Teaching Thinking Strategies- Synthesis

What is Synthesis… really?

Synthesis is one of the most difficult thinking strategies for students. In the past, readers have been expected to be able to synthesize at the word and text level.  The Public Education Business Coalition (PEBC), explains this type of synthesis:

Synthesizing Information at a text level, readers…

  • continually monitor overall meaning, important concepts and themes while reading
  • recognize ways in which text elements fit together to create larger meaning
  • create new and personal meaning
  • develop holistic and/or thematic statements which encapsulate the overall meaning of the text
  • capitalize on opportunities to share, recommend and criticize books
  • attend to the evolution of their thoughts across time while reading a text, and while reading many texts

Synthesizing information at a word level, readers…

  • select specific vocabulary from the text(s) to include in their synthesis because they know that specific language is highly meaning-laden
  • know when certain vocabulary is critical to the text’s overall meaning, and therefore, must be understood if comprehension is to be achieved

Recently, with Common Core State Standards, students are expected use these synthesis skills across multiple texts of different genres and formats.

Synthesizing information across multiple texts and genres…

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.7Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.6.9Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.7Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.9Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Synthesizing Multiple Texts

In order to synthesize multiple genres, students need a multitude of experiencesIMG_0521 reading different genres.  The students who synthesized texts for these lessons had read nonfiction articles, blog posts, memoirs, biographies, novels, short stories and picture books of various genres, and etc…, on different topics, daily for five months before I even attempted to ask them to synthesize across texts and genres.

Wait, keep reading!

If you’re realizing that this isn’t the case in your classroom yet, don’t worry: It can still happen.  In short, start asking students to read and annotate a nonfiction piece at least once a week, along with the group readings and independent reading students do daily. Soon, I’ll post my 60 Books in 6th Grade Reading Challenge which was inspired by a true book whisperer, Donalyn Miller.  I’ll also post the most effective thinking strategies I’ve learned in my thirteen years of teaching (I know, still a newbie, but I study wicked hard.) Both of these made it possible for students to synthesize across genres.

After students had read, annotated, and discussed many texts, with differing messages, but on the same topic (Gender Stereotypes), students voted on which texts we should synthesize.  We did this by a quick show of hands, and it was remarkably clear which texts this age wanted to analyze further:

  1. “Everything Will Be Okay” by James Howe
  2. Why I’m Raising My Sons Like Daughters” by Sarah Stewart Holland (blog post at bluegrassredhead.com)
  3. Various Disney film clips

Our next step was to list the major ideas we learned from each text.  The photo below shows students’ exact wording.  The three circles with bullets are the major ideas kids learned from each text.  I really should have taken a picture after that point (But who is going to interrupt thinking to take a photo?)  The middle section is the next step in synthesis.IMG_0522

After listing the major ideas we learned from each text, we turned and talked about what we could read between the lines and infer that these authors believe, and we looked for beliefs they have in common.  After discussing ideas as a class, we decided upon three BIG IDEAS the authors share:

  1. We learn gender stereotypes from society. (We acknowledged that family, teachers, media, books, friends, and ourselves are “society”.  Major aha! for kiddos- all with my asking the simple question, “Who is society?”  Lights went on in each of their eyes as they realized that they can contribute to or challenge stereotypes.  LOVED that moment.)
  2. Be who YOU want to be.
  3. Challenging gender stereotypes is a way to break stereotypes.

Next, we listed these BIG IDEAS on this chart, or graphic organizer, so that we could begin collecting text evidence to support these inferences.  We did this step by gradually releasing students so that by the time they worked individually, they’d work with confidence.  Students began by watching me think aloud as I read “Everything will be Okay”, looking for text evidence to support the BIG IDEAS we’d inferred.  Next, students worked with their partners to find text evidence in “Why I’m Raising My Sons Like Daughters.”  Finally, students who were ready, worked individually to record evidence from class discussions and their personal interpretation of the Disney film clips we viewed.

Next Steps

Our next step in synthesis, will be to learn the reasons gender stereotypes exist, and why society upholds these stereotypes.  We’ll ask:  What purpose do these serve?  Once students have access to both sides of this issue, they’ll write an argument that synthesizes multiple texts and supports their belief about whether gender stereotypes should be upheld or challenged.

I’d love to have a conversation on ways you’ve taught students to synthesize across genres and texts? What’s been successful or challenging?  What questions to do have about our process?

Are You Asking, “Why Gender Stereotypes?”

I recognize how very challenging this topic is for adults, let alone middle school kids. Recognizing how we’ve contributed to stereotypes, or limited ourselves because of them, requires a firm sense of self.  Here is why I ask students to analyze this topic: there has never been one student, out of over 250 kids who’ve studied this topic with me, who didn’t recognize how limiting gender stereotypes feel to them every single day on the playground, in PE, in the hallway, in the classroom… EVERYWHERE.

I also acknowledge my personal beliefs, having grown up in a Free to Be, You and Me household.  No kidding; it feels like the record played daily. As well, my sister, Amanda Diekman, studies gender and society as a professor at Miami of Ohio.  In my home now, my daughter’s favorite sports to play are basketball and football.  Her favorite clothes are athletic anything!  She also loves crafts, doing her hair (for special occasions), playing baseball, reading, glitter, inventing, doing science experiments, writing, riding her bike, organizing and decorating her bedroom, hiking, wrestling… My two sons, ages two and four, love Legos, superheros, stuffed animals, cooking in their kitchen and with us, crafts, snuggling, reading, nursery rhymes, music, riding bikes, baby dolls…  I do share these tidbits of my daily life with students at times.

I also let students know that our purpose is to figure out what we each personally want for ourselves; we need to know that gender stereotypes exist in order to identify them when we are confronted with them, stop and think about our personal opinions and beliefs, and decide to either challenge the stereotype or to recognize the characteristic or behavior as something we truly feel is our own.

More on this topic later.  Too important to ignore.



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