Saturday, October 5, 2013

October 4 Crumble: Get the GIST

To be able to summarize central ideas or themes of a selection is key in both literature and informational text. The developers of the Common Core Standards felt that this skill was something that should be developed over time and, therefore, mandated that we expect our students to, year after year, prove that they are capable of effectively summarizing.  To be able to summarize a selection, students must choose what is important to the purpose of the writing - calling upon either the author to develop that purpose or some outside source (a teacher or the students themselves) to do this for them.

I find that, in teaching kiddos how to summarize text, more often than not they are missing the boat because their writing lacks focus due to ineffective purpose-setting.  An easy way to teach students to develop summaries is the use of a strategy called the GIST strategy (not an acronym, to my knowledge, but still spelled in all caps).  Although not a CRISS strategy per se, getting the the GIST follows CRISS's Principles of writing and organization along with active learning and transformation of information by giving students a formulaic guide to develop a clear summary of a text selection.  And it's really so simple, it makes me smile.

Here's how it works:

  • Students or teacher identifies the purpose of the reading.
  • Students read the selection, highlighting or annotating the 5 W's and an H (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) as they pertain to the purpose.  All text selections will not develop every component, but careful reading will allow students to identify as many parts as possible.  Rereading may help to identify pieces that might require making an inference like the why and how.
  • Once the annotation is complete and/or notes are taken, students should then take the purpose of the reading along with the identified components of the GIST strategy and put them into as few well-developed sentences as possible.  A great writing activity would be to have students create complex sentences using all of the information and correct punctuation!
To illustrate what this would look like, I might ask my students to read a brief text selection about social values of an era in history and the impact that these values had on the art and/or music of the day.  I would tell the students that I'm hoping that they will read to find what impact the values of the era had on art or music and then demonstrate how to look for the 5 W's and an H.  Once students have identified the who (not necessarily one person, but maybe a collective "who" such as a religious group), what happened, where did it happen (could be specific or more general), when did it happen, how did it happen (maybe describe what it looked like OR how people felt while it was happening), and why (what caused it to happen), they can then construct their summary using ONLY the information that they gathered and putting it together into just a few sentences.  And voila! A well-constructed summary! 

Struggling writers may find it more difficult to put multiple pieces of information into only one sentence, so they may need some support.  Modeling the process over and over for them is just good teaching for any student, so be certain to demonstrate your expectations.  Allowing students to work together and giving them immediate feedback while they're working may help those resistant or struggling writers as well.  Try it out a few times.  See what you get.  Once you get a handle on what your kiddos can accomplish, then put some supports in place for them.  In a few cases, you may need to supply some of them with frames for their sentences (writing out part of it and leaving empty spaces for students to fill in words), but try to avoid this if you can.  The idea is to create independent summarizers - even if the sentences aren't perfect. 

See, just talking about this strategy makes me smile because its such an effective use of organization and writing!  Don't forget that strategies like this should be given attention on multiple levels.  Try exposing students to it two or three times before tossing the idea to the wayside.  Ask your students to reflect on their use of it the first time around to see if they can tell that they have more focused summaries.  Then ask them to compare their own summaries the next time you do it to see if they found the strategy less daunting.  By the third time you use it, have them reflect on how it has helped them learn content.  Share with colleagues and see if you can use the GIST in multiple content areas so that our kiddos are being exposed and transferring this skill.  And most of all - tweak it and make it fit your teaching style, personality, and students.  Without your spin on it, it's just another strategy. 

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