The context: I use this strategy in most of my undergraduate courses, which usually consist of thirty to forty students. Of these, I would estimate that about 10 percent are already very strong readers.

The pedagogical purpose: To improve active reading by modeling how smart marks can be used in the margins of the text.

Description of the strategy: After students have finished the first class reading, I distribute a one-page handout that lists five key reading strategies, which are distilled from chapter eight of John Bean's Engaging Ideas. Two of these strategies include the following: (1) Keep Track of the Structure the Argument, and (2) Carry on a Silent Conversation with the Author. In discussing these two strategies, I have students share in small groups the notations they made in the margins of their first reading. I then solicit examples from the entire class. We get everything from underlining, bracketing, and highlighting to the use of exclamation points, stars, and smiley faces. Regardless of what marks they choose to use, I encourage students to establish their own hierarchy of marks, wherein, say, smiley faces are more important than stars. I point out that students should use their most important marks probably no more than two or three times in an essay, so as to set apart what is really important.

To help reinforce the use of smart marks, I engage a variety of follow-up activities and assessment strategies throughout the remainder of the course, including the following: (1) Before every class, I require students to respond, on an online discussion board, to two or three prompts dealing with that day's reading. Having had the smart marks discussion, I ask students to describe any new notation strategies they used for the second reading of the course. This gives me a quick and easy way to see if students are applying the strategy. (2) In many subsequent online discussion boards and class sessions, I ask students to locate the thesis of the text using their smart marks.

Why it is effective: This brief exercise requires students to reflect on how they read and, thus, how they learn. Through this process of metacognition, students see that good reading is greatly assisted by the use of smart marks. The group work further helps students to see that many of their peers already engage this form of active reading, thereby creating a sense of buy-in.