Sunday, February 17, 2013

Synthesizing Synthesis Studies ~ Part II

 Synthesis is like a quilt...Just as quilters take pieces of cloth and sew them together to innovate a piece of art, readers weave together the words of the page to create their own construct their own version of the text.  Thinkers have to integrate bits and chunks of information to innovate a new and personal understanding of what they are learning. 

Apprenticing students in synthesis studies expands their
capacities to hold onto their thoughts and process their thoughts into new vistas of understanding.
For many students, synthesis and summary feels like this. 
Helping students identify important ideas is a huge first step in supporting their capacities to summarize and integrate what they learn.  If students cannot evaluate a text (written, heard, or viewed) to discern the most important ideas, their summary work is unfocused, rambles on, or very thin.  Often, when presented with a lot of new information, young (developmentally) students cannot see the forest for the trees.  They will, for example, highlight an entire text yellow (even words such as of and the!).  Thus, I study why and how to determine importance with students over a long period of time before I engage them in a deep and specific study of synthesis.  Becoming a thoughtful judge of importance sets students up for greater success and efficacy as we move into investigating synthesis. 

An effective and confidence building instructional strategy is one I first learn from Denise Nessel as we worked together for The National Urban Alliance.  Denise's Key Word Notes process engages students in taking on the habits of proficient readers (but it can easily be adapted for viewing and/or listening).  Because this process nudges students to identify important ideas during their reading (or hearing/viewing), they are much more likely to determining importance.  Too often, students try to identify important ideas after they have read an entire text.  This will be too late and make the task too demanding as there will be far too many ideas for them to filter if their work is left for after reading. 

As always (with my Gradual Release of Responsibility  pedagogy), I model Key Word Notes with students first and engage them in at least a few rounds of collaborative practice before turning this process over to the kids to use in pairs or independently. 
Key Word Notes is a note taking strategy to help students identify important ideas as they read text/view/observe/listen) and summarize what they read/view/observe/hear).  This strategy works across grade levels and content areas but is especially helpful in supporting grades 3–12 students. (It can also be utilized with K–2 students as a guided practice strategy with the teacher acting as a scribe for the group.  Additionally, younger students can be encouraged to record a key picture from what they hear or view.  These pictures can then support them in creating a summary with you/with you as a scribe in capturing their summary/ies.)  Teachers can gradually increase the segments students read and the numbers of words to select at each reading. (Note: The smaller the number of segments and words, the easier it will be for students to summarize the text.) To differentiate instruction, have students read different texts about the same subject/topic, matched to their reading levels.  Again, after a period of modeling and collaborative use, it is helpful to have students use the strategy independently when they are studying or doing research. 
  1. Students work in pairs.  Each student gets a Key Word Notes form.
  2. Everyone reads designated piece of text individually and silently.
  3. With the prompt “Which word/s will help you remember this information?” each student selects 1–2 words as memory aides, and writes them in box 1.  (As students become more skilled at Key Word note taking, you can direct students to harvest 3–4 words or, possibly, a key phase.  Again, caution students not to record too many key words in each box.  Modeling of how to determine “most important ideas” is crucial for all students.)
  4. Partners tell each other what words they selected and why.
  5. Students repeat steps 2–4, completing all segments using boxes 2, 3, and 4 (and 5 and 6 if you are segmenting a text into six sections/chunks). 
  6. With books closed, each student uses his/her Key Words to write a summary in the "My Summary Sqaure" box (at the bottom of the page.  I can encourage students to or differentiate instruction by asking the kids to create a One Word Summary, One Sentence Summary, or a longer summary. (*By asking students to create their summaries without looking at the text or referring back to it, we are encourage students to paraphrase, a critical skill of summarizing. Of course, at other times you will want your students to utilize texts in crafting their summaries.)
    1.  Important Word
    2.  Important Word
    3.  Important Word
    4.  Important Word
    5.  Important Word
    6.  Important Word
My Summary Square:





Take Note is a wonderful variation of Key Word notes.  Depending on the text/content information and your students' strengths, needs, and questions, you can easily adapt either process to inspire and support your own students.
Take Note!

Box 1
After reading the first two para-graphs, select three words that will help you remember what you read.
Box 2
After reading the last paragraph, select three words that will help you remember what you read. 

Box 3:  Write a summary here using your key words above. Do not refer to the text.

And Exit Slips are another way to encourage students to note important ideas and summarize them.

