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 whole...to 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.
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.
- Students work in pairs. Each student gets a Key Word Notes form.
- Everyone reads designated piece of text individually and silently.
- 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.)
- Partners tell each other what words they selected and why.
- 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).
- 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 Word2. Important Word3. Important Word4. Important Word5. Important Word6. 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.
After reading the first two para-graphs, select three words that will help you remember what you read.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Collect the cards for review.
- 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?