cake analogy for synthesis strategy
So…we used the cake baking strategy (click link above to open) in class today. Students had choices of a few texts to use—texts we had previously used in class, texts even referred to on this blog: “Eleven,” and “Salvador, Late or Early” [Sandra Cisneros], and “The Flowers,” by Alice Walker. I try to model what I would have them do as teachers. So, for the synthesis activity, we worked backwards, as I would do with middle school students. We have followed Mosaic of Thought, 2nd ed this semester—by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman. The text introduces seven strategies for teaching reading comprehension (monitoring your thinking, activating prior knowledge and experiences, inferring, sensory responses, determining what is important (as opposed to what is just plain interesting), asking good questions—for students be happy they ask any!, and lastly, synthesizing. Synthesis is the last strategy introduced because in essence, it really is a blending of all of the other six strategies. It is NOT summarization. It is more than a reporting of just the facts, ma’am. It’s the fact plus so much more. But that “so much more,” is difficult to retrieve for many students because it takes…work. Tenacity. And, lots of practice before it becomes second nature. And even then, the text makes all the difference. I can tell you for sure that there are some texts that leave me saying…huh??? I have to work hard at them. So, to introduce practice in synthesis as a strategy, I ask students to choose among three texts that they are already familiar with. This provides a comfort zone of sorts. No need to do a “first” read. In the cases of the three text choices, all students have participated, at a minimum, in a second reading as they used the texts for other purposes. They worked in teams. An option, for sure, and sometimes you will need to see what a student can do alone, but for this initial learning experience I wanted the students to collaborate and hash over their thinking. I wanted and they needed the dialogue. I suggested they begin at the end and work back. So, I asked them first to consider and agree upon what the author’s message, intent, purpose was for their chosen text. And, as a class, we agreed there could be more than one message, intent, purpose. This would be, as in the analogy: the cake. They then had to decide what “ingredients” helped them to determine their author purpose. What in the text led them to understanding? Below are some team results. They got it. Not only did they get it, but I listened in on fabulous dialogue. At close of class, they presented their “synthesis cakes.” What I think they found pretty compelling was that of the teams that chose like articles, every message was either different (but correct!), or if same message, arrived at uniquely.
As a “writing” person, I do not mean to minimize the power of writing with my last few blog entries, but I cannot emphasize enough the power, as well, of visually representing and following up with oral presentation. If team work was involved, yet another language bonus.