There's been a lot of discussion recently on the difficulty dev. students have
summarizing and what we should do to help them overcome this difficulty.  (see
messages from Bill Broderick, Beth Camp, and Dorothy Chase)

It seems to me that this problem is part of a much broader issue--that dev.
students, by definition, have yet to develop those abilities
necessary for success in college learning.  They tend to be naive in their
assessment of task demands and rely on internal criteria for determining what's
important in the texts they read.

Students' ability to write a good summary depends on their recognition of what,
given a particular task demand, is the most important idea in a piece of text,
and how this idea is developed and supported by the details the author

Therefore, the first thing students need to learn is how to determine the task
demands of each college class they take.  We can help them do this by modeling,
guiding and providing practice in the careful analysis of syllabi, professor
comments, previously taken quizzes and tests, descriptions of assignments, and
examples of other students' work.  How else can they develop a sense of what
academicians deem important than by such analysis?

Secondly, students need to learn how authors use the elements of text structure
to cue readers to their messages.   Here we need to model, guide and provide
students with practice in:

1.      reading titles, engaging appropriate, related background knowledge,
        making predictions as to content and organization, and setting purpose;
2.      reading introductions to extend understanding and refine predictions;
3.      reading subtitles;
4.      reading summaries;
5.      and, finally, reading each section of text with their predictions in
        mind, and noting transition words and phrases.

With practice in both assessing task demands and using text structure, students
fairly quickly learn to recognize what's important and how it's developed.
Then they can write good summaries.

Sheila Nicholson, Developmental Reading Lecturer
Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction
Southwest Texas State University
San Marcos, TX 78666-4616
[log in to unmask]