Highlighting and drawing – clear understanding

One of the wonderful things about using a stylus centric device such as my Microsoft Surface as my teaching device, is the ability to quickly use highlighting and drawing to ensure that students gain understanding of complex processes. I often talk to fellow teachers about this, and often as not they really want to talk examples. Last week, in my Year 11 Biology class, a perfect example of the link between highlighting, drawing and understanding happened live in my Class OneNote notebook, with me walking around the class projecting to the screen wirelessly using a ScreenBeam.  I thought this would be a perfect example to share.

My class is currently learning about enzymes and as part of this we did an investigation on the impact of temperature on enzyme activity. The method is relatively simple for a scientist, but needs some unpacking for a student. I gave the students the method and asked them to read it.  I then did a hands up exercise and only three (3) students were confident in doing the task.


To help the students, I took the printed method and in the first paragraph (the generic method) used some careful colour coded highlighting. Yellow for the experiment aim, green for measurement and blue for processes that had to occur. In the second paragraph we did the same thing, but specifically looked at the changing temperature method for looking at the enzyme activity.  Once these first steps are complete, the generic method is used – so the big purple arrow indicates this move back to the first paragraph.

Now this colour coding really reduces the cognitive load for the students, as they can identify the key information and the different purposes for this information.  I repeated my hands up exercise, and now about half the class were confident in conducting the experiment.

For learning students, even this highlighted method was obviously still a lot to unpack – so it was time to zoom out on the OneNote page (pinch and zoom gesture on the screen). With the increased page size, we then spoke through the method with me drawing very simple diagrams with times, measurements and more highlighting.


This drawing is an information transformation (text to pictures) which always helps with understanding, and we all know step by step diagrams also really help process.  And it did – my hands up exercise showed me the whole class were happy with the experiment – so I stopped talking and the students started doing.  I wondered around the class asking probing questions rather than helping the students do the experiment – a much better use of my one on one time with the students.

I think this highlights or draws out some possibilities for any class.  Pun definitely intended!

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