Exit Slips
Kittye Copeland, Jerry Harste, and Carolyn Burke

When readers/writers are encouraged to reflect on their learning, they come to understand and value the content and process in new and deeper ways.  Exit Slips are a simple way to help students reflect on what they have learned and to identify areas that need further exploration.  Exit Slips work well after any learning experience, or at the end of the school day, as a way of prompting students to review what they have accomplished.
If this is the first formal use of a reflective strategy, talk about the importance of thinking about what is learned (content) and how people go about learning things (process).  Teachers should demonstrate by highlighting their own decision-making within a simple context; for example, writing a letter, deviating from a recipe, deciding what to wear, thinking about how to approach a friend about a problem, discovering what route to take to an unfamiliar destination, and so on.  Students may need to talk through some of their processes before using this strategy.
  1. Following the initial demonstrations and at the end of a school day, or any important learning activity, distribute one 3 x 5 card to each student.
  2. Ask students to write one thing they learned during the day, or from a particular activity, on one side of the card.  On the other side students are to write one question they still have.  Present this part of the strategy in an open ended manner so students are free to consider content or process issues in their responses.
  3. Collect the cards for review.
  4. Select several questions to use in a whole group setting the following morning or during the class meeting.  Questions can be answered directly by the teacher, orally or by writing on the card, or students can be invited to respond.  Selected questions can be put aside for future study or be used to inform the teacher about topics from Mini-lessons.

1.     Exit Slips can be used throughout the reading of a text, much like a written Say Something.  The first part of the strategy, then serves as a reflection of what has been learned; the second part, a reader-generated question.

2.     RAPID REFLECTION is a verbal form of Exit Slips.  Throughout the school day at the end of important discussions, demonstrations, mini-lessons, or any learning engagement students can be asked to reflect on the experience quickly and at random, call out a response.  Responses can be focused by asking open-ended questions before Rapid Reflection begins:

§  What was surprising for you?

§  What were you thinking about the most?

§  What was one question that you have?

§  What is one idea you are excited about?


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Synthesizing Synthesis Studies


Making a home for one's thinking.  I love this.  And I love that we get to be a part of helping our students expand their thinking and grow their relationship with authors.  In the cocoon of the apprenticeships we create for and with our students, each child learns the she must and can understand as reader and be understood as writer.  

In the partnership of reading between author and reader, thinkers synthesize.  As readers, we interpret and integrate an author's words to innovate our own version of the text. We bring and also wonderfully expand our lens.  By synthesizing what we read, hear, view, or do, we gain a new brain.

Knowing how important growing students' synthesis thinking focuses our work but it does not make our work easy.  This is heady stuff (Pun intended!). 
The hardest parts of teaching students to synthesize are knowing what synthesis means and knowing what to look for in students' work to evaluate and support their growth as integrative thinkers.  What does proficient synthesizing look like and sound like?  It looks an awful lot like the very thinking you are doing right now...but that does not make it a very good demonstrator sport. 

This is the constant challenge for all of us as teachers.  To make the invisible visible.  The good news?  Students - and all of us - synthesize and summarize outside of text and outside and inside of school often.  Think about that day a sub was with your students.  At least a couple of students, if not more, shared what happened while you were gone - They summarized the day for you.  Returning from school breaks, our kids love to tell us about their vacations or the long weeks they were "stuck at home with nothing to do."  They synthesize the events of their lives into a one to two minute versions.  And interestingly, in the oral mode, our students somehow naturally know to share the important parts or points, share these in order, and not tell us too much. 

Students' natural disposition to summarize orally gives us fertile ground to launch their studies of synthesizing what they are reading/learning in academic subjects.  I begin a study of synthesis by first helping students see how they already do this in their everyday lives.  And I ground a great deal of their early learning and practice in the oral modes of synthesis.  Storytelling.  Retelling family tales.  Recounting field trips.  Summarizing favorite movies. Synthesizing the last five episodes of the Wild Kingdom. 

Over the next few weeks, I will share options for guiding your students into an edifying study of Synthesis.  To begin at the beginning, let's wrestle with one of the greatest challenges of teaching synthesis - defining it. 

Honoring the Hardest Parts:  Part I

One of my favorite mentors, P. David Pearson, names synthesis as "…a summary plus the reader’s own opinion or thinking."                                                           
Former Rigby classmate, Lori Oczkus (2004) illuminates synthesis as more than retelling:  "During reading, good readers naturally form a big picture of the reading material that may include an evolving theme, moral, or point of view." 

