Academic Summary and Small Groups

By on April 27, 2012

Summary writing is easy. Yep. That's what I thought, until I had to teach it. Turns out, my students, even my honors and AP kids, were having a tough time writing summaries of the content they'd just learned. Many assumed that "just changing a couple words" from a direct quote meant they had summarized the lesson. Or worse, when I asked for them to write a two-sentence summary after the day's lesson to formatively assess where they were in their learning, I got responses like, "Today we looked at Shakespeare's sonnets." YIKES! Clearly, it wasn't their fault. I had not taught them, explicitly, what I was looking for.

That was before I had been given the tools LiteracyTA provides. I learned how to scaffold the teaching of summary writing, and not take for granted all my students were masters at this, regardless of their level. If you've yet to check out the Academic Summary section under Literacy Skills, do so. You will find so many tools for your teacher toolbox.

To amp up the engagement in this process, I had my students, just recently, in groups of 6, because I know that structured Small Group Work is essential in teaching literacy skills. Kids need to talk about what they are learning. They had all read their articles, worked together to determine author's claims, and came up with a group Academic Summary. But here's the catch: they had to "tweet" their summaries to me. You read that right. I had each group log in to Twitter and hashtag the same thing (for example, #mrsmagliolas4thperiod). By using Twitter, the kids in the group had to limit their summaries to 140 characters or less. This created the need for clear, concise summaries, with no words wasted. I had the hashtagged Twitter feed projecting onto my board, and as the tweets came in, we talked about them as a class. The students all decided which summaries were sufficient and which ones needed to be revised again. We practiced summary writing this way for a couple weeks.

Now, they are writing academic summaries on their own, with much more skill than when we started. Collectively, their confidence has increased as they are faced with more challenging texts. And I haven't received a single summary, as of late, that merely regurgitates my daily agenda. Hooray!

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