Commenting on Texts in a Digital World

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book: Reading Workshop 2.0: Teaching Reading in the Digital Age about commenting on texts (coding and marking up) with digital apps.

Commenting Using Apps on Mobile Devices
            In addition to online, computer, and browser based programs, there are numerous apps available for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets that allow readers to highlight, comment on, and aggregate a variety of digital texts, including books, PDFs, images, and webpages. In general, these apps allow readers to import a text, highlight specific sections, type or handwrite notes in the margins, aggregate these highlights and notes, and share highlights and notes with other readers online.
            For the past few years, I have been trying out a variety of note-taking apps and have found, Notes Plus, and Penultimate to be the easiest apps for importing texts (mainly PDFs) and adding highlights and comments. Depending on whether you are on an Android, Apple, or other platform, these note-taking apps offer similar features and capabilities and are easy to navigate once you get used to them. There are many apps available to choose from in the iTunes and Google Play stores online. Again, I suggest beginning with the basic or free versions of these apps before investing in the full or premium versions.
            Goodreaderseems to be the most advanced of these three apps, offering a range of highlighting, annotation, and sharing features. Let me take you through how I have used this app on my tablet (iPad) and offer some ideas for using these apps in the classroom. I have used Goodreaderprimarily to annotate and comment on PDF files of journal articles. In this app, the main menu is accessible by tapping on the screen of my tablet and offers the following capabilities:
  1.      Highlight sections of text that can be aggregated and share
  2.      Add bookmarks to particular pages
  3.        Attach annotations or comments that can be aggregated and shared
  4.        Create outlines of my notes in an attached file
  5.        Search through the text of the document for particular keywords
  6.        Add arrows, boxes, circles and markers for calling attention to sections of texts or images
  7.        Compile notes and annotations into a file that can be uploaded or emailed

The Goodreader app could easily be used by students to take notes, add comments, and share highlighted sections with other readers in a literature study group or for a research project. The sync features in Goodreader allows multiple readers to upload and share notes about a document while reading it at different times, in different places.
            Penultimate and Skitch are two more of my favorite note-taking and annotation apps. Both of these mobile apps are part of the Evernote suite of apps and they sync with one’s Evernote account for sharing highlights, comments, and screenshots. These apps allow me to import a PDF version of a text, highlight it, add comments, draw arrows on it, circle sections, and make margin notes. These apps require an Evernote account and offer basic and premium versions for working with various documents and images.

Notes Plus, Paperport Notes, and Notability are additional note-taking apps that can be used in a variety of ways to read, highlight, annotate, and share ideas across readers and classrooms. In addition, many of these note-taking apps allow readers to audio record lessons, make audio recordings of their own ideas, take pictures of images and classroom presentations, and share these files online. I recommend you start with the free versions of these apps when available, play around with the various features offered on each app, find one you like, and spend time getting to know its capabilities.


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