Archive for September, 2009

Helping Students Process Information

September 27, 2009 Leave a comment


An excellent resource for more information on summarizing

An excellent resource for more information on summarizing

Last week we explored “chunking” or presenting new information in small, digestible bites followed by summarization strategies. This week I challenge you to examine how you are scaffolding and providing time for students to interact with your content. Whereas chunking involves the size of the bites for the new content, scaffolding involves the content of the bites and their logical order. For example, if you were teaching your students a strategy for how to edit an essay for overall organizational logic,  you might organize the steps into three chunks. The first chunk would be comprised of the steps that deal with determining whether the composition has good transitions from paragraph to paragraph. The second chunk would involve steps that address whether the major sections of the essay (beginning, middle, and end) logically flow into one another. The third chunk would be steps to determine if the essay as a whole sends a unified message. In other words, each of the chunks sets up the next chunk.


 Scaffolding is a form of differentiation that helps meet the needs of all learners.   In the video clip below, the teacher provides scaffolding exercises on the concept of  “loyalty” within Julius Caesar.  Students are asked to connect content to their personal experiences, use their mathematical skills, and justify and evaluate the content of the text.   Students are expected to interact with the content and one another to gain a greater understanding of the curriculum.  Retention of lesson concepts improves when students have the opportunity to use the information they have learned in a meaningful way.

Interacting refers to how students process the information in each chunk. An easy way to facilitate processing is to organize the class into small groups and ask each group to summarize the content in the chunk, identify anything that was confusing, try to clear up the confusion, and predict what information might be found in the next chunk. You are already familiar with many formative assessment strategies to facilitate this process. A few I have seen you use include:

  • Plus, Minus, Intriguing                                           computer girls
  • Brain Dump                                                         
  • Quick Writes
  • Graffiti Write
  • GIST


When you have explored one level of the scaffold and are ready to move on, use formative assessment strategies to determine the level of mastery of your students. Concentrate on having as many students as possible respond. You may want to have students use Response Cards to agree, disagree, or add to a response. Another technique you may want to try is to use one of our voting technologies. The “clickers” will allow students to electronically cast their votes regarding the answer to a question. Student responses are immediately displayed on a pie chart or a bar graph, enabling you and your students to discuss the different perceptions and/or misconceptions regarding the questions. If technology is not available when you want to use it, why not use small white boards to get students actively engaged and allow you to assess your students without giving a grade.

Once you have determined student understanding, then you will know whether to reteach or accelerate before moving to the next chunk.




Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association For Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Wormeli, R. (2004). Summarization In Any Subject: 50 Techniques To Improve Student Learning. Alexandria, VA: Association For Supervision & Curriculum Development.


Summarization in any Subject

September 21, 2009 7 comments


Students today must learn facts, of course, but they must also be skilled “information archeologists.” They must dig for information, make sense of it, and attach meaning to what they have learned. They must identify the main ideas, as well as the supportive details, the principle arguments as well as their evidence.

One of the greatest gifts that we can give to students is to teach them (1) how to identify salient information, no matter what subject that we teach or how we present it, and (2) how to structure that information for meaning and successful application” (Wormeli, 2005). The ability to summarize indicates students comprehend material, and this is the goal of learning.

Classroom Instruciotn BookMarzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2001) cite extensive research studies in their book Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement to prove summarization is one of the nine research-based strategies that have the greatest impact on student achievement. Often our students struggle with summarization. They would rather copy information from an Internet resource than actually take the time to restate the essence of the text or an experience in as few words possible. Many of us make the assumption that summarization must be done in writing— either with pen and paper or on a keyboard.

boys with teacherThis week and during the weeks to come, let’s explore the versatility of summarization. Summarization is a form of formative assessment that can be written, oral, dramatic, artistic, visual, physical, musical, and digital. Students can summarize individually or in a group. We must make a commitment to use summarization strategies as often as we can to promote comprehension and retention of concepts.

When we do not use summarization strategies, we must ask ourselves “Am I teaching so that students will learn, or am I teaching so that I can cover the required material?

Chunking, direct instruction that is delivered in “chunks,” instead of one long whole, can result in a tremendous amount of information moving into long-term memory. Chunking a lecture means that the teacher speaks for approximately ten to fifteen minutes, then pauses and facilitates a summarizing or processing experience about the information just presented. Summarization/processing activities can last from 1-10 minutes, as needed. Then the teacher continues the lecture and selects another summarization/processing strategy.

