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Drawing Conclusions

Synthesis. You know...making meaningful inferences about the relationship of sources. Bringing them together. Drawing a conclusion. Original thinking. Synthesis...a skill that doesn't come easily to our students.

In the future, students will be continuously asked to read, watch, and observe a variety of different resources and then draw a conclusion based on their understanding. In order to synthesize effectively, students must be able to comprehend, analyze, critically think, and then finally, articulate their own original ideas. In a world where it is easy to just Google an answer, how do we ask our students to draw their own conclusions based on what they learn from these external sources? The answer is simple...exposure and practice. The application, however, takes strategic planning, creativity, flexibility, and patience by the teacher in order to knock it out of the park. This week, I am observing our Social Studies Department and am excited to share a few ways our teachers provide exposure and practice for our students:

HyperDocs have taken the educational world by storm as more and more teachers move away from a traditional worksheet or web quest and move towards activities that not only give students access to information but forces them to do something to demonstrate their thinking and learning. Teachers can tailor these assignments to fit the need of their lesson and include various resources for students to read, view, and discuss. My favorite aspect of a HyperDoc is that it provides great opportunities for synthesis. By including videos, articles, podcasts, images, or whatever other resources a teacher desires, and then asking the student to do something to demonstrate their understanding, students are synthesizing the information provided. In her freshmen World Geography class, Ms. Katie Popp's students worked through a HyperDoc that included videos, articles, and references to their textbook With exposure to various sources of information, students had to observe, read, and listen and then draw their own conclusions by piecing together this information. Ms. Popp guided the students with questions, which not only helped them with the synthesis process but allowed them time to think and practice. Click here to learn more about HyperDocs and to utilize awesome resources from the HyperDoc girls.

Student-Owned Projects
Asking students to synthesize becomes easier when you give them choice and ownership of their learning. Student projects are typical in the classroom, and when done correctly by the student, numerous skills are put into play as they research, analyze, and present (through various platforms). Synthesis will occur as they research and utilize multiple sources in order to draw the conclusions needed for their project. Again, when students care about the topic at hand and have a personal connection, the synthesis becomes easier because they are working more diligently and thoughtfully to piece everything together and develop their own original thoughts/conclusions. In Ms. Cat Bishir and Ms. Gretchen Parejko's American History classes, the students were asked to complete an immigration project, and their artifact of learning was a Google Slide Deck that provided information they learned from research and interviews. Ms. Bishir explained to me that students had to choose a country that they personally connected with for this project. From there, they used books, the Internet, and my favorite, an interview with someone in their family about his/her, or his/her family's transition, to the United States. Next, they had to connect this interview to their research. Was this family member's story typical or atypical based on research? From there, students had to piece everything together and draw a conclusion about how immigration shapes the American Identity - an essential concept in the class. Students used multiple sources and didn't just report information they learned; instead, they had to think about it and make inferences based on their understanding and analysis. Adding student interest to the mix, with exposure and practice, will help produce impressive synthesis from our students.

Visual Literacy
When it comes to access, it is our job as teachers to expose our students to various texts, online resources, images, videos, and other sources to help them think differently, critically, and originally about the topic at hand. By doing this, we are upping the ante when it comes to how they think about the world and apply it to what they are learning in school. Another great strategy for incorporating synthesis into the classroom is to include a visual literacy component to your lesson and/or activity. By asking students to closely study, analyze, and critique a visual, we are calling on a similar yet also different task that can challenge our students. From there, we can take it to the next level by asking our students to link their conclusions about the visual to their conclusions about a text or group of texts. Again...exposure and practice will produce independent, dynamic thinkers. In Mr. Joe Brennan's class, students were asked to read an article, recall information learned earlier in the semester, and new this period, study and evaluate images connected to the topic as they discussed women's rights. Through questioning, Mr. Brennan asked his students to synthesize their understanding of women's rights based on their understanding and analysis of the different sources. By asking his students to tie in their interpretations of the images to their conclusions, visual literacy helped enhance and transform their thinking and in turn, asked them to think critically about a variety of sources. Check out the Google Slides Add on - Unsplash Photos - in order to easily incorporate great images into your instruction.

Developing and Supporting Arguments - Writing and Speaking
As referenced in previous blog posts, the art of argument is taught and assessed throughout our school. Students are consistently asked to create, analyze, and evaluate arguments. Another great way to practice synthesis is to ask our students to tie it to our art of argument instruction. As we ask students to develop arguments, we can give them multiple sources to read, view, and/or evaluate before making them develop this argument and provide support to back it up. While this adds a difficult layer to developing arguments, the exposure and practice will only make them stronger thinkers. In Mr. Paul Whisler's AP World History class, students were asked to read various texts and with a partner, complete a DBQ activity. In a shared Google Doc, students worked together to develop an argument based on the various texts and incorporate support based on their synthesis of the texts. Students worked diligently and had intense discussions about what to include in their written response. Similarly, Ms. Inna Kagan's American History students worked together to develop a claim based on conclusions drawn from discussions, texts, and historical elements. Instead of completing a writing assignment, students were asked to speak during a class discussion by sharing arguments and reasoning, all developed through synthesis of the work throughout the unit. Ms. Kagan and Mr. Whisler not only provided exposure and practice, but they asked their students to do so by motivating them to collaborate, communicate, and think critically.

In a world full of information, challenging our students to produce original thoughts in class will only help make them stronger in the future. We want our students to leave us as independent and critical thinkers, so we must provide exposure and practice for them to analyze, synthesize, and most importantly, share their ideas with others. #whatsup