Kindergarten students are being taught how to better put things together. Not just plastic bricks, but literary concepts and insights.
Fort Dodge Community School District teachers achieve this with a reading comprehension strategy called "synthesizing."
"Synthesizing is taking ideas and putting them together to make a new idea," Sue Wood, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said. "It's a very important reading comprehension strategy because that's what good readers do to make meaning of text."
The strategy has been in use for nearly a decade in the school district, Wood said.
"It was one of the first reading comprehension strategies we started in about 2002. There's about six major comprehension strategies and that's just one of them," she said. "And the kindergarteners love the big words."
Jeri Ayala, a kindergarten teacher at Duncombe Elementary, has used the technique all six of her years with the district. By the end of the year, her students are well-versed in the practice of synthesizing.
"What we do is we'll read a story, and we'll have the students explain their thinking as it grows and changes," she said. "As the story changes, their thinking will change. We like to have the kids put the story in their own words when we're done reading it, summarizing it."
She added, "We're always looking for the author's message and things like that."
Ayala learned the comprehension strategy from district literacy coach Rosie Ellendson at a workshop, and thinks it's a wonderful technique.
"When you first take these trainings and things, you think, oh, man, these kindergarteners can never do that. And they amaze you," she said. "Every year they amaze you with the things they can do."
School has only been in session for two weeks, and so Ayala's class this year hasn't had a chance to explore synthesizing yet. Last year, though, her students responded to it well.
"We'd read a story and I would stop halfway," she said. "The kids would explain their thinking and after you read a little bit more something happens in the story, and you think, oh, wait, now I don't think what I was thinking before. I think something different. And that's what we wanted them to do."
Achieving a greater understanding and insight into a story while reading is the goal of synthesizing, Ayala said.
"We want them to be thinking about the story as we're reading it and using those comprehension strategies to understand what they're reading better," she said. "At the end of the story, as a group, we summarize the story in our own words and tell how our thinking changed throughout."
The strategy also links with other lessons and subjects, Ayala said.
"All of our comprehension strategies tie in really well. When we're synthesizing, we can always be making connections. We can always be inferring and doing different things like that," she said. "It's wonderful, and the kids do great."
According to Wood, the comprehension strategy has proved successful.
"You can see that students are able to take a book and figure out what the author's purpose is. Everybody understands it's okay to be unique," she said. "It does work well."
The strategy also helps to improve students' reading scores.
"Even though the Iowa Assessments are one snapshot in time, we've seen comprehension scores rising on other assessments, as well as Iowa Assessments," she said.