Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Retelling? Summarizing? Synthesizing?

We've been in the midst of our mid-year reading assessments at our school.  During this process I often think about our comprehension goals for students and the strategies we will teach to get them there. I think of three main ideas when it comes to comprehension and what my goals for students might be. I envision a ladder with three rungs, the bottom rung is retelling, the middle summarizing and the top synthesizing.  I decided to do a bit of reflecting on these three rungs  This  lead to some reading and research which helped me summarize and synthesize my thoughts!  Following are the big ideas and definitions I gleaned, I hope sharing them helps you reflect on your comprehension ladder.

Retelling~The Bottom Rung

Retelling is the first step, stage one.  Retelling is just that, telling the story again, in your own words. In it's earliest form, for our youngest readers and writers, it's about relating a beginning, a middle, and an end.  As students progress it's about retelling with an expressive voice, picking the most important parts to retell (character, setting, problem, solution) and doing so in the correct sequence.

When I think of retelling in narrative structure, I think back to a tactile tool I used to use when teaching second grade.  This tool called, "Braidy" was literally braided yarn with buttons and beads that served as retelling reminders with stops along the way.  The device helped students remember each piece of a complete retell. This is a brief view of the steps.

1.  Who is the story about-character(s)
2.  Where does the story take place-setting
3.  Kickoff-what got the story going-problem
4.  How was the main character feeling at the beginning?
5.  What steps happened in solving the problem-sequence of events (first, next, then, finally)
6.  How did the story tie up-the resolution
7.  How was the main character feeling at the end?

Here is a resource for more Braidy information

Another very simple, effective tool can be a child's hand, a retelling across fingers.  Starting at the thumb, climaxing and then traveling down to resolution.

Summarizing~The Middle Rung

Summarizing is the next hierarchical step after a retell.  A summary asks students to identify the key elements and tell what is important. To me, it's main idea in it's finest form, with specific textual evidence.  I like to think of it as the "boxes and bullets" of comprehension.

"Summary asks the student for a condensed essence of the text.  The reader's task, then is to reduce the text to essential bits and to restate them as succinctly as possible.  We summarize to generate a more manageable version of the information."  (Laminack/Wadsworth p. 69)

Examples of when we might summarize in daily life. (Laminack/Wadsworth p. 69-70)

  • Steps in an event
  • Highlights of a day
  • Rules in a game
  • Giving Directions
  • Recipes
  • Dismissal procedures
  • Fire Drill/emergency procedures
  • Library book check out and other school routines

Synthesizing~ The Top Rung

Synthesizing is the top of the comprehension ladder.  It is here where our students demonstrate the total essence of reading comprehension.  Here a student takes their reading and makes it their own.

"Synthesis asks for a contribution from the reader.  It isn't satisfied with condensing and restating the essence of the text.  Synthesis expects the reader to do more, to make the text personal and relevant, to weave a more robust tapestry than the text itself presented.   Synthesis expects the reader to leave the text with more than he found on the page.  Synthesis is like weaving.  We have threads from our lives that we are weaving together as we read." (Laminack/Wadsworth p. 78) "When we weave our existing insights with experience over time to make new meaning, we are synthesizing.  (p. 79)

Another way to support the idea of synthesis is from the AdLIT at The Ohio Reading Strategies Center:
"Synthesizing is the process whereby a student merges new information with prior knowledge to form a new idea, perspective, or opinion or to generate insight.  Synthesizing is a reader's final destination." (Bumgarner, p. 1)

That's my look at my ladder, I hope it's helpful to you as you consider the next steps for your students as they travel up, up, up!


  • Writers are Readers~Flipping Reading Instruction Into Writing Opportunities by Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth (Heinemann-2015)
  • Like To by Karen Haag
  • The Reading Units of Study-Calkins 2015
  • Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears
  • AdLIT-Advancing Adolescent Literacy Instruction Together

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Rigor for All~Providing Student Support

This year, our supervisory union, has taken on the topic of "rigor" as part of our ongoing professional development.  During district wide inservice days, we've been reading and discussing chapters of the book, Rigor for Students with Special Needs by Barbara Blackburn and Bradley Witzel (2013).  This ongoing work is focused on promoting rigor for all  of our students.

