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Simple Tool for Synthesizing Multiple Texts

If your students are like any and all readers (including you and me!) they find it challenging to read, recall, analyze, and then synthesize information from multiple sources.

As a reader, it takes a lot of focus and energy to process and comprehend one unfamiliar text, let alone two or more. Still, many of our students as young as third grade are being asked to read multiple, paired passages, comprehend, analyze, and then synthesize the information into a well-written short answer response (or!) longer essay/prompt.

While I admit this is an incredibly difficult task, I think it is one that is worthwhile for our students. I can't think of a more important moment in our lifetime or society where the need to assess multiple sources was paramount. Knowing this is a needed, albeit, difficult skill, we need to consider easy-to-use processing tools that students (or we as adults) can use whenever we're trying to make sense of multiple pieces of information.

As unglamorous as this may present, note-taking is one of the top seven most impactful reading comprehension skills, and I propose that note-taking is precisely what we should model for our students. But! I'm not talking about fill-in-the-blank guided notes, or Cornell notes, or even something that looks mildly cute or entertaining. I'm talking about giving our students a blank sheet of paper, teaching them how to fold it into two (or three, or four) and then extending them the thinking ability to write down what they notice, think is important, etc.

Summarizing, in addition to note-taking, is another one of the top seven most impactful reading comprehension skills. I've never met a student who naturally writes a fantastic summary. This skill needs to be explicitly modeled for students once we've given them opportunities to show us what they want to write down to begin with. If we are tired of students always asking us "What should I do?" then we need to start providing them with the space to made decisions, and then, be ready to provide modeling and feedback after.

In this short (5 minute) video, I use my trusty document camera and model/explain how I would teach my students to use a plain piece of paper (most likely what they'll get in a testing situation, too) to process what they've read. This process can be applied in any content area, at any age, starting at the beginning of any school year. It's not a formula; it's a tangible tool to help students slow down, read, process, and record what they read. This is a comprehension tool, not a writing graphic organizer.

To summarize:

  1. Explain that all readers take notes in key situations or with difficult texts. I promise this is true. Consider the last time you were in a meeting (or a doctor's office, or a financial planning session) and you took notes. We take notes all the time. This is a life skill.

  2. Give students a tool they can use in a testing environment: a plain piece of paper.

  3. Model and think aloud with explicit details.

  4. Allow students to explore their own thoughts, write down what stands out to them, and think!

  5. Follow-up with more explicit feedback and reflection after you've checked their progress.

  6. Celebrate their thinking! Celebrate their willingness to slow down, process, and think!

Want to see more on this strategy? Check out A Simple Tool for Synthesizing Multiple Texts, Part II.

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