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.