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High Leverage Teaching Practices for Remote Teaching

SYNTHESIZING LEARNING

In-Depth Analysis
Prepared by Raffaella Borasi, Center for Learning in the Digital Age

Use this webpage as a resource to inform the design of specific learning activities aiming at helping students “synthesize” what they learning in a specific lesson/module/unit. While created specifically for online/remote settings, many of the considerations reported here are applicable to face-to-face instruction as well.

Watch VIDEO as introduction

Explore by clicking on “+” across the page

Plan implementations of this practice (using the Summary Handout)

Reflect on your implementations (using Journal Template)

(If desired) Add to the In-depth Analysis and Summary Handout

Often time students (of all ages!) miss the key point of a learning activity unless offered the opportunity to explicitly reflect on what they have learned and its potential applications.  This is what good teachers spontaneously do at the end of face-to-face lessons.  Doing this when teaching online may be more challenging, yet also offer new opportunities for students to develop this valuable skill.

  • Enabling students to “get” the key concept/big idea behind the specific learning activities they engaged in – “to see the forest for the trees”
  • Enabling students to better appreciate the significance and value of what they learned
  • Helping students see how they can apply what they have just learned to new problems and situations
  • The ability and habit of “synthesizing learning” is a valuable life-long learning skill for students to acquire – so it will be worth spending some instructional time to help students develop it
  • It may be difficult for students to do this synthesis work– or even understand what is expected of them:
    • Have the teacher model it first
    • The teacher may need to facilitate and scaffold this activity – especially the first few times
  • Many students may not appreciate the value of this activity:
    • Be explicit about why you are doing it – especially at the beginning
    • Show the value by providing an opportunity to apply what was summarized in the synthesis
  • It takes time to do this well:
    • Plan time for this in your synch sessions and/or as part of students’ independent work
  • There is value in creating some record of the synthesis, so students could refer to it as needed in future work
  • It is important to evaluate what should be the role of the teacher vs. the student in each implementation of this practice – and in particular, how “directive” the teacher should be and who should have the last word in the synthesis
  • Make sure you set aside sufficient time in your plan for this critical activity, commensurate to the importance of what is being synthesized
  • Purposefully plan how to create records of the synthesis done, for future reference
  • Be explicit about why you are doing it, as students may not appreciate its value
  • Prepare students to be able to eventually do this synthesis on their own

Summary Handout (PDF) (Word) – 1-page summary you can print out and use as reference

Journal Template (PDF) (Word)– fillable pdf to record your experiences with this practice

In-depth Analysis (PDF) (Word) – Document version of the content of this page, which you can personalize if you wish by adding your own notes

Key instructional decisions

(click on each item to show options, along with their pros & cons)

Option: Advantages Limitations
“In the moment”
  • It is when it may be most helpful
  • Requires the teacher to make an impromptu decision and be able to do the synthesis without much preparation
At the end of a lesson/unit
  • It is a natural “stopping point”
  • The teacher can prepare in advance (while also being ready to make adjustments based on what happened in the lesson)
  • Does not give the teacher time to reflect on and adjust based on what happened in the lesson
As recap at the beginning of the next related activity
  • Teacher has time to prepare, after reflecting on what took place in the previous lesson
  • The “synthesis” can be immediately be put to use in the next activity
  • It may not be as immediate and impactful as doing it at the end of the activity itself
Option: Advantages Limitations
Teacher
  • The synthesis will likely be most complete, well organized and connected with the learning goals
  • The teacher is in full control
  • Provides a valuable model for what students may later do on their own
  • Some students may not be engaged
  • Students will not learn how to do it on their own
Teacher with students’ input
  • Students are more engaged in the process
  • The teacher can still make sure that the synthesis is sufficiently accurate and complete
  • It may not be sufficient by itself for students to learn how to do the synthesis on their own
  • It will take more time class time
Students with teacher’s guidance
  • Provides a scaffold into learning how to do the synthesis for the students
  • The teacher can still make sure that the synthesis is sufficiently accurate
  • The synthesis may not be as well organized as if the teacher did it
  • It will take even more class time
Individual student (independently)
  • Each student directly engages in making his/her own personal sense of the activity
  • It may increase students’ ownership in the activity
  • It may be easier to remember
  • The synthesis is likely to be more partial
  • Some student may not be able to identify the key points of the lesson