PEBC colleagues and authors, Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, define synthesis here (and below):  "Synthesizing is the most complex of the comprehension strategies. Synthesizing lies on a continuum of evolving thinking. Synthesizing runs the gamut from taking stock of meaning while reading to achieving new insight. Introducing the strategy of synthesizing in reading, then primarily involves teaching the reader to stop every so often and think about what she has read. Each piece of additional information enhances the reader’s understanding and allows her to better construct meaning.
We need to explicitly teach our students to take stock of meaning while they read and use it to help their thinking evolve, perhaps leading to new insight, perhaps not, but enhancing understanding in the process. To nudge readers toward synthesis, we encourage them to interact personally with the text. Personal response gives readers an opportunity to explore their evolving thinking. Synthesizing information integrates the words and ideas in the text with the reader’s personal thoughts and questions and gives the reader the best shot at achieving new insight."
(p. 144 – 145)   

Synthesizing Learners…
v make information their own

v transform other’s knowledge into something new, and therefore, more personally meaningful

v share what is important in a way that makes sense

v develop a keen sense of curiosity about a topic, question, problem, etc.

v generate new ideas

v connect experiences, information and learnings across media sources and over time

v distill their understandings into big ideas and important aha’s

v are left changed

Sources:  PEBC Scholars  and “Well Read” in Improving Adolescent Literacy:  Content Area Strategies at Work (2008) and Language Arts Workshop:  Purposeful Reading and Writing Instruction (2006) both by Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey.

And in my next posts, I will share key metaphors I use in building the concept of synthesis with and for a group of students... being one of my favorite ways to describe synthesis with growing thinkers...


and Quilts being another favorite synthesis metaphor!
“We know that students who struggle often make up their minds about the major themes and ideas in a text early in their reading.  Despite abundant evidence that the plot is evolving and the meaning changing, they fail to adjust their interpretations as they read further.”    Richard Allington 2006; Kylene Beers 2003

“We need to explicitly teach our students to take stock of meaning while they read & use it to help their thinking evolve, perhaps leading to new insight, perhaps not, but enhancing understanding in the process. To nudge readers toward synthesis, we encourage them to interact personally with the text. Personal response gives readers an opportunity to explore their evolving thinking. Synthesizing information integrates the words & ideas in the text with the reader’s personal thoughts & questions and gives the reader the best shot at achieving new insight.”   Stephanie Harvey and Annie Goudvis, Strategies That Work

“The process of ordering, recalling, retelling, and recreating into a coherent whole the information with which our minds are bombarded every day.  It is the uniquely human trait that permits us to sift through a myriad of details and focus on those pieces we need to know and remember.”   Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann, Mosaic of Thought

Thinking with the end in mind, here are some thoughts about what to nurture and look for in students' synthesis work:
From Michelle Kelly and Nicki Clausen-Grace's (2007) brilliant book, Comprehension Shouldn't Be Silent:  From Strategy Instruction to Student Independence, coach students to reflect on their summarizing journeys and habits.

Summarizing requires the reader to cognitively engage with the text many times on various levels and is often text dependent.  As we researched and reflected on (our own summarizing and our students’ summarizing), we identified several components.  To help me summarize:
*          I read the text features and predict the main ideas.
*          I reflect on my predictions and either confirm or revise it.
*          I read the text features and think how they relate to the main idea.
*          I notice bold and italic words and think about how they relate to the main idea.
*          I read subheadings and titles and think about how they relate to the main idea.
*          I identify a section of text that I can read and remember.
*          I stop at the end of a section of text to connect, visualize, or remember what I’ve read.
*          I answer questions I have asked.
*          I reread to verify important ideas.
*          I reread to clarify meaning.
*          I reread to choose supporting details and facts.
*          I eliminate unimportant details.
*Pages 157 – 158 and 216

Synthesis Practice and Modeling Texts

Scrapbook Albums
Trip/Vacation Journals (online; bound texts; shared exampled)

Mistakes That Work (Slinky; Playdoh)

Oh, Yikes!  Oh, Yucks! 

     Autobiographies                                                                       Baby Albums
     Biographies                                                                              Book Reviews
     Christmas Letters                                                                     Diaries
     Do-it-yourself Manuals/Guides                                               Itineraries
     Journals                                                                                    Letters
     Many Magazines                                                                      Memoir
     Movie Reviews                                                                         Newspapers
     Non-Fiction Books                                                                   Obituaries
     Post Card Trip Summaries                                                       Professional Books
     Recaps                                                                                      Research
     Storytelling                                                                               Trip Photos
     TV Guide                                                                                  Updates
     Year Books                                                                               Brochure

*Much more to come soon!