+1 (208) 254-6996 [email protected]

Summarizing is the final item in the list of instructional strategies for clarity. It means explicitly pulling everything together for all to see or hear. It can be done at strategic points during a lesson after a cohesive chunk of content has been dealt with: “OK everybody, before we go on to the Legislative branch of government, draw a diagram that represents what you know about the Execu- tive’s powers.” It should be done at the conclusion of every lesson to maximize the likelihood that students’ final focus is about processing and internalizing the most important takeaways from the lesson. Summarizing can be accomplished by the teacher or the students, but getting the students cognitively active in do- ing it is of primary importance.

There are two principles of learning (see Chapter 12) that underscore the impor- tance of summarizing at the conclusion of a learning experience: sequence and say-do. The sequence principle says that what happens in the beginning and end of events or experiences is what people tend to retain longest. We increase the likelihood that the important ideas will stick when we begin a lesson by sharing the objective with students and protect the last few minutes of a learning experi- ence to revisit the objective and summarize essential ideas or understandings related to it. The say-do principle tells us that whether learners take in informa- tion by reading it, hearing it, seeing it, or some combination, retention is limited until the learner reconstructs it for himself. It is when the learner has to shift from receptive into active mode with new information (putting it in his or her own words and images, talking about it, writing about it, explaining it to others, applying it) that retention improves significantly. In other words, when students get cognitively active with the material, they have to personally reorganize the information and concepts they have received so that they can represent them in their own words.

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Summarizing is the final item in the list of instructional strategies for clarity. It means explicitly pulling everything together for all to see or hear
Just from $13/Page
Order Essay

Asking students to do the summarizing means asking them to represent what they have learned in their own words. It is the “in your own words” feature that is critical because it forces learners to sift, reorder, and organize information themselves. They can’t just let the new learning lie on the library shelf of their minds as a memory trace. They have to pick up the pieces and put them together, and the very act of doing so strengthens the learning. When we ask students to do the summarizing themselves, we increase the likelihood that more of the learning will stick, and that they will deepen their understanding of concepts. When the summarizing task or prompt is clearly aligned with the objective of the lesson, the responses students produce enable us to assess the accuracy, depth, and breadth of student understanding, and to use the data we collect to

Video: Summarizing— The Stoplight Method



T H E S K I L L F U L T E A C H E R 263


make instructional decisions for the next lesson. Finally, when all students are involved in summarizing simultaneously (a short individual writing or draw- ing activity), another powerful factor is added, the principle of learning called “Active Participation” (see Chapter 12, “Principles of Learning”).

There are many ways to accomplish this summarizing so that all students are involved. Having students keep a learning log where they enter the lesson objec- tive as a question (“How are fractions and decimals related?”) at the beginning of class and respond to the question at the end of the lesson is one option. Similarly, students might summarize with an exit ticket that requires them to solve a sample problem representative of the lesson objective. Each of these puts stu- dents in the “reconstruct and process” mode while also providing us with forma- tive assessment data to determine how well and which students have mastered the objective so we can make reteaching plans for those who aren’t there yet.

Robert Marzano makes a strong case for getting students to represent new in- formation in nonlinguistic formats that don’t rely on language. Citing a 2009 study (Haystead & Marzano, 2009) he notes “across 129 studies in which teach- ers used non-linguistic strategies—such as graphic organizers, sketches, and pictographs—with one class but not with another class studying the same con- tent, the average effect was a 17-percentile point gain in student achievement” (Marzano, 2010, p. 84). He goes on to discuss five key characteristics of nonlin- guistic representations to take into consideration in maximizing the benefits:

p Nonlinguistic representations come in many forms, and the selection should match the type of content addressed and the amount of time available.

p The representation chosen and completed by the student must focus on the crucial information to be learned and represented.

p Students should explain their nonlinguistic representations to communi- cate their intentions and reveal their confusions of misunderstandings.

p Nonlinguistic representations take time, and to get the full effect the time has to be allocated.

p Students should revise their representations for accuracy when necessary.

