Thursday, June 30, 2011

Retelling to Summarizing

Over the past few weeks, I've been working with some students on how to retell a text. What fun! But it's also given me the chance to think about how retelling is such an important foundation skill for summarizing. Here are some questions that I've been thinking about--and some of my partial answers.

Do readers need to be able to retell in order to write a good summary?

In general, I think that the answer is yes. Consider a student who reads a text and can't produce any ideas from the reading--or only a few scattered ideas, named out of order. Will that child be able to write a good summary? I doubt it. In order to select the most important ideas, a reader needs to be able to envision and work with most of the ideas from the text. Readers who have trouble recalling any ideas at all will flounder with the selection and synthesis that a summary requires.

This doesn't mean that kids who are struggling with retelling shouldn't be exposed to summarizing. In fourth grade, we don't have a moment to spare! But these readers will struggle with writing summaries on their own. Left to their own devices, they might fall into bad habits, like just copying sections of the text.

Instead, pull them into activities like choosing the best summary. Readers of all abilities can learn how to think about what makes a good summary. You could also try writing a group summary. Students provide the ideas or events, and you show them how to put them together into a summary. Another strategy that works well with struggling readers is sequencing events or information from the text. You give them the ideas (remember, this is the part that they struggle with), and they put the ideas in the order in which they appear in the text.

Are there any exceptions?
There are always exceptions, aren't there? That's what makes teaching reading so fun!

There is a small group of readers who will already be summarizing when you ask them to do a retelling. If you were to go by a retelling score alone (on the QRI or DRA), these readers might look like they are struggling. But the content of their retelling is markedly different from that of a struggling reader. When asked to retell, these readers may produce succinct versions of the text that put together ideas from various places into one nice neat package. Their "retellings" show an awareness of the main ideas of the text. (For example, if a student is retelling an episodic story, the student may collapse all of the episodes into one sentence.)

This is why scores and numbers don't tell the whole story. For these students, long and drawn out retellings are probably not necessary. They have already picked up the basics of summarizing by intuition. They would benefit from finding the best summary, sorting ideas as important or not important, and jumping into writing summaries.

Haven't I written about this before?
Um--yes. Quite a lot, as it happens. But with each new reader and new situation I find that I need to relearn and revisit what I already know. :)

Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Retelling (my book)

Previous posts
Retelling or Summarizing?
Summarizing a Story
Summarizing Fiction with Elephant and Piggie
What Should a Good Retelling Include?

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