Research School Network: Summarising: A Simple Way to Add Challenge Will Gore on how summarisation can raise the bar in lessons

Summarising: A Simple Way to Add Challenge

Will Gore on how summarisation can raise the bar in lessons

by Bradford Research School
on the

Ensuring that all learners are sufficiently challenged in lessons is always going to be a non-negotiable lesson expectation. Robert Coe (2013) emphasises the use of challenge in lesson as Learning happens when people have to think hard”. Whilst we might have moved away from having different coloured worksheets/​activities for different ability groups, there is now more of an emphasis on teaching to the top’ and scaffolding appropriately to support learners in demonstrating depth of understanding. With Ofsted expecting a knowledge rich’ curriculum, and the 2016 GCSE reforms increasing the level of content, it is vital that we don’t sacrifice the level of challenge in order to race through the content.

The research

Zoe and Mark Enser (2020) have weighed several research based strategies for increasing the level of challenge in lessons. The two most successful strategies were identified as:

  1. Pupils summarising content they have been taught
  2. Pupils peer teaching new content

Although peer teaching strategies can be effective, they are also time consuming – time we don’t have in the current educational climate where we are still recovering from lost curriculum time due to Covid. Therefore, if we want to challenge pupils, summarising is arguably the best way to do it. Fiorella & Mayer (2020) define summarising as pupils collating and reorganising the main points from their learning at different points in the learning process”. This can be verbal and textual. They suggest that summarising should be closed book’ where possible to ensure pupils focus on the original learning material.

Applying the strategy to lessons

Staff might raise initial concerns with how to apply the strategy in certain lessons, especially those which have a more practical basis. Here are some examples of how I have seen the strategy applied across a range of subjects:

  • Maths: summarising the process of solving an equation
  • Science: summarising the process of mitosis
  • RE: summarising key religious arguments and religious parables
  • Geography: summarising conditions in different global ecosystems
  • Performing Arts: summarising a routine (verbally and in written form)

Summarisation can also be used at different parts of a lesson:

  • Checking for whole class understanding on mini whiteboards: Mini whiteboards are exactly that – they are mini. Pupils have to reduce the information to ensure it fits, especially if you enforce a word limit as well.
  • Questioning: Pupils have to give a verbal response with a time limit/​word limit.
  • End of a lesson: Pupils summarise their own notes at the end of the lesson. Peper & Meyer found that students who take notes and add a summary at the end of their notes performed 10 – 15% better than their peers who just took notes.
  • Retrieval practice: Not only are students having to access prior knowledge, they are having to reduce it as well.
  • Main tasks: Pupils have to reduce content into a summary. This ensures pupils are still accessing challenging texts. This can also be effective with teacher absence and the setting of cover work.

Measuring the impact:

Measuring the impact of challenge in a lesson isn’t easy. What is and isn’t challenging is very subjective, and measuring the extent to which a student has been challenged depends on several factors. E.g. the pupils ability, age, prior knowledge. Zoe and Mark Enser suggest an approach of using two control groups assessment data to measure the impact – one group who did use the strategy, and the other which didn’t. However, this can be problematic in a small school where there might only be one class per subject. It also means that there is a class not using the strategy, which potentially limits the extent to which they are challenged.

Alternative ways of measuring the impact of summarisation could be conducting learning walks and completing book checks. This allows you to check for compliance of the strategy. You could also use staff/​pupil voice at the start and end point to assess whether the strategy has been a success – but bear in mind that this would very much be a subjective assessment, not supported with any quantitative data.

What are the limitations?

As with many strategies, there is not a one size fits all approach to using summarisation to increase the level of challenge in a lesson – it does have its problems. Whilst I do not think this means we should stop pupils summarising, I do think we need to be aware of some of its limitations:

  • Pupils with a lower reading or writing age may struggle to write a summary and might copy the information instead.
  • Teaching pupils to summarise can take time, especially if teacher is not confident at delivering the strategy
  • Pupils might become too used to creating summaries to the point it no longer requires them to think hard’.

Will Gore is a Lead Teacher at Carlton Keighley, and a Bradford Research Champion

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