While each of the above examples gets students to summarize on paper, we can also ask students to do it verbally, in pairs at the end of class, or at appropriate stopping points within class. Doing this addresses the say-do and sequence



T H E S K I L L F U L T E A C H E R264


principles, and affords students the opportunity to hear other’s thinking and to talk ideas through, thereby increasing the likelihood that students will clarify their thinking and remember and retain important ideas. What we lose when it is not an individual written response is the opportunity to gather formative data from each student. Thus it is important to decide when and how it is critical to have that information and to structure the summary format accordingly.

How frequently should summarizing occur within a lesson? Rowe (1983) has demonstrated that students’ performance increases when we pause after ap- proximately 10 minutes of teacher-led instruction and provide about 2 minutes for students to process what has been presented. Prompting students to sketch an important concept, or to respond to a focus question with a partner or small group, to explain a concept, to fill in a graphic organizer, to read their notes to one another—any of these might be the focus of the two-minute processing time. Thus when a lesson is going to include input to students (teacher presenta- tion, textbook reading, video viewing, group discussion) for periods longer than 10–15 minutes, we need to chunk the input by inserting pauses and processing prompts. These prompts should require students to reconstruct for themselves what has been presented in each chunk. That will maximize the likelihood that they internalize and retain what is being presented.

Summarizing questions can be made specific and tailored to any content: “Based on our discussion so far, tell your partner the principal causes of the Civil War. Then have your partner tell them back to you.” If the class has reached consensus on the causes, this is a summarizing of the information. If the class has not resolved the question, having pairs work like this is more than summarizing, especially if they are asked to back up their respective arguments. In addition, a teacher may ask students to summarize in writing (perhaps in notebooks) the main idea of each section in textbook chapters. Having to stop and summarize periodically as they read forces active cognitive processing. Learners have to put what they have learned in their own words to write a summary. Voila, better learning. Studies have shown improved comprehension of text (not just stories) with convincing consistency (D’Angelo, 1983) when students do this kind of summarizing. A number of writers offer useful models for teaching students how to do this summarizing in writing as they read (Hahn & Gardner, 1985). Visit www.RBTeach.com to find a repertoire of formats for getting students to summarize. Our publication, Summarizers (Saphier & Haley, 1993), describes them in detail. Some are short, some longer; some call for verbal responses, while others call for written or sketched; some can be done individually, while others call for student-to-student interaction; some require advance prepara- tion, others can be done on the spot. These are questions that help to decide the focus and the format of a summarizer:



T H E S K I L L F U L T E A C H E R 265


p What is my purpose for using a summarizer? To check understanding? To surface confusion or misconceptions? To deepen understanding? To sup- port retention? To gather formative assessment data?

p What is most important about the content, skill, or strategy we studied today?

p What data do I need about students’ understanding of this concept?

p What level of thinking do I want students to do in processing this learning?


Questions are the dominant mode of communication in most classrooms (Bel- lon, Bellon, & Blank, 1992) and the second most dominant teaching method after teacher talk (Cotton, 1988). Teachers spend between 35% to 50% of teach- ing time posing questions (Long & Sato, 1983 as cited in Hattie, 2009). Because questioning is done for many purposes, we could say that it occurs during nearly all the areas of performance described in The Skillful Teacher. Consequently, one of a teacher’s most important skills is designing and posing worthwhile ques- tions. The significance of this topic is reflected in the plethora of books written about questioning. We synthesize what we believe is the most practical and important information on this topic over the last 30 years. There are five main points about questioning that we want to highlight. Each has large implications for practice:

1. Be deliberate about the purpose of your questions.

2. Engage all students in higher-level thinking questions.

3. Use questioning strategies that maximize student engagement.

Order your essay today and save 10% with the discount code ESSAYHELP