LiteracyBlocks_000During our professional development last year, we focused on Vocabulary and Literacy strategies. Several summarization strategies were shared including:
Graphic OrganizersCornell Notes / Q – Notes
–  F-I-T Sheets
–  “What I know…” sentences
– 3-2-1

– Admit Slips
– Ticket out the Door

Please contact Heather Mullins, our Curriculum Specialist, if you need more information on how to implement these strategies in your classroom.

Essential Questions Revisited

September 13, 2009 3 comments

What constitutes an Essential Question?

Essential questions are important because they connect classroom work to the large and enduring issues that affect our lives. They are the link that make expeditions relevant, connecting the curriculum to actual concerns that young people face” (Umphrey, 2005).

As we began the 2007-08 school year, we discussed the data, reviewed research, and strategically designed a school improvement plan. As part of that plan, our faculty committed to the use of Essential Questions as a means of incorporating higher-order thinking into our classrooms.

We asked ourselves,

“How could the use of high quality, overarching essential questions change the way our students approach learning?”

We explored the fact that this brain-friendly strategy has been recognized as a means of making learning relevant and promoting student inquiry.


I shared with the School Improvement Team that Dr. Whitesell and I must pre-conference, observe, and post-conference 48 teachers by October 15. Listed below is the range of  Essential Questions we have observed during the first three weeks of school.

  • No EQ posted.
  • EQ posted but not referred to throughout the class.
  • EQ posted but not relevant to the content covered in the class.
  • EQ posted at literal level only (stepping stones).
  • Overarching EQ posted and stepping stones questions used to lead students to understanding.


Both stepping stones questions and overarching questions are important for our students as they are introduced to new material and learn to make the connections that will lead them to a deeper, more conceptual understanding of your content. “[Essential Questions ] also provide an invitation into critical thinking, providing chances to coach young people to think clearly, precisely, accurately, and reasonably about things that matter” (Umphrey, 2005).

Posing the right Essential Questions can result in stimulation of inquiry regarding the topic, an increase of student achievement, and  retention of lesson concepts.  Please take time to review your essential questions.  Are you using both overarching and stepping stones questions effectively to engage students in the learning process?


If you would like assistance or a review of this material, please contact our Curriculum Specialist, Heather Mullins to work with you during your planning period.

Podcasting — Active Engagement for Digital Natives

September 7, 2009 1 comment

podcastrssImagine this… Students collaborate to create a podcast reviewing concepts before a test. The review is ready when the students are. Ipods, desktop computers, laptops, mp3 players, and cell phones can all be used to bring the review to the student — day or night. Talk about “on demand” learning.

Students can listen to their review podcasts while watching a basketball game, while eating dinner, while standing in line at a shopping mall, or anytime they choose. Imagine what this could mean for our students. Podcasting provides an opportunity to create — the highest level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

Creating a Podcast
Creating a Podcast is as simple as recording an MP3 file directly on your computer’s hard drive, using a microphone and any of a number of audio utilities. At the most basic level, that is all it takes.

Take time to view this short Common Craft informational video to help you gain a better understanding of podcasting.

Want to know more?

You can get free podcast creation software at Audacity Donna Murray can help you download this free software as our firewall settings prohibit full installation without a site tech administrator.

Podcast hosting and publishing
When you’ve created your Podcast, you need to put it somewhere and let people know where to find it. Many blogging tools now also allow the hosting of Podcasts on their service. However, since audio files are large, there are usually some limitations. Here are some specific Podcast hosting and publishing services.

Odeo (
Podbean (
Podomatic (
Switchpod (

For more ideas about how to use podcasting in the classroom, check out this video.

Podcasting in the Classroom
You can create a podcast of a lesson or have your students create podcasts for assignments. Here are podcastpurple some ways you can include podcasting into your classroom regardless of your content area:

If you are interested in podcasting or podcasts, Donna Murray has bookmarked a variety of resources for you on her Delicious page.


Finally, here is a podcast especially for you. By clicking on the link below, you can listen to a podcast about the eight easy steps for creating a podcast.

Happy Podcasting!