Highlighters for Dummies

Our big push this year is literacy across the curriculum. We've put together a literacy team, of course, with the hope that it will be teacher led. Our plan is to devote some of our SIP monthly meeting time to teaching a new strategy and giving teachers time to discuss and reflect. I don't know if this is as common in your school but in our school, we never sit back and talk about if things work or how to improve them. Basically, if it didn't work the first time, we give up and think of another idea. Also, when individual teachers go to conferences, we never give them the opportunity to share what they learned with the rest of the faculty. We are missing out. So I am really hoping that self-reflection is a big part of this.

I am not on the literacy team but my graduate practicum is based on re-designing professional development so it makes sense that I am working hand in hand with the literacy team. So the team developed a definition and I created a poster.

We previously had a short meeting where all teachers brainstormed ways to integrate literacy into their content areas. And thus, another poster.

We have also started doing peer observations which has been fun. I noticed that a lot of middle school teachers model highlighting in their classrooms which is something we don't do in the high school. So I started thinking, how could I use highlighting in my classroom? I think it would be a great literacy strategy that would be easy to integrate into every content area. We do a lot of examples and some definitions. I make everything so it is very possible for my students to highlight since I don't use textbooks. But how could we do it so that it is beneficial?

I brainstormed with my students and they said I could tell them the important things that will be on the test. So I turned that around and thought that it could be a good summary of the lesson. Students tell me what is important and then highlight. But that brought up the question of, how do you study for a math test? I don't really know because I never studied either. I review with students in class so I don't know how they would go about studying on their own. We are currently using index concept cards to summarize a concept. Students suggested a way to review would be for me to give them problems and using their cards, tell me which concept it goes with. Another teacher suggested that I give them a list of terms/examples at the beginning of the unit and we could highlight in different colors. Then as we go along, we could highlight with different colors in our notes so that students know what each term/example refers to. But to me, we could do that without highlighting. For example, I could just say 'Refer to Example 1". I don't want to highlight for the sake of highlighting, but I do think it could be a valuable skill for students to learn and carry with them.

How do you teach students to study for math? How do you summarize your lessons? How could highlighting be effectively used in a math classroom?


  1. Hey! Literacy is the focus of our school this year too! Did you get a chance to check out my post yet? Check it out: http://intentionally-intentional.blogspot.com/

    I am excited to see what strategies we each come up with!

  2. Hey,
    I checked out your post. I've been doing the same thing with geometry where students write a definition, draw a picture, and label.

    Something else I'm doing is having them make an index card with a problem worked out and explained after each new concept.

  3. Figuring out how to get students to study for math is a worthy goal. Figuring out how to force them to use highlighters is not.

    I think you'll find almost every librarian in the country agreeing that teaching kids to use highlighters in books is one of he most damaging trends of the past 40 years.

    From what I've seen as a purchaser of used books, highlighting is almost always done in a way that obscures the important stuff (since the important points are rarely what is highlighted) and makes it difficult to re-read the text with fresh eyes.

    Bottom-line: I think you'd be better off giving your students more challenging problems and having them throw away their highlighters. It is through problem-solving that math is learned.

  4. Thanks for pointing out some parts I should have clarified. I am not trying to force them to use highlighters. I am thinking along the lines of taking a tool they have learned in middle school and applying at the high school level. I also mentioned that I make all my own materials so students would not be damaging any books and we would not be reselling any used books. Also, if it's difficult to re-read the text with fresh eyes, why not buy new?

    My bottom line is that students find an effective way to study, highlighters or no. We aren't discussing how math is learned- that's a whollllle nother blog post. I am concerned with how I can help students learn to study in a way that may or may not work for more content areas than just math.

  5. Also, highlighting should be to highlight what YOU (the learner) thinks is important. If you buy a text that has already been highlighted, use a different color. Highlighting is a tool to help the individual learner and I see no problem offering as many helpful tools to these students as we can!

  6. KDavis,
    And that's where I think the value comes in- having the students identify what is important. I definitely will not be buying highlighted books. My problem is I don't know how to make highlighting a helpful tool for students in math.

  7. Love this post on literacy. I have been struggling with thinking of ideas to incorporate literacy into the classroom and using a highlighting strategy sounds like a great idea. I might just try it, thanks!

  8. glad I came across this! I am taking a class about incorporating literacy in the classroom. It seems as if the math people in the class are having to think a little harder than the science/social studies/etc. people...

  9. Katalonis!
    Please come back and share any strategies that you talk about. We're very open to new ideas!