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Ria Schmidt

Ria Schmidt, PhD, brings more than 15 years of expertise as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator to everything she does. Her experience has ranged from Pre-K through post-secondary education. Dr. Schmidt’s passion for building capacity, professional development, standards-based education, assessment, differentiation, and working with teachers and administrators inspires everything she does. She has worked extensively in parochial and private schools. She earned her doctorate in Educational Administration from University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Resources by Ria Schmidt

Interviews by Ria Schmidt

Ria Schmidt, a former classroom teacher and administrator, is an executive and leadership coach with 20 years of experience in education. The demand for her expertise has Schmidt traveling across the country several times a month, doing what she deems “my favorite thing of all”―assisting schools transitioning from traditional grading/report cards to a standards-based reporting system and helping teachers find innovative and inspiring ways to instruct. Here, Schmidt discusses what her new book, Recording & Representing Knowledge: Classroom Techniques to Help Students Accurately Organize and Summarize Content, offers educators.

Why did you write this book? What’s the importance of intentionally teaching students to record and summarize content?

I wrote this book because of the importance of this strategy. It’s not a new strategy, but it has changed from what it was years ago when I was in school. At that time, we copied what the teacher wrote and those were our notes. This didn’t require any thinking and didn’t aid in retention of content. The difference with current thinking is that now students record and represent their understanding/knowledge. It requires them to think about what they heard or read and use their own words to summarize that thinking.

How old should students be when they’re introduced to summarizing?

Students can summarize in preschool. It looks different than it does in elementary, middle, or high school, but they absolutely can. One of the things we talk about with recording and representing knowledge is non-linguistic representation, and young kids can do that.

In your book, you wrote, “For a student to implement the whole summarizing package, he must be a highly skilled reader who has a great deal of background knowledge.” Can these techniques be used with media content, such as a short film? Can you effectively teach summarizing without using written content?

Oh, sure. You can use all sorts of technology and media resources to teach summarizing. We talk a lot about linguistic and non-linguistic in references to graphic organizers and resources like that because they are widely available to everyone. If a teacher has access to media and technology in the school, they most certainly can use those resources to teach how to summarize. As far back as 15 years ago, I remember kids using PowerPoint to demonstrate a concept or their understanding. I saw kindergarten students doing it. It’s the whole digital immigrants versus digital natives concept.

If a student needs to be able to read and comprehend content well before they can summarize, what can a teacher do when he has a student who’s frustrated because her reading isn’t where it should be for her age and grade?

You can go through the literacy end of things—adapting for those students by giving them text that is at their level. On the recording and representing side, you can have that student work with a partner whose reading ability is greater and have them do popcorn reading or a similar strategy. Another tool may be a recording of the reading if it’s specific text that the teacher wants everyone to read―helping that reader by accommodating or adapting through recordings of the text.

What does a teacher do when a student honestly comprehends the information, proven by her ability to have a well-constructed discussion about the topic, but she struggles to summarize the content in her own words?

I think a teacher can use a couple of different tools, like having students draw pictures or create dramatic enactments where the students act out their answers. I also like conducting oral interviews with students to gain an understanding of what they know and are able to do. Either of these are effective formative assessments of where kids are in their understanding.

Sometimes people hear summarizing and they simply restate the entire content in their own words instead of picking out the key message. Does it help to give students a word limit for summarizing, like a publisher would do with a writer?

Yes, that’s a great technique to use. You can make it a $2 summary, where each word counts as 10 cents. The student can only use 20 words maximum to get the point across. Twitter is a big thing and because kids are familiar with it, you can have them write tweets that summarize their answers. That makes it fun for them because it relates to what they are into. It also gives them boundaries so they have to be more succinct with the summary.

Are there ways that teachers can make summarizing a fun activity instead of a lesson?

Definitely. The non-linguistic ways of summarizing are perfect examples. Kids have fun doing dramatic enactments because they are like skits and very engaging. Working with pictures is another way. Everyone can draw a picture as long as you’re not concerned about the quality of the artwork. That’s a fun way for kids to summarize. I’ve even done that in my training with adults and they enjoy it, too. Even mnemonic devices can be fun. Have students come up with goofy sentences or songs that help them remember the content.

You have a great section on note-taking. So many people do not take notes well and later have no idea what the meaning is behind what they wrote. How can both students and teachers benefit from students having good note-taking skills?

Note-taking benefits both students and teachers. It benefits teachers because it’s a way teachers can formatively assess whether kids understand the content. As a teacher, I can look at the academic notebooks to see what they understood and how to teach the lesson the next day or if I need to change how I’m teaching.

So teachers should look at their students’ notes?

Yes, but not so much to grade the student on note-taking, but more as data for the teacher to make more-informed teaching decisions.

You’re quite creative in presenting different forms of note-taking―informal outlines, dual format, free-flowing Web, etc. Are these taken directly from classrooms that are currently using these methods?

Yes, I’ve seen many of these techniques used in the classroom. You can also look on the Internet and find hundreds of different ways to take notes. The important thing to remember is that students should not be forced to take notes while we’re teaching. We should give them time to think and summarize what we just said, then write out those summaries as their notes.

