Sunday, March 29, 2009

Help Students Develop Summarization Skills

Marzano lists summarization as one of the top nine effective teaching strategies. This idea is reinforced by Avon Maitland teacher inquiry groups, who have recognized that students' introductions and conclusions improve as students' summarization skills advance.

Teachers help students develop summarization skills by

Activating Background Knowledge

A person's background/experience influences what he notices and understands when reading. If a student is going to be successful at identifying the important points to be included in a summary, we must ensure the student has the background to do so, or teach to create that background. If, for example, you want students to summarize instructions about how to use a piece of equipment in the woodshop, you might have students watch a demonstration before you have them read about how the equipment works.

Teaching Text Structures

Students will have an easier time summarizing when they understand the structures of texts. Teach students how to identify chronological order, comparison and contrast, problem and solution and cause and effect structures in texts.

Priming Students' Brains

Without a purpose for reading, students may struggle to identify the important information in a text. The teacher can help students by giving them a purpose for reading. "Read this article and summarize the safety tips you need to know when operating a table saw" will get a different summary from students than "read this article and summarize how to use a table saw."

Summarizing Lessons at the Opening and Closing of Class

When we introduce a lesson by summarizing what students are going to do and learn, and then close the lesson again by revisiting the key learning expectations of that class, we model summarization for our students.

Giving Students Tools for Encountering Text

Reading a text more than once is important to identifying and understanding information. Students also need to know how to 'mark' a text with symbols or words that indicate, this part is important, I agree with this, etc. If they are using textbooks, give students sticky notes for marking a text.

Explore note making as a way to help develop summarization skills. Visit

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Explicit Teaching of Summarization Improves Student Writing

I have tracked down a few suggestions for teaching summary writing. Educational research on writing strategies and our own Avon Maitland inquiry group questions indicate that many adolescents struggle when asked to summarize what they’ve read. Research also acknowledges that through the explicit teaching of summarization skills, we can improve student writing.

In Writing Next, Graham and Perin tell us to

[t]each adolescents strategies and procedures for summarizing reading material, as this improves their ability to concisely and accurately present this information in writing. Various online and print sources on summarization outline six basic rules.
  1. Delete trivial material.
  2. Delete repetitious material.
  3. Substitute a general term for a list of specific terms (collapse lists).
  4. Combine a list of actions into a broader, single action (integrate information).
  5. Select a topic sentence.
  6. Create a topic sentence.

Summary Skills in Grades 5, 7 and Beyond

According to Hahn and Garner, authors of Synthesis of Research on Students’ Ability to Summarize Text, by 5th and 7th grade students can work through rules one and two. Secondary school students can follow the rules up to rule five, but have difficulty with rule six, creating a topic sentence.

Mentor Texts

To help students build summary skills, teachers can use mentor texts. To do this, have students read short articles and corresponding summaries of those articles. When reviewing the summaries, students should identify where the six basic rules for summarization have been implemented. Students may also need time to practice each one of the six basic rules in smaller tasks as a way to scaffold learning.

Explicit Teaching

The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat recognizes that

there is a growing body of research and evidence-based findings that identify summarization as one of the essential skills that improves reading comprehension, writing proficiency and student achievement in general. The skill of summarization needs to be explicitly taught, in all subject areas in order
for students to effectively create and interpret increasingly complex texts.

Watch the a Podcast on Summary Writing – from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, January 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Eleven Elements of Effective Writing Instruction

In the report, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools, Steve Graham and Delores Perin outline Eleven Elements of Effective Writing Instruction. Avon Maitland teacher inquiry groups are referencing these eleven elements to support their work in improving student writing.

In Graham and Perin's words, the Eleven Elements of Effective Writing Instruction are:

  1. Writing Strategies – teaching students strategies for planning, writing and editing.
  2. Summarization – explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize.
  3. Collaborative Writing – structural arrangements to work together to plan, draft and edit writing.
  4. Specific Product Goals – assigning specific reachable goals for the writing assignment.
  5. Word Processing – using computers and word processors as instructional supports.
  6. Sentence Combining – teaching students to construct more complex sentences.
  7. Prewriting – activities designed to help students generate and organize ideas.
  8. Inquiry Activities – analyzing immediate, concrete data to develop ideas for a writing task.
  9. Process Writing Approach – interweaving a number of activities in a workshop environment (writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, cycle of writing).
  10. Study of Models – opportunities for students to read, analyze and emulate good models of writing.
  11. Writing for Content Learning – writing as a tool for learning content material.

The use of technology, specifically Web 2.0 tools, is notably absent from Graham and Perin's work and I can think of two possible reasons for this. First, Web 2.0, or work with new literacies, may be excluded from the report, because the research into this topic was still relatively thin in 2006. Writing Next was released in 2006 and summarizes the research conducted on adolescent literacy; it conveys trends that were seen across this body of research. It cannot, however reflect research that was not conducted prior to 2006. On the other hand, the Eleven Elements may actually encompass the strategies used when writing for the web and on the web.

Either way, these Eleven Elements provide a solid starting place for teachers trying to improve student writing in their classes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Can I Call That Good Writing?

If you've spent time teaching students the proper format for writing anything, be it an essay or a lab report, you have probably noticed that it is impossible to separate the thinking from the form. Teachers have a lot of questions about this, because in Ontario the subject achievement charts used to guide assessment and evaluation, separate thinking from communication.

Let's use procedural writing as an example. When we teach students the format for writing a recipe or a lab report, we are teaching them a framework for communicating information and ideas (thinking). However, as a science teacher from one Writing Across the Curriculum team noted,

I have a student who uses all of the appropriate terminology and flawless format
when writing a lab, but when I read what she has written it's obvious that she doesn't understand the concepts that she's writing about. Her critical thinking and analysis is flawed, so her lab doesn't make sense. Under communication, I have to give her a reasonable mark, but can I call that good writing?

No. If writing is indeed thinking through the end of a pen, or thinking through the keys of a computer, then writing is about organizing thought into words and into a form. The thinking is what the writing is all about. We cannot divorce the thinking from the form, even if our achievement chart suggests we do this for assessment purposes.

Can you think of any exceptions?