Three New Summarizers

Asking students to write and say what they learned has an astounding impact on learning.  Some studies show as much as an 80% improvement in retention when students are asked to summarize their learning in writing and aloud.  This has led me to obsess about expanding our repertoire for engaging and effective summarizing.

A few new summarizers I am trying:

1.  The Low-tech Twitter

Constraints have a powerful effect on thinking.  Think about how hard the brain works when given a silly question like “if you could only bring five things to a desert island, what would they be?”.  The limitations force us to weigh and evaluate options with more rigor than “what do you need to survive on a desert island?”

I have never actually twittered but having students (adults or kids) try to make meaning in 140 characters or less fires a lot of neurons.  Whether the question is “what makes an inference effective?” in 6th grade ELA or “why do we need to check for understanding?” in a PD session; the students will work harder and produce smarter and potentially wittier answers if they work under constraints.

2.  A riff on this idea of using constraints as a summarizer is the List and Cut (also called the dump and trash, sew and harrow,  or vomit and clean).

Ask the students a question that forces them to make a list about what they learned.

“What are the five main events in the chapter?”

“List all the choices FDR made in response to the Great Depression.”

“How can a person negatively impact an ecosystem?”

Follow the list (or brain dump) with a second question.

“What one event on your list  is the most important?”

“Which of those choices had the greatest impact on turning around the country?”

“What human action on your list does the greatest harm?”

The power of this summarizer lies in asking students to use two different kinds of thinking as they pull together their learning.

3.  Graph the results.

I never considered myself a particularly visual thinker.  The only teacher to ever kick me out of a class was my sixth grade art teacher and my attempts at illustrating on the board (not the Smart kind, a chalkboard for all you digital natives out there) often resulted in kids rolling on the floor laughing. However after reading Brain Rules, sections of Presentation Zen, How We Decide, and a few other books about the brain and checking out the Illustrated Professor and Back of the Napkin Websites I decided to try more visual summaries in my own note-taking.  During a PD session where I taught the elements of framing a lesson I asked the leaders in the session to create a simple scatter plot of the relative skill levels of the teachers they coached.

         Choose two teachers to think about.  Plot the teachers on the chart below using their initials or colors[cd1] . If you wish to plot everyone you coach, have at it. My example is on the overhead.

Framing the Lesson Behaviors





                  Teacher A      Teacher B      Teacher C     Teacher D

  1. Communicate the objective. 
  2. Give students the itinerary.
  3. Remind students about the big idea or essential question.
  4. Explain how the activity helps meet the objective. 
  5. Explain why the learning is worthwhile. 
  6. Identify criteria for success when a product or performance is involved. 

Of all the framing behaviors identifying criteria for success seems to be the most common gap between moderately effective and truly transformative teaching. Why might that be?

The three positive impacts of this summarizer were:

1.  The learners applied the content to their own experiences;

2. They displayed their learning in a way that allowed me to quickly check for understanding and patterns across the class.

3.  Forced choices i.e. plotting teacher A above teacher B create more interesting and evidence based conversations in the debrief.

I might apply a similar summarizer in a seventh grade class reading Lord of the Flie by asking kids to draw bar graphs comparing the relative power held by several of the characters at the start of the chapter and then a separate graph to show the power of each character at the end of the chapter or create a line graph to show the rise and fall of tension in a passage.

The websites that got me thinking about this can be found below:

You can find more summarizers here:


2 Responses to “Three New Summarizers”

  1. Minerva Says:

    Olá.. tudo bem?Dias atrás encontrei seu blog por acaso e confesso que ad!rei!!o!Estou entrando na luta contra a balança com todo o gás!Parabéns pelo blog!

  2. Sulphur Springs, TX car isurnce Says:

    I like this weblog very much, Its a really nice billet to read and receive info. “As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable.” by Albert Einstein.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: