163: Assessing Synthesis & Creative Thinking Skills (1 of 2)





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  1. One-Sentence Summary
    • Description
      • Students write 1 sentence summaries that answer the questions: Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?
    • Purpose
      • Students practice chunking info into concise statements
      • Summary format that is easy for teachers to scan and assess
    • Step-by-Step Procedure
      • Select important topic(s) to summarize.
      • Create 1-sentence summary of topic – first in sentence fragments and then combine into 1 sentence.
      • Model strategy for students
      • Give students at least 2x more time to write sentence as it took you.
    • Analysis Steps
      • Separate sentence fragments that answer questions with slash marks
      • Code responses: 0 = inadequate, Check = adequate, Plus =  more than adequate
      • Total codes for class to see where group as a whole is strong and where they need extra support
    • Extension Ides
      • Gather sentence fragment responses and full final sentence in a Google form for easy of analysis
      • Convert 1 sentence summaries into more complete 2-3 sentence summaries
      • Let students critique summaries in pairs or small groups
      • Use this strategy several times to summarize key points.  Then combine sentences into one paragraph that summarizes the project.
    • Pros
      • Quick and easy way to assess students’s ability to concisely summarize a lot of info
      • Students practice grasping complex processes and conveying them in everyday language
      • Info is easier to recall once it’s packaged in a familiar format, one sentence
    • Cons
      • If focus questions have multiple answers, 1 sentence format is too limited to adequately summarize processes
      • One sentence limit may oversimplify material
    • Caveats
      • .Don’t ask students to do a one sentence summary on a topic you haven’t tested with this strategy first
      • Choose focused topics that can be adequately summarized with one sentence
      • Encourage students to make sentences grammatically correct while being OK with sentence’s clunkiness
  2. Word Journal
    • Description
      • Student summarizes text with one word then writes a paragraph to explain why that one word summarizes the text.
    • Purpose
      • Students practice reading deeply and carefully
      • Students practice defending conclusions with textual evidence
      • Students practice type of concise writing needed to compose good abstracts
    • Step-by-Step Procedure
      • Choose assigned text
      • Decide what aspect of the text you want students to focus on (main theme, conflict, problem, etc.)
      • Try assignment out by coming up with one summary word and related paragraph.
      • If you find the text helpful and thought provoking, assign it to students.
      • Emphasize to students that the word choice is not as important as the quality of explanations and text evidence that support the word choice.
    • Analysis Steps
      • Affinity group their responses by their word choices and by their approaches to justifying their word choices.
      • Select 3-4 examples of approaches to be shared with the class.
    • Extension Ides
      • For early attempts at this strategy, can support students with a word bank of possible words.
      • Use a model to hold a discussion that helps students come up with criteria for assessing quality word journals.  See this article for more tips on how to do this.
      • Focus word journals by having students focus on one aspect of the reading.
      • Use this assignment to teach students conventions for writing abstracts.
      • Start class discussions on readings using the words chosen by students to summarize the texts.
      • Group students and have students read their word journals aloud and give descriptive feedback such as – What is the main idea of the word journal?  What is one piece of evidence that does not go with the main idea of the word journal?  What is one piece of evidence that needs elaboration to better support the main idea of the word journal?
    • Pros
      • Promotes active processing of reading
      • Encourages students to make personal connections with text and to justify their ideas with text evidence
      • Practice summarizing, remembering and communication info
    • Cons
      • Takes time to prepare and analyze
      • Without discussion time, value of assignment is limited
      • Anonymity of responses might help discussions
    • Caveats
      • Not a good strategy for texts that can only be interpreted one way – work with texts that lend themselves to multiple interpretations
      • May be challenging for students – can help overcome this gap with good modeling
  3. Approximate Analogies
    • Description
      • Students complete statements of the type: A is to B, as _______ is to _______ where A, B, and X are ideas in the course
    • Purpose
      • Assess student understanding of the relationships among words
      • Guided practice in making connections
      • Use familiar connections to formulate new ones
    • Step-by-Step Procedure
      • Select key relationship among terms that is important to understand
      • Create approximate analogies with that relationship of the form A is B as X is to Y. Aim to formulate analogies that bridge technical relationships with everyday relationships
      • If trial produces results that you think are helpful and accessible to students, try out assignment in class.
      • Show sample analogies and think aloud to model how to create them.
      • Give students class time to compose approximate analogies.  Not time consuming – 1 min / analogy
    • Analysis Steps
      • Divide analogies into piles: good, questionable, wrong
      • Look for logical, memorable funny responses to share
      • Analyze the wrong pile to get insights into misconceptions that need to be addressed later
    • Extension Ides
      • Leave less parts of the approximate analogies blank (A is to B as X is to _________ ) to focus the analogies
      • Invite students to label the type of relationship in the analogy such as: part-whole, cause-effect, exemplar-to-class, etc
      • Let students come up with several analogies in teams and compare/contrast them
      • Let students critique analogies in teams
      • Students can practice this strategy whenever they encounter new relationships in the course
    • Pros
      • Thinking about analogies builds skill of transfer
      • Builds stronger bridges between new material and prior knowledge
      • Challenging and fun
    • Cons
      • Can be frustrating if students can’t diagnose relationship in one part of the analogy
    • Caveats
      • May need to model this strategy for students who are unfamiliar with analogies
      • Students may make analogies that are so personal that they are hard for teacher to understand
      • Strategy favors students with larger vocabularies and broader reading experiences


The assessments listed above double as active reading strategies that students can practice to process new learnings grasped in texts.  All of them produce deliverables that can lead to productive team discussions about content.  They all lend themselves to a variety of responses from the same prompt which can lead to interesting discussions about what big ideas and relationships students notice in texts and what textual evidence supports these interpretations.


Preparation Steps
  • Select assigned readings and/or learning activities
  • Decide which strategy students can use most effectively to process the reading or learning experience.
  • Trial the strategy to test if it’s worth doing and to practice modeling it for students.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Use samples and think aloud protocol to model how to do selected strategy.
  • Give students the appropriate class time to do the selected strategy.
  • Let students discuss their deliverables in small teams – they can compare/contrast their responses and give each other constructive feedback.
  • Analyze responses to see what students are grasping and what they are struggling to understand
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Try extension ideas listed above.
  • Incorporate strategies that students enjoy into classroom routines.

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