What Highlight Through Yonder Window BreaksIt wasn't long ago that I was deeply in love…with highlighters. The brighter thecolors, the more I loved them. I collected big, chunky, fluorescent highlighters the way some people collect paperclips. What? Only Bert from Sesame Street collects paperclips? Okay, but you know what I mean.
I kept a big clear Lucite jar on my desk,and it was always filled with lime green, sunny yellow, hot pink, and myfavorite tangerine highlighters. Ahhh. My lovely Lucite highlighter jar.
My students knew how invaluable thehighlighter can be, especially for visual learners. I taught lessons on how tohighlight correctly. “Why do we highlight?” I would ask.
“So information stands out,” they'd answer.
“What happens if we highlight everything?”
“Then nothing stands out,” they would respond.
“Exactly,” I would say, “sohighlighting everything is the same as highlighting nothing.” That was mymantra.
My epiphany came as epiphanies do, onan otherwise mundane day during a Socratic seminar. Students had read andhighlighted the passage a day ahead of time, so I presented them with aninterpretive question on a character’s motive. Now they had to find textevidence to support their ideas. I watched as they perused the text, lookingfor supporting details. I waited. And waited. It wasn't long before I knew theywere struggling. But since there were several possible answers with evidence tosupport each one, I couldn't understand why they were having difficulties.
We took a “brain break” to discuss theproblem. The kids told me they could think of a possible “answer,” but theevidence eluded them even as they went back to look at the important detailsthey had highlighted
Eureka! (Great word: a big thank you goes out to my man Archimedes forthat one.)
They hadn't highlighted everything, but the highlighted text limitedtheir reference to just the highlighted text. They didn't reread anything thatwasn't highlighted!
My love affair with the beautiful, butshallow, highlighter was over.
I did what I had to do. I went back to myold, forgotten love: the trusty #2 pencil.
Now I teach students the tried and truemethod of annotating text (we used to call it “explication”). I start by modelinghow to annotate text in a close read, and the students mark up the text likethere’s no tomorrow. Although I encourage students to use what I like to call “texttoolbox” symbols, I encourage them to use any symbols they are comfortableusing.
The page doesn't not look as pretty...sigh..sometimes I do miss the lovely colors.
But looks aren't everything, gosh darnit! Annotating the text works.
My name is Darlene, and I've been off highlighters for six months now. I'm trying to stay strong. How about you?