Recently, my high school students were assigned an inquiry project that required independent research. The first step in this project was teaching students to write an annotated bibliography. Fortunately, I was well supported by my English department colleagues. Each of whom supported our shared students with instruction on writing annotated bibliographies.
A common definition was adapted from Purdue OWL’s website. An annotated bibliography includes a summary and/or evaluation of sources for a research project. Annotations may do one or more of the following: Summarize: What is the point of this book or article? What topics does it cover? Assess: Evaluate the source. How will it be useful? Is the information reliable? Is this source biased or objective? Reflect: Ask how this source fits into your research. Was this source helpful to you? How can you use this source in your research project? Has it changed how you think about your topic?
Grading the annotated bibliographies was simple: First, I examined the quality of the annotation. How well did the student summarize, assess and reflect on the content of the source? Then I looked at the overall format of their document. Two minor mistakes knocked them down to a B; 3 mistakes = C; 4 mistakes = D; and more than 4 mistakes = do not pass go, do not collect $200.
I used this presentation to debrief with my students. I’m happy to report that over 75% of my students were able to complete an annotated bibliography in two class periods. Unfortunately, only 32% of the work that was turned in met my definition of proficiency as having fewer than 2 or more minor mistakes. The fifteen students who got A’s averaged five correct citations containing informative annotations.
Moving forward, I could see this activity becoming an end of unit exam or even a department final that accurately measures student research skills. How do you assign and evaluate annotated bibliographies? How can we break the research process down so that students are able to practice these skills in our daily classroom practices?