In the chapter on dramatic enactments, you wrote, “When students act out the content during a critical-input experience, the likelihood they will retain the information is heightened.” Why is this?

Retention research shows that when you put concepts to movement or music, it adds another sensory element to the learning process. You’re hearing it, you’re seeing it, and you’re also physically acting it out. Layering like that helps you retain it. Do you remember the TV show Schoolhouse Rock? My daughter learned the preamble to the U.S. Constitution to music when she was really young, and she can probably sing it today. She’s in her 30s. I still remember the lyrics to classic rock songs I listened to more than 20 years ago. There’s something powerful about music and movement in the learning process.

You have a lot of activities in the book for students. Do you have a favorite?

That’s the toughest question yet. I guess it depends on what I’m teaching. I really like pictures. I think they are a resource available to everyone. They meet everyone’s ability: younger kids, older kids, and English language learners.

Ria Schmidt enjoys finding ways to improve student achievement by moving districts to more current thinking. With 20 years of experience in education—first as a classroom teacher, then as a principal and an assistant superintendent, and now, as a leadership coach and professional developer—Schmidt is a respected authority who travels the country working with teachers and leaders. We caught up with Schmidt to discuss points from her book, Revising Knowledge: Classroom Techniques to Help Students Examine Their Deeper Understanding, and the importance of being lifelong learners.

Is it harder to teach revising knowledge to younger children who tend to think in concrete ways?

I wouldn’t say it’s harder. It’s going to look different. I’ve been in classrooms where teachers have said, “How is this different from what you already knew?” Kids in kindergarten can answer that question. And that’s a revising knowledge technique.

You teach a technique called, revising knowledge in academic notebooks using peer review. It reminds me of a job performance review. Do you see revising knowledge as being a life and career skill to be utilized beyond a classroom setting?

Oh, yes. Absolutely. We revise knowledge constantly as adults. You reflect on what you’ve done or what you know. It’s a really great skill for employment to continue to understand what the expectations are for us and how to do our jobs. Then we can take action based on that revised understanding.

You wrote, In using visual tools, the process is far more important than the product. Would you expound on that?

If, for example, a student is working with a graphic organizer, they have their important concepts and then other concepts that are connected. If a teacher then adds more information to what the student is already working with, the student will understand that the new information represents more “arms” or extensions to that original concept. Or the student will understand that her original concept was inaccurate. But because the graphic organizer is a visual tool, it’s a different way of learning. It’s not just revising a notebook. It gives the student a visual representation of what they’ve learned, and a teacher is able to monitor if the student has gained a deeper understanding of the content.

With older children, Internet research is one of the ways they look for information. But as we know, a lot of what’s on the Internet is inaccurate and sometimes agenda-driven. Do the techniques in your book address figuring out what is a good source for information?

I don’t really address that with any specifics. I see that as something that should be taught in school as a general skill that students need to learn because the Internet is so broad. However, I see educators teaching about primary and secondary sources and what is something that can be used for accurate information. It’s a great way to approach revising knowledge. Students can look at their sources and determine how did they differ.

There are many adults who aren’t flexible with what they think is true, even when presented with new facts. What kind of adults will children become if they learn that it’s healthy to revise their views when new information is presented?

I think it will create lifelong learners. They’ll realize that they don’t know everything about a concept and get a more accurate understanding. They’ll always want to know more about topics that they’re interested in. And it may make them more open-minded.

Do the skills in this book complement the skills from your other book, Recording & Representing Knowledge?

Yes, absolutely. There is a process to learning. You give a chunk of information and you have students process that in some way, usually with other students so they can hear other points of view. And then you have them record and represent what their understanding is. Later on in the learning process is when you give them more information and time for deeper understanding. That’s where revision comes in. You ask students, “Initially, this is what you thought. What are you thinking now that we’ve done this other activity?” Students can reflect on their notes and revise their knowledge. Recording knowledge and revising it are directly connected in that way.

What inspired you to write these two books?

Teachers always want relevant professional development. These books give them that. And the books are fairly short and not overly technical, so they’re a quick and easy read.

Speaking Engagements

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Press Releases


Revising Knowledge provides practical techniques for implementation and for monitoring student use of revision strategies. In addition, having both elementary and secondary examples provides teachers at all levels the opportunity to ‘see’ their own classrooms.
Rebecca Snyder, 2009 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year
Having studied Marzano’s strategies at my school, I found Recording & Representing Knowledge a more detailed explanation of how to incorporate note taking, summarizing, and synthesizing techniques in my classroom. It is clear, consistent, and the entire manuscript flows in a logical, easy-to-follow format.
Karyn Collie Dickerson, 2014 North Carolina Teacher of the Year
I have been teaching for 30 years and I still found new techniques in Revising Knowledge that I will try in my classroom. The Common Core techniques, which really work in the classroom, are a great addition!
Wanda Lacy, 2013 Tennessee Teacher of the Year

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