Home : 2007 : Apr : 29
To prepare, I reread the sections on synthesizing in Reading with Meaning, Mosaic of Thought, and Strategies that Work. The funny thing is, that in two of them, the authors pointed out that many teachers get to May and say, "Oh darn! There's just not enough time for synthesizing again this year!" When I read that part, I had a text to self connection!! I know just what those teachers were feeling, because that's what I did last year! I was so proud of myself for doing everything else that I used the ol' there's-not-enough-time excuse, coupled with the they've-already-gotten-so-much-for-just-being-in-first-grade-anyways excuse. (And then I did some fun projects.)
So this year, things are going to be different. As we know from Bloom's Taxonomy, synthesis is up there. I think synthesizing is kind of like the mother of all strategies. Because in true synthesis, readers draw heavily on their schema, they make mental images, ask questions, infer, and pick out what is important to them personally in order to extract a big, new idea from a text or group of texts.
I'm also thinking that a lot of the things we've already done have been synthesis.
It was synthesis when J showed the class two maps in two separate books. One map showed the places in the U.S. most afflicted by tornados, and the other showed the places with the highest hurricane rates. From that, he showed them the places in the U.S. where it would be safest to live (providing, of course, that you discount other natural disasters).
It was synthesis when members of the "Titanic club" realized that every book gave a different number for how many people were on the Titanic. They didn't actually ever find the answer, but I'm thinking that just the act of realizing the discrepancy is synthesizing.
It was synthesis when the class inferred the author's message in book after book during our inferencing unit. What they were really doing was looking at the pieces of the story and using their schema to infer a larger meaning of the entire text: part to whole.
It was synthesis when, in December, we worked on finding the important parts of a story. Finding the important parts alone is not synthesis, but I think that when one finds an important part and backs it up with reasoning that points to a bigger meaning/purpose in the story, then that's synthesis.
It was synthesis when a child wrote a talk back that explained how their old schema was replaced with new schema about whales. Now, to put a name to it. This is the tricky part, because I want my students to be able to do it independently and to know when and why to employ it. Here are the things I think they need to be shown and told:
There are various levels to synthesis. A lower level is a lot like retelling. Good readers do this constantly-- always, and in every book. After each chapter or section, they mentally keep track of the action. If it's nonfiction, they keep track of what they've learned. The higher level is more about the big picture. It's a little like the author's message, but I'm thinking (correct me if I'm wrong), that I can't call it that. The reason is because schema is key. Every book means something different to each of us, depending on our background knowledge. So, even though to me, The Giving Tree is about unconditional love, to my sweet red head with three younger brothers, it's about being too generous and letting someone walk all over you. To Shel Silverstein, it may be something entirely different.
Good readers keep track of their changing ideas throughout a text. The changes are almost as important as the end synthesis. Some of the ideas from each thought may somehow manifest themself in the final synthesis.
Synthesizing in reading is, in many ways, like revision in writing. Both are about a text making sense and the meaning changing. Both are very personal. We revise our thinking in some of the the same ways we revise our writing, except that it's not as visible. Also, since we will be studying poetry, I'd like them to see the connection there: Poetry is (again, I think) like the ultimate synthesis is writing. It has both personal meaning or judgement or knowledge of what's important, AS WELL AS a bit of retelling or telling what you see. It's almost as if, when you look at an object on which you'll write a piece of poetry, you are using that strategy of synthesis, full power.
Readers synthesize both within one text and between many texts. But even when a reader is only synthesizing one text, it's never being done in a vacuum. It requires all of our life experiences and knowledge to synthesize. That's why books read at different times in our lives hold different meanings. Maybe I can find a book we read at the very beginning of the year and read it again to see how our new experiences affect our synthesis. This week, my minilessons are very simple and have no active involvement piece. I really want the students to only observe. I'll be reading the beautiful book, Night of the Moonjellies, about a little boy who helps his grandma all day long at a food stand by the ocean. In the evening, she takes him for a surprise, and out on a boat, she shows him where thousands and thousands of moonjellies light up the sea. She gives him a box with sea glass in it to remind him of the night.
I'm going to read it in three sections (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday). Each day, I'll write on a post it note what I'm thinking the story is about. I will put them on a "ripple" chart like in Reading with Meaning. At first, I was a little confused about what should go on the post its. Should it be a strict retelling? Should it have some personal judgment in it? I think I've decided that it should have some of that personal meaning behind each short retelling. It won't be the story's BIG meaning, but because of my own background knowledge, each part of the story has to be retold along with my feelings about it.
On Thursday, I'll reread the entire book, in search of one big meaning. This will be my hardest lesson, because I want to show the kids how I use everything-- my old thinking, my own schema, inferences about the characters-- to synthesize the book.
On Friday, we'll have some preliminary discussions about what synthesizing means.
Next week... who knows? I have to see if the kids are able to utter words during Friday's discussion, or if they just sit there- dumbfounded. ;)
Let's have a discussion about synthesis... the only way that Debbie Miller figured out what it was was by talking to other teachers. What are you thinking?
That was a very theraputic blogging experience! I think I just synthesized my knowledge about synthesizing!!
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