On January 18th, we will concentrate on Chapter 4-Providing Support and Chapter 5-Demonstration of Student Learning (Assessment).  Today, I prepped for the inservice by reading these two chapters. Although the reading did not provide me with brand new learning, I believe it met its intent.  It required me to reflect and consider my practice and be prepared to respond to thoughts that will be presented and discussed in small groups on Monday.  Here is my list of key points in Chapter 4.  They may help others reflect as well.

Chapter 4~Providing Support

Seven Types of Support
1. Scaffold:  Apply supports and strategies to help students achieve.

  • Scaffolding is typically ineffective if students are not show how to use it and if it is not faded as the student improves.
  • Example of four key elements of scaffolded instruction:  Chunking instruction, cycles of repeated instruction, modeling for support, use of visuals.

2. Model:  Students need models to know what they should aim to do, and why.

  • Model, model, model-model thinking, model what you want students to do, model practice.
  • SLANT-Sit up, Lean forward, Act attentive, Name the big ideas, Track the speaker.
  • 3 Step process of modeling-I do it, we do it, you do it.

3.  Think Aloud:  Teachers verbalize their thoughts and reasoning while teaching.

  • When teachers think-aloud it provides students an opportunity to crack codes and understand thought processes.
  • Remember students in the think-aloud process, don't generalize or skip steps.

4.  Provide Guides and Graphic Organizers: Visuals should be used throughout every lesson to support comprehension, and stimulate learning.

  • Help students create mental images to better organize their learning
  • Examples: Maps, T-charts, Venn diagrams, number and timelines, lists, think bubbles, sketches, charts, tables, etc. 

5.  Use CRA Models:  Concrete-Representational-Abstract~students choose a method that works for them, then move to the next level.

  • A Bloom's Taxonomy of support of sorts!  
  • Gradual sequence that moves from hands-on learning to pictorial representations to abstract reasoning.

6.  Teach Community Skills:  Teach students how to support each other.

  • There is a great rubric included in this section "Student Cooperative Learning Rubric" (p. 53)

Me:  Teacher models
We:  Teacher uses think alouds to help students verbalize steps.
Two:  Students verbalize reasoning, understanding and thought processes in small groups
You:  Students work independently


Students are given think time
Students pair up and share their thinking
Students share with the entire group
Higher level-students share their partner's thoughts, ideas, answers.

7.  Apply Modifications and Accommodations:  They are not the same, nor interchangeable.  A modification is a change in the content of the standard.  An accommodation is a tool to help a student reach the standard.

"Keep in mind that using accommodations does not mean that you are lessening rigor.  A key part of the definition of rigor is that appropriate scaffolding is used so that students can be successful at higher levels of learning.  Accommodations are simply another type of scaffolding." (p. 56).


  • Changes are made to what a student is expected to learn.
  • The standard or concept is changed from general educational expectations.
  • Change the nature of what is being tested. 
  • The more modifications, the less likely a student will be prepared for an unmodified assessment.
  • Content modifications can change what the test measures.

Examples:  deleting certain items, changing constructed response to multiple choice, altered grading, different assignments, different assessments, use of calculators for math fluency, different reading assignments if reading is being assessed


  • Changes that are made in regard to how the student is instructed or assessed

Examples:  changes in instructional methods and materials, assignments and assessments, changes in environment, extra time, scribe, shortened assignments where all objectives are still covered, one-on-one assistance, visual organizers, homework reminders, weekly progress reports, etc.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Two Writing Teachers is an amazing  blog that has become one of my all time favorites.  Each morning, I read this blog as one of my first tasks of the day.  The blog inspires me to be a better teacher, to research, to plan, to take risks, to contemplate what type of writer I might be able to grow into.