Option: Advantages Limitations
None
  • Takes the least amount of time and distractions
  • Neither teacher nor students have a record to use as a reference later
Collective notes
  • The teacher can ensure the accuracy and quality of the class notes by writing or revising these notes
  • Each student will be able to easily refer to this synthesis as needed
  • Some students may still not fully understand or even misinterpret some of these notes
Individual notes
  • The record of the synthesis will be in the student’s own words – so more meaningful for that student
  • Each student can easily refer his/her own synthesis as needed
  • The teacher has an individual record that could be used for
  • The quality of the notes may vary significantly across students – and may even include some misconceptions
Full recording (of synch session when the synthesis take place)
  • It will provide a complete record of the synthesis activity
  • It will allow the teacher (and potentially students) to revisit the reflections and discussion that took place in breakout rooms
  • Very time consuming to revisit
  • Difficult to assess what each student got individually

Useful online tools

  • Online synch sessions, and related recording functions (ex: Zoom; Google Meet): To conduct synthesis activities synchronously online, and possibly record them in their entirety
  • Online repository for notes (as built in any LMS; Padlet): To store synthesis notes – whether individual or collective – in an easy to access online space
  • Online journal/assignment feature (as built in any LMS): Allows students to submit privately his/her reflective journal/ synthesis notes, and to have easy (and private) access to them

Platforms like Zoom or Google Meet allow for holding synchronous sessions during which the teacher can orchestrate live synthesis activities, involving the students in varying degrees.  Recording these sessions will create a verbatim record of the synthesis that could be revisited if needed by students and/or teacher.

Options worth considering

(click on each item for comments about that option)

  • Because it is done by the teacher, the synthesis will take the least amount of time and be most accurate and organized
  • Notes created by the teacher are likely to be the most clear, accurate and concise record for students to refer to later
  • Teacher will need to prepare in advance, while being ready to make modifications on the spot to reflect what happened in the previous activity
  • It may be especially valuable at the beginning of the course, to model for students what they should eventually be able to do on their own – although not enough by itself to teach students how to do it on their own
  • It will help students see the immediate relevance of what they learned, by showing how it can be applied/ extended to a new situation – although it may also be more difficult for some students to remember what was done
  • Because it is done by the teacher, the synthesis will take the least amount of time and be most accurate and organized
  • Teacher will have time in advance to reflect and synthesize what happened in the previous class
  • Teacher’s written summary will be the most organized, clear and accurate (as the teacher will have opportunity to refine it) and thus provide the best record for students to refer to
  • Teacher will have time in advance to reflect and synthesize what happened in the previous class
  • Likely to take more preparation time on the part of the teacher
  • The students will be engaged in the identification of the “big ideas” of the lesson – so it will likely be more meaningful and impactful
  • The teacher will facilitate the activity and take notes – to ensure accuracy
  • It may not be as complete and concise as a synthesis prepared by the teacher, but it will help students develop the skill of synthesizing learning
  • It will take more class time
  • Each student will personally engage in the process of “synthesizing learning” – and thus benefit in terms of developing this practice
  • The record of the synthesis will be in the student’s own word – so more meaningful for that student
  • Each student can easily refer his/her own synthesis as needed
  • The teacher has an individual record for each student for assessment purposes
  • The synthesis is likely to be incomplete and possibly incorrect in some cases – so the teacher will need to review this work and provide feedback as needed before the journal can be used as a reference for future work
  • Every student will personally engage in the process of “synthesizing learning” – and thus benefit in terms of developing this practice
  • The records of the synthesis will be in students’ own words – so possibly more accessible and meaningful, although they may also be less clear to other students
  • Students will benefit from comparing their synthesis to that created by other students – and thus spontaneously recognize some limitations in their own
  • The teacher has an individual record for each student for assessment purposes
  • The syntheses thus created are likely to be incomplete and possibly incorrect in some cases – so the teacher will need to review this record and if needed discuss discrepancies and possibly create a revised comprehensive and more organized record to be used as a reference for future work