The adoption of Learning Focused Solutions by many districts has put summarizing on everyone's radar. According to the research by Bob Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock (Classroom Instruction that Works, 2001), students who have been given instruction in summarizing and note taking and who use those skills on a regular basis show a percentile gain of 34 points and an average effect size of 1.0. That's significant!
Summarizing has such a great benefit because in order to summarize effectively a student must be able to make a myriad of inferences about the text, to analyze the information being summarized, to distinguish between what's important and what's support, to make decisions about the content, the author's purpose and intent--all upper-level, interpreting and extending meaning thinking skills.
How can we encourage and facilitate our struggling students to do more and more effective summarizing? The first and probably most essential steps are to scaffold and model the thinking.
Scaffolding might be done in the form of giving students graphic organizers to structure their thinking. Rick Wormeli, in his book Summarization in Any Subject (2005), uses an "Analysis Matrix" and adapts it to a variety of texts and purposes. For both literary and informational texts, he lists some main themes or concepts/ideas from the reading listed in the left column in rows. Then three columns to the right are titled "my opinion," "my group's opinion," and "the author's opinion." Thus, students are given the main topics (the scaffolding) but then must decide, based on their own reading and group discussion, what they and others conclude. A variation on this is an maxtrix used in a science class: on the left side of the matrix the individual rows might be "Questions to Ask:" Purpose, Amount, Size and Shape, Nucleus, Where Formed. Then the columns to the right would be Red Cells, White Cells, Plasma, Platelets. From their reading and research, the students would fill in each part of the matrix.
Other graphic organizers like 2-column notes, cluster graphics, cause-effect organizers, etc. can give students assistance in "seeing" what to look for and how to find important information in their content texts. Students who need more support would have more information already included on the graphic organizer.
Scaffolding thinking for kinesthetic learners could take the form of "acting out," "body sculpting" or creating "freeze-frames" of important concepts or ideas. Here the students would have to "portray physically" or act out the main ideas. This task calls for collaboration, discussion and compromise, and explanation.
Modeling on the part of the teacher is also a critical step for struggling learners. Many of them don't know what it looks like (or feels like) to do summarizing. Even with more mature students, using think alouds--where the teacher goes through the steps but also makes apparent his/her thinking and problem-solving by talking out loud while doing the steps--can make "aha" moments more frequent.
In Classroom Instruction that Works, Marzano et al. describe at least six different models that can be used to teach students how to effectively summarize information. They describe a "rule-based" strategy that takes students through several steps to produce a summary (1)delete trivial material, 2) delete redundant material, 3) substitutede superordinate terms for lists, 4) select or invent a topic sentence). It's obvious that a teacher would have to do extensive modeling for some students to be able to do this on their own.
Marzano et al. also stress the importance that structure of a text has on the ability to successfully summarize. Understanding how a text is organized or structured is a key step for a reader to be able to analyze the information in the text. The authors give six different frames for teachers to use with their students, based on six different structures of text organization. Again, modeling for students how to think about and use these frames to summarize text is critical.
As teachers we know how important it is to be able to summarize information effectively and efficiently--we do it all the time in our professional and personal lives. It's up to us to give our students opportunities to learn how to do this critical skill as well, and scaffolding these opportunities and modeling exactly what we do in order to summarize are necessary parts of our jobs.