Each year, at TWT, contributors are invited to choose "One Little Word" (OLW) to inspire them, or aspire to for the forthcoming year.  It's a New Year's resolution of sorts.  During the last two weeks, I've enjoyed reading OLW posts by the co-authors of Two Writing Teachers.  I've reread and reflected on their chosen words.  Words like:  joy, gratitude, patience, focus, and time.  I like all these words, in fact many of them I love, but now it's my turn to choose my word.

As writers have stated about their OLW, their word really ended up choosing them, and so did mine.  As I pondered the magnitude of choosing just one word, it was one word that kept creeping I connected to, and there it was, CONNECTIONS

This year, I aspire to make new, keep old, solidify and honor CONNECTIONS that exist in this hectic life of mine. I want to seek out connections both old and new.  I need to refresh connections that have lingered in the sidelines a bit and seek out those that are waiting to be found.  It reminds me of the old Girl Scout lyrics, "Make new friends (CONNECTIONS), but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold."  

CONNECTIONS abound in my everyday life.  I begin most workday mornings at a 6 a.m. Jazzercise class with a wonderful group of like-minded early risers.  We connect with a quick word, a nod, a smile, knowing that these first connections of the day are part of us, our community.  We support each other through everyday life, injuries, illness, loss and gain in more ways than one.

CONNECTIONS at school and work are sometimes slow and deliberate, other times hurried and on the fly.  The connections I make daily with students are real, honest, joyful, celebratory and sometimes painful as I watch them in their struggles. CONNECTIONS with my colleagues and cohorts, my partners in crime, feed my passion for the hard work we do everyday. 

CONNECTIONS with my family are the core of my being.  The sun still rises and sets in the connection I share with my husband of 28 years.  Being the youngest of six children, I have siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews I hold close and dear.  I'm grateful and honored to still share CONNECTIONS with my mom at 90, and my mother-in-law at 93.  Each and every connection with these people lifts me up and reminds that love and family come first.

So, it's CONNECTIONS for me this year.  My "One Little Word", I like it.  Thanks for finding me, CONNECTIONS, I can't wait to see what wonders you have in store for 2016.

I'd love my EMES comrades to comment with their "One Little Word".

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Reading Strategies Book

Many of us at EMES have been using Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book for a wide variety of purposes.  The book is incredibly user friendly and a quick get started guide for teaching hundreds of reading strategies.  What I love most about the book is that it really gets me thinking about how I can use the strategies as written, or adapt and expand depending on who I'm working with, it's a pretty exciting teaching tool!

Recently, I've been working with the book developing  ideas around reading stamina/engagement strategies for students in grades K-3.  As I was reading through lessons, I decided to make a chart for myself of the strategies I liked the best, and the strategies I'm going to give a go.  Here is a copy of my thinking.  Please feel free to use and offer feedback.

The Reading Strategies Book~Stamina Lessons & Grade Levels

Good fit for this grade level

Possible fit for this grade level




A Perfect Reading Spot
2.1/p. 48

Vary the Length or Type of Text~“Break Reads”
2.2/p. 49

Reread to Get Back in Your Book
2.3/p. 50

Keep Your Eyes and Mind in the Book
2.4/p. 51

Retell and Jump Back In
2.5/p. 52

Set a Timed Goal
2.8/p. 55

Most Desirable/Least Desirable
2.9 p. 56

“Party” Ladder
2.10/p. 57

Go/Stop Mat
2.11/p. 58

Mind Over Matter
2.13/p. 60

Track Progress on a Stamina Chart * copy below
2.14/p. 61

Choose Like Books for a Best Fit
2.15/p. 62

Choose Books with Your Identity in Mind
2.16/p. 63

Reading Log Reflection
2.18/p. 65

Finding Reading Territories
2.19/p. 66

You’ve Got to “Get It” to Be Engaged
2.21/p. 68

Set Page Goals
2.23/p. 70

Monitor Your Stamina and Pace
2.25/p. 72

In other The Reading Strategies Book news, a "follower" of Jen's, Stephanie Affinito, put together an If...Then...chart to accompany the book. Here is the link to that chart. (Just copy and paste to your browser.)
Both the chart and book are really great ways to quickly focus on goals and strategies our readers might need!