Sunday, January 20, 2019

Teaching Summarizing: If It's January, They Must Be Writing "About" Summaries

    Outside, the snow is falling, and our classroom feeder is attracting many beautiful birds. Students are learning to observe and ask questions about these birds, noticing the small differences in species and individuals.
    Inside, my co-teaching partner and I decided to do a formative assessment on expository summarizing. We used the bedbugs text from my Paraphrasing and Summarizing pack, which I like because it uses a main idea scoring tool instead of a rubric. Main idea scoring tools are a great way to quickly score many summaries without too much pain.
     We've been working on expository summarizing a little at a time over many weeks. Students have had scaffolded summaries (from this resource), modeled summaries, and main idea work. We felt confident that students would do well with this assessment.

What is an "about" summary?

     So imagine our surprise when we ended up with a pile full of "about" summaries! I really hadn't seen many of these so far this year, which made their sudden proliferation more surprising. If you're not sure of what an "about" summary looks like, take a look at the example on the right.
    "About" summaries hopscotch through a text, using chronological order transitions to show the reader's journey from topic to topic. You can see why it's called an "about" summary--the word appears over and over again. This kind of summary includes only topics and not main ideas.

What do these summaries mean?

     Over the last ten years, I've come to recognize "about" summaries as a key step on the way to summarizing skill. Notice that this kind of summary shows an awareness of the topics in a text, and the order in which they are presented. It's no surprise that these summaries often come from high-performing students. These readers are experimenting with ways to express ideas from a text in fewer words.

Next steps

     Students can't be allowed to stop at "about" summaries. This kind of thinking keeps them at the topic level, not looking for a text structure or deeper connections within a text. Here are some ideas to help students improve:
Choose the best summary tasks: After reading an expository text, have students choose from 3-4 sample summaries. Write one as an "about" summary. Then, discuss their choices. This is a great way to gently nudge students away from this style.
Text structure awareness: If students have to put information from a text into a graphic organizer that reflects the text structure of the text, then they are much more likely to write a strong summary. Help students to see that a successful summary should reflect the structure of the target text.
Continued work with summarizing: Yup, we need to keep working on it! Summarizing doesn't have to be a single week of instruction. Instead, spread it out over the course of the year so that students put summarizing and paraphrasing skills to work again and again.

News and notes

I've put up some new materials on TpT!

 Algebraic Expressions: This is a free (for now) PowerPoint that introduces algebraic expressions. I wanted some lovely pictures to enhance my math class.

I haven't made many math materials because I'm still relatively new to teaching sixth grade math (this is year 3!), but I'm looking forward to doing more.

A Look at Lightning: My husband, who teaches third grade, has been using the "Lightning Readers Theatre" script for years. This year, he asked if I could write a short text to go along with it. I added two levels of the text, plus some writing activities to make this an activity for both writing and science.

Comparing with Adjectives: This was another special request! Using the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives is so important for young writers. (I couldn't resist adding bird pictures.)

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