One Small Thing: Read with the Eraser


This "One Small Thing" comes to you directly from Reading Reconsidered, and it's one of those things that made me automatically say, "Why, of COURSE!"

If you've ever given your students a text and a highlighter and said, "Highlight what's important," and immediately seen them to begin to highlight every. single. thing., you know what I'm talking about. I've had students highlight so much that the paper was literally damp with highlighter ink, and it was clear that they were not able to identify what were truly the most important ideas in the text. After all, if everything is important ... nothing is.

If you've seen the same thing, try this:

1. Take away the highlights.

2. Instead, have students read with a pencil.

3. Have them read with their pencil in hand, and with the eraser end down on the paper.

4. Tell them that when they encounter an important idea, only then should they flip their pencil over and use it to underline or mark it up. If you've got students who want to underline all the things, give them a limited number of times to flip their pencil over and underline. This will give them a constraint that may lead them to think a bit more critically about what they mark, and it will make it a bit more obvious to them when they're marking by requiring them to physically flip the pencil.

Here's how it could sound in your classroom:

"Kids, today we're reading the text 'Hearts and Minds at Work' by Jackie Robinson. As we read, I want you to pay attention to the devices he uses - words, phrases, or punctuation - to express his opinion. I'm going to ask you to read this all the way through with your eraser down, and flip your pencil to mark no more than 5 places where you see him expressing an opinion. We're doing this independently, and I'll meet you back at the top of the page in 10 minutes so we can talk about his opinion."

I think it's often the small things, done consistently and precisely, that add up to big improvements for our students.

Here's to simply teaching well,

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