Teaching students to synthesize their reading is often a challenge. One way to support understanding is to use physical triggers when modeling this concept. Kristina Smekens likes to bring in a boxed cake mix, measuring spoons, and a mixing bowl to compare baking a cake to the steps involved in creating a synthesis.
The video accompanying this article reveals how Kristina Smekens would execute this idea with a short whole-class mini-lesson.
As we start today’s mini-lesson, let me first remind you of the voices in a reader’s head. We’ve been learning to use our Reading Voice to sound out the words. But we’ve also got to make sure our Thinking Voice is talking, too; it can have a lot of different thoughts.
So far this year we’ve learned that our Thinking Voice can retell and summarize what we read, it determines the most important information—the main ideas. We can also see things in our minds because we can visualize, even when there’s no pictures. We’ve learned to start asking questions when we read and even make connections. Today, I want to introduce you to synthesizing: the sixth comprehension strategy.
Now synthesis is awesome because it’s so powerful. And to really understand its power, I want to quickly review how the other inferences, or types of thoughts, work.
When we read, we read a few lines, and then we have a thought. We read a few more lines and have a thought. And we keep this Reading Voice/Thinking Voice conversation going on all throughout the text. But every once in a while, we read something, have a thought…and then another thought…and another thought. And we keep thinking about what we just read. We can’t stop thinking about it. And after we’ve had multiple thoughts, we realize something. We’ve learned something. We’ve discovered something we didn’t know before. And when that happens, it’s a synthesis.
A synthesis is a lot like baking a cake. When you first buy a cake mix, open it up, and pour the powder into the bowl, you don’t have much. You just start with powder…until you add the other ingredients. You add the water and then the oil and then the eggs. After adding those ingredients and mixing them up and putting it in the oven, you form a cake.
That whole cake-baking process is exactly how synthesizing works for readers, too. The powdered cake mix is your text. And you open it up, and you pour some in the bowl. That’s you reading and having a thought about what’s been read. And you read a little more, and you think about it. Read a little more and think about it. But, every once in a while, you read something and you think more than just a moment about it. You are thinking about it, and it makes you wonder...
It reminds you of other texts you’ve read, experiences you’ve had. It reminds you of things you’ve learned previously and what experts say or other perspectives on this topic. It makes you start to think about nagging questions, things you’re wondering about or curious about. You might think about what was going on in the setting, what was happening in that time period. We’re considering everything about the text, including our emotions. What are we thinking about? What are we wondering about? How are we feeling?
And when we put any of these extra thoughts into our first thought, and we start to mix it and combine it and really consider it, what we have when we’re done is a brand new thought—a synthesis.
Let me show you the difference between a synthesis and the other five inferences. Instead of using print text, though, I’m going to use a visual text (photographs).
Have you ever pulled out a bunch of old photos and started flipping through them or scrolling through them on one of your devices? Have you ever moved through several photos, having a quick thought about each one? But then, every once in a while, you get to a photo, and you pause. You’re going to be there a little longer. You’re not just having one thought, you’re having several thoughts. This is you having a synthesis.
When I was first going through the photos, and I looked at each one, I had a quick thought and moved on. Until I got to this one (PHOTO #4).
Did you see it? Did you see what happened there? I had a synthesis. Did you notice how I looked at the picture and had an initial though, But then I paused and another thought came and then another and another and another. I didn’t know how many thoughts were going to come, but after I paused and had several thoughts, I paused once more. That was me combining, mixing my thinking. It’s when I realized that for me it wasn’t sad that I didn’t see my grandparents very often. In fact, it made it kind of extra special. It was the perk. That was my synthesis! I hadn’t stopped to think about that before. I had this new realization after readng (looking) at the photo and taking into account all of my thoughts.
So today’s lesson was all about synthesizing—it’s the sixth type of reader thought. The Thinking Voice can synthesize. And it’s this powerful inference that your mind can make by simply reading the text and thinking, adding, combining, mixing, and producing a brand new realization. When you synthesize, you learn something you didn’t consider before.
GREAT TEACHER IDEAS:
Here's how Claire Clark, K-5 ESL teacher, of Concord South Side Elementary (Elkhart, IN) helps her students understand how their combined thoughts can create a synthesis. She displays it on her Serving Up Synthesis bulletin board!