Highlighters. Some people love them. Some people hate them. Many people misuse them.
In my classroom, I see highlighters as a force for good (learning)…when they’re used correctly. I instruct my students on some effective strategies to get more out of their usage of highlighters. Most students use highlighters as they study or take notes to indicate important information. And oftentimes, this leaves one with a damp piece of paper that is so bright it could also be used as a beacon for those lost at sea. There’s not a lot of thinking involved with the use of the highlighters and; therefore, there’s not a lot of learning. I believe they see they’ve used the highlighter to indicate an important term or process and, simply because of that, they’ll be more likely to remember the material…if they tie the highlighting to learning at all. A lot of the time, they just highlight terms because if feels like the should. Key term? Highlight it. Important person? Highlight it. The teacher said this is important to know? Highlight it.
This is not efficient. This is not effective. There is a better way.
And it all starts with a shift in mindset as to the purpose of the highlighting.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If students are highlighting pertinent information **that they will come back to use for revision and study purposes later**, then I believe there’s some merit to that. So, I definitely do not discourage my students, during class, from spending time highlighting important material. But, I do ask them to consider what they’re highlighting, why they’re highlighting it, and (most importantly) what they are going to do in the future with the highlighted information? If this is the last time they’ll ever look at or use these notes, then highlighting anything is most likely a waste of time.
So, something I say often to my students to hopefully provide direction to their highlighting practices while also shifting their mindset is:
“Highlighting is the beginning of the learning process, not the end.”
Here’s a couple of strategies I use with my students to make greater use of highlighting:
I am fortunate that my classes are right at 90 minutes long. This affords me time to take the first 10 minutes of class pretty much everyday to provide recognition and/or recall opportunities of previously taught important information…formative assessment of material. The brain-book-buddy strategy is a staple with my students. If you’re not familiar, I definitely think it’s worth your time to read and consider using in your classroom. Without going into too much detail about brain-book buddy, the use of highlighting is imperative. The highlighting indicates to the student what they know and what they don’t know. In a nutshell, the highlighter allows students to know what they know using only their brain, what their notes know, and what their peers know about the subject matter. This delineation is quite important for students to understand and really gets them thinking about not only what they currently know, but where it comes from in the classroom.
Similar to brain-book-buddy, but with an exciting twist, I also ask students to sometimes do this during formative assessment: Upon seeing the questions they are to attempt during the review, students are to first work only using their brain…no help from any other sources of knowledge. After they complete answering the questions using only their brain and BEFORE we move forward, I ask students to highlight all questions they did not answer (so, they’re highlighting blank spaces) and questions they attempted, but are not confident in their answer (they guessed). No matter what happens going forward, students are left knowing what information they did not know at all or confidently.
Next, students can then use their notes to check the answers they did give and to fill in the blanks on the questions they did not attempt. It is important to note here, that whatever they write from this point forward will be on highlighter. This stops students from falsely believing that they know more than they actually know. I do not want them using their notes to answer questions, leaving them with the impression that they know the material…if they had to use their notes, they obviously didn’t know the information well enough. This will also show them whether their notes are lacking, too…if they still have highlighted blanks on their paper, they’ll know they have insufficient notes from class. That leads to another discussion about note taking…but that’s another topic for another blog post. 🙂
Finally, students use their peers to check answers and fill in any highlighted blanks left. I ask them to consider why one of their peers knows the answer to questions and they do not. Was it because they were absent for one lesson? Did they not take quality notes? Again, I believe it quite important for students to consider these questions and their learning.
Before moving on, we always take a moment to look at the amount of highlighted material on their paper. This tells them what they did not know using only their brain. If it’s highlighted, they needed outside assistance. This also indicates to students what they need to begin with and prioritize when studying later. I think this strategy is great because it allows for discussion of all the correct answers while still maintaining the integrity of a true formative assessment for the students. They don’t just leave with a paper with all of the answers and they’re still oblivious to their level of understanding.
When used properly, the highlighter is a quality tool in the classroom. We, as teachers, have to instruct students on how to use them well and help them to see the benefits beyond simply highlighting to say they highlighted. When it indicates important information for later study or shows students what they know and what they don’t know, the value of the highlighter is…highlighted.
How do you use the highlighter in your classroom?