Monday, January 11, 2010

Summarizing--which century?

How's this for a 21st century skill: summarizing! Yep, that's the 21st century skill my students focused on last week. Rather involuntarily on their part, but sometimes the oldest (I can't say tallest) person in the room gets to set the agenda!

Clay Shirky says there's no such thing as information overload but instead we're suffering from "
filter failure." How then do I help my students build their filters? Once they are grown and transition to a life/career as an adult who is supposed to be on top of potentially limitless input, how will they manage?

Enter the 18th (15th) century skill of taking a large amount of information, reading and comprehending it, and putting it into a few succinct sentences. I love my students. They totally got that this is really a reading strategy, not a writing exercise. Even more importantly, they were able to intelligently discuss the conversation prompt "summarizing can be a political act" after minimal explanation on my part. I'm still grateful to the college professor who taught me that whole class discussion is usually not a discussion at all. There are so many kids who don't know what they think until they hear what they say that setting them up to have table conversations is essential.

If we accept that distilling information (we focused on non-fiction) is important, there is still a question. How is it a 21st century skill? Well, twitter comes to mind. I have learned so much from the twitterverse. Why? Because the folks I follow have mastered the art of saying much with just a few words. When they can't capture all they have to say, they know how to write just enough to convince me that I need to click the link included. Akin to the art of writing the pithy slogan or the captivating headline that's been around for a few centuries.

Next week, I'll post some Wordles of their summaries. We've been looking at biographical sketches and blogs kept by clients of food banks. Pretty powerful stuff.

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