Summarizing requires readers to reduce a text to its most important, key points. Through this process readers are underscoring their comprehension of a text-- which is the optimum goal of reading!
In the later early elementary years, the state ELA standards shift their language. No longer are students asked to “retell” information in a text, rather they are asked to “recount” a story. The specific distinction of a “recounting” versus a “retelling” comes down to the sequencing of important events and the form that a summary takes place. Literary theorists often categorize recounting as the ability to share the important events of a story in a text in order of when they occurred. Additionally, this demonstration of comprehension can now be done in oral or written form.
The verb “summarize” appears within most ELA standards beginning in 4th grade. The reason this shift takes place in 4th grade is that at this stage students often undergo a shift from learning to read to reading to learn. One of the ways students can showcase this skill is through summarizing.
In this year, students are asked to share not just the information of a text sequentially, but also those inferential elements of a text that an author may not specifically make clear. Making an inference in a text is the ability to determine what an author is trying to convey indirectly. Strong readers can make inferences by using actions or words in a text coupled with background knowledge. Making inferences in a text can include the ability to successfully determine the following textual elements even when not named directly:
Character Feelings: In lower level, early elementary texts may explicitly state how a character is feeling. As texts increase in complexity, however, they may only connote character feelings through the words and actions of a character. For example, rather than saying a character is sad they may say that the character, “cried with tears streaming down their face.”
Character Motivation: Why a character does something in a text is not always readily stated. A character’s motivation is an important inference readers may have to make. Understanding a character’s motivation can be a lynchpin in understanding their feelings, as well as, ultimately, the key themes an author may want a reader to take away from a story.
Lessons Learned: What a character or reader can learn from a story is often the highest level of thinking that can take place when reading a fiction text. Authors write fiction stories in order to help convey messages about life. Often these lessons are not explicitly shared and must be inferred by how a character’s feelings change or how a problem is solved in a text.
A strong summary at this stage cannot be a literal retelling or recounting of a passage nor can it be a simple copy of a passage. At this stage in elementary school and in this stage of reading, students are asked to embed the most important explicit and implicit details of a text.
In each of these stages, students are asked to take part in an increasing demand of analysis, as well as a more precise and nuanced use of academic language. This shift in cognitive demands and text complexity continues through middle and high school. By these upper grades, readers are asked to summarize long or dense texts that increase the complexity of the information they must extract and infer.
Summarizing requires readers to reduce a text to its most important, key points. Through this process, readers are underscoring their comprehension of a text-- which is the optimum goal of reading!