Summary: The Pathway to College Success

By on August 20, 2018

I have been a classroom teacher for 15 years and have taught low socio-economic populations and students from affluent neighborhoods. When it comes to state tests, I have worked in failing schools and top performing, award winning schools. Although these two populations are on the opposite sides of the spectrum, I have found (and research supports this) that students no matter where they come from struggle to write competent summaries. The subject doesn't matter. Most students have trouble summarizing information accurately and concisely.

I first discovered this issue while writing my Master's Thesis. My Review of the Literature explored the academic gaps between high school and college and university. What I found is that a large number of our graduating high school students were entering college and university unable to summarize information with any success. In fact, the Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senate of California--consisting of community college, college, and university faculty--reports that 51% of year one college students cannot write basic summaries. This means, half of our college going students will struggle their first and second year in college. Perhaps this is why so many students drop out of college and university after the first year. When we look at this issue nationally, reports from both SAT and ACT mirror these startling figures. 

Our FREE LTA Toolkit supports the teaching of summary skills for grades K-12.

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To address this issue, new state literacy standards were released in 2010. Here are a few of the College and Career Readiness Standards that specifically target comprehension reading and summary writing. We have marked the standards to isolate the essential ideas.

College and Career Readiness Standards

R1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; and cite specific evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

R2: Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

R8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Writing Standards Related to Summary

W2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

We have skills, resources, and learning routines to help!

Today, in our college going culture, students must learn how to carefully read a text and be able to speak and write about the main ideas or central argument. And this work must be done at every grade level. As students develop mastery in fourth grade, for example, they need to be pushed in fifth grade to include more details and write more concisely. Fast forward to the twelfth grade. Our seniors should include not only the main ideas or central argument and the supporting details, but also a discussion about how the speaker/writer constructs his/her ideas. Students should continuously improve their comprehension reading and summary writing skills. I have heard teachers say, "Summary writing is an elementary skill and students should be able to summarize by the time they enter middle school." Let's look at this a different way. Instead of posting a "finish line," let's look at mastery as a moving target. Yes, students should know how to identify main ideas in a text as they become middle schoolers; however, texts become more complex and standards become more rigorous as students move up the grade levels. This means, we should continue to work on comprehension reading and summary writing every year because each year presents new challenges, and perhaps most importantly, students need lots of practice!

My point is this: we all need to teach summary skills at all levels to best prepare students for college and careers.

Since we acknowledge that students must learn summary skills, we have included our Summarizing Main Ideas learning routine and resources in the Free LTA Toolkit. We support this important process for grades K-12.

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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

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