas.

I was having a kind of “dark night of my soul” week or two of teaching, so I’m celebrating by putting my thoughts into the form of a “RefAnnBib.” Thanks for humoring me!

1. Source: Liao, Kim. “Adventures in this Crazy Thing We Call Writing, Inquiry, and Research” (i.e., discussions spanning several classes), ENG 1121 D447: Writing Across Situations. NYCCT. Accessed in my mind on 4/11/19.

2. Tip Sheet:

Writer(s): 25 energetic and sometimes skeptical, occasionally lazy, but primarily good-natured student investigators; joined by one fearless but kooky expert novice trying to light the way through our journey through inquiry, research, and argumentation.

Source: Pearl 504B, a classroom replete with two functional computer screens, two entirely defunct blackboards, and clanging heaters that have mostly dwindled down to silence.

Purpose: In this assignment, we are attempting to use inquiry-based research to propose the answer to a pressing problem that affects a specific audience. Part 2 of this assignment involves the translation of said argument to a digital multimodal genre of their choice.

3. Précis (or as I explained to my students, summary + quotes):

I have constantly been afraid that I’m asking too much of them. I’m asking them to gather 5+ relevant sources and do fieldwork to produce an eventual group-written 6-8 page proposal — a largely academic-toned document but which proposes a specific solution to a specific problem to benefit a specific audience. Is this too much? It feels like too much. We could literally spend an entire semester on any of my assignments. And there were a few moments when I wasn’t sure if a) the groups were going to gel or b) if they were going to find topics that actually fired them up. Then, I had a grading crisis this week and in addition, introduced this Annotated Bibliography assignment on Tues, and was just like, it’s over. This pilot has been fun, but they’re going to mutiny and I have obviously failed as a teacher and what is wrong with me and I shouldn’t think they can jump through these myriad of first year writing hoops. Then, this morning on my way to class at 7:30, I thought, isn’t it unfair that FYW is tasked with preparing students for EVERY OTHER WRITING SITUATION IN THEOR LIVES while the goal of Bio 1 is simply to prepare you for Bio 2, Organic Chemistry, or the acquisition of further scientific knowledge?

But then. Then my students came to class and took out their Annotated Bibs and started having real conversations about real sources. One kid brought in a source by the ACLU about how solitary confinement in prisons creates a world of mental health problems, and he said, “This is going to help us define the problem of mistreating inmates with mental illness,” while his group member said, “The guards take away their pills and won’t let them have their treatments. It’s a form of prisoner abuse” (Su, personal communication, and Ramales, personal communication, respectively).

And from then on, I knew that I will always bow down in gratitude to the RefAnnBib, because it got my students working with their sources in new ways — totally unprompted. It combines the MLA source citation (1. Source) with a brief analysis of the writer and publication (2. Tip sheet) with a summary including meaty quotes (3. Précis/Summary/Abstract), and finally, reflection on why the source is useful and how it could be incorporated into the writing itself (4. Reflection).

My super brief summary: it sounds like a ton, but it works.

It works.

4. Reflection:

Teaching is hard, but worth it. Developing new materials and adopting others’ materials is scary — but worth it. I can’t wait to do this again, with more time.

My students are going to write drafts that include sources, since now they have summaries and reflection — the first steps towards analysis and argumentation. With the rest of today, we looked at some micro-level quoting vs. paraphrasing, and how to build an effective paragraph AROUND a quote of example from a source. I know not everything sticks the first time, but I was feeling the magic again, and I’ll tell you, I really needed it.

I have a question for others: how on earth are you tackling teaching inquiry, research, and argument? How do you encourage students to go beyond the surface level — (Carrie and I were talking about the “Google/Wikipedia level”)? How can we encourage students to pick up books, or dig deeper, or look beyond their first impulses when conducting involved research? So many of my students are tempted to only ask questions that they think they can answer in 5 min, and I’m trying to figure out how to get past that impulse.

5 thoughts on “My Teaching, in the Form of an Annotated Bibliography

    1. SSchmerler

      Source: my brain, full of admiration and wonder at how totally cool this is. Opinion of this Source: You put yourself into your own format. I love that. Yay solipsism and self referentiality — if those are at all applicable terms.

      Value of this Source: not miniscule. I’ve put in lots of hours — maybe not to the Malcolm Gladwell level of mastery — but significant effort so I can say that my opinion counts for something. I think that research can, in fact, be taught from the source up. I love the geekiness of source analysis. I’ve tried it, with moderate, but not considerable success.

      Recommendations for further action (building motivation): I show a trailer of a film called “Kunst und Konspiration” about an artist in my community who committed suicide after working too hard on his research-based drawings (which are, in effect, comprised solely of source data in pencil on paper). He made connections that warranted the 9/11 Commission (?), or rather, the FBI, to look at his artwork as evidence. I try to show how powerful, and dangerous, even, research can be. And how anyone can do it, alone, and that you shouldn’t be alone with information you learn. You should share it.

      Awesomeness level: Five Stars. Can’t believe you did all this in such a short span of time. Set your sights lower perhaps? Be glad you got more than five minutes of attention in your physical classroom setting, period. Don’t worry too much about how we are supposed to be Jedi preparing a fleet of Younglings to fight in the Rebellion. it will all seem too daunting, and we don’t get cool outfits from the Dept. to wear while we are prevailing over Apathy.
      If we did have outfits, they would need pockets. Seriously. For chalk and stuff. Bio people get lab coats… Sorry. Don’t get me started.

      My Own Beef: My students want way more structure for research than I want to give them. They seem determined to give up before they start. I told them that research is like the porn of genres: it’s only for adults. Kids need not apply. You gotta put on your adult attitude and go out there and find out what other people in the world have to say now.

  1. Leigh Gold

    Kim, I love that you use the word magic–I think that simply having each student be able to find one source that really shows them something “real”–the example you gave is so hugely powerful and so relevant of course….So, I think the very Tolkien-esque journey you map out, ends with a wonderful point that something is being illuminated or received. I also am feeling like my genre/research assignment is too much but this week so far, I am hearing some amazing plans and questions that my students seem actually excited about or at least, they are really given a chance to research what they want to explore…So, I will stop now as I am quite sleepy but I found your account so familiar! Looking forward to more tomorrow!!

    1. Carrie Hall

      Actually, I think this annotated bibliography assignment (which I have always avoided, having only ever written one in my life, and being pretty in the dark about them myself) seems like a good place to start with “digging deeper.” I’m going to consider it somewhere in my curriculum next semester (or, more likely for 1121. I’ll be teaching 1101 in the fall.) I’ve struggled constantly with getting students to do “deeper” research. I think interviews are another way.

      I have to say that I had high hopes for the library visits, but they have not been much help in this department. In fact, I think they make the library seem even less accessible. And I’m not sure that “scholarly” research is what I’m after for my students. Just credible research. Research that scrapes the surface.

      1. SSchmerler

        I think that going “deeper” is a good topic for all of us to brainstorm.
        I may be going off topic here but I LOVE the Library visits. I usually go in ahead of time to talk to the specific Librarian I get assigned and ask them how they might like to work with me. I get mixed results, depending on the person and the class assignment. No matter. I use the Librarian as Good Cop – Bad Cop talk during the rest of the semester. Do I feel that the Library visit is great for going “deeper”? No, to be honest. It is TOTALLY daunting, as you say. I don’t get huge results that I can measure. However, I feel that the impact from a Library visit is more of a ripple effect. I think the *awareness* of resources available and the *motivations* we give the students (encouraging them to engage with content and *validating* and valuing that engagement) will probably be felt in their other classes once they are Sophmores and beyond. It will also be felt in more atomized, atmospheric ways when they are just plain searching on Google, alone, on their phone, and not liking what they read as much as they used to. About, well, anything.

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