On pages 52 and 53, Gardner provides a scenario for an exercise of synthesis which might be applied to the off-topic discussion we began within Ken's opening discussion of "The Disciplined Mind." Gardner's scenario, aimed at grounding his ideas about the synthesizing mind, is begun this way: "...consider the situation of the newly recruited turnaround executive who announces a concrete goal: a review of what has gone wrong in recent years and a concrete plan for correcting course." If you substitute "turnaround educator" for "turnaround (business) executive" and "failing traditional school" for "failing business company" as the scenario's context, the three paragraphs on pages 52 and 53 might be applied to "the mind-that-would-synthesize" classroom/school/district reform.

Do you see the off-topic discussion spun off within Ken's opening discussion of "The Disciplined Mind" as more appropriately belonging here, where the synthesizing mind is the context for discussing Gardner's original / Zilla's amended scenario?

Tags: Gardner, mind, scenario, synthesizing, turnaround

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Hi Skip,

Let me see if I understand: we continue on with the talk about "what has gone wrong and what we need to do" (which is what we got into on the "disciplined mind" forum) right here on this forum, since what we're doing is synthesizing?

Or--should we start a "Turnaround Scenerio" disussion, leaving off any particular label of mindset,

Or/and connect a particular forum to the main CL2.0 forum? (I'm pondering how to weave forums between the big group and the subset groups together, back and forth. Is this a new Ning function we need, or shall we do it "by hand"?)

It's a road map on which roads diverge and converge. Are all roads going ultimately in a particular direction?

It's interesting that we went from The Disciplined Mind topics of "depth, engagement, and deeper understanding" (Ken's great discussion starter) to talking about what we want to get in action now. We're like "horses chomping on the bit," very eager to get going, to actualize what we're talking about. (I'm a horse person, so horse analogies work well for me--other analogies are always welcome.)

Wondering if you and others would like to start a scattering of discussions that loosely spring up from the book, anywhere in the book, or whether we'd like to go though a topic by topic discussion in somewhat sequential order, corresponding to Gardner's sequence. (Probably in most cases we'd just keep coming back to saying what we think needs to be done, and ideas for doing it!)

It'd be very good to hear from others in the group, too, about what "discussion design" would work best. I'm open to anything, just want people to share ideas, and Gardner's book can be a good launching pad. Already, I'd like to make a group of groups (a metagroup!) that discusses educational books and articles, with several substreams going at once, the focus being "educational change". For instance, "Turnaround Scenerio" could be one subset, Five Minds could be another.

Any reactions?
I can see the role of synthesizing in the turnaround scenario. The "turnaround educator" must create a vision for how to proceed. This is something that I am trying to sort out. What is the vision for turning around education to take advantage of Web 2.0 and other technology tools?

It is easier for me to think about a single classroom or teacher.

When I read the part about synthesizing in Gardner's book, I highlighted the statement that said, "The most common form of synthesis is the narrative - a form accessible to almost everyone." This is a form of synthesis that we attempt to use often in education. I am not sure we are always successful. If a student assembles a paper by cutting and pasting information from various Web sites, is that synthesizing? I would argue that it is not.

I am particularly interested in the digital storytelling movement that has been going strong the last couple of years. Is seems to me that having students tell a story using multiple forms of media is both engaging to students and allows them to practice their synthesizing mind. Storyboarding is a powerful form of synthesizing that requires thinking in pictures as well as words. Creating a script after researching the topic, conducting interviews, etc. is also a form of narrative synthesis.

I remember using taxonomies extensively in Biology classes but they were always someone else's creation. Is it feasible to have students create their own? What other concepts might best be learned by synthesizing what we know into a taxonomy?

I have taught many things but never anything to do directly with the language arts. Do language arts teachers have students create "rules and aphorisms"? We have all learned many of these things from our parents but how many have been created by the students? Ben Franklin was a master at creating these devices. I wonder if students would find it engaging to come up with their own rules and aphorisms after reading some of his.
Ok, I'm going to talk about the "synthesizing mind" from the point of view of classroom teacher. I guess it would fit under #1, Narratives.

Something I have students do in class is independent research. It's very different from the typical "write a 2 page report following these guidelines" sort of thing. I teach 4th and 5th graders, but this could work with these grades on up through high school. (In fact, many students who participated in Research in my class often say it's a deeper, more involved project than they were asked to do at any time in HS.) The research takes about 4 months, with at least one full hour of reading in class per week, and then a whole lot of writing inside and outside of class.

First, I have each individual pick a topic. This takes about 3 weeks. Students generate lists of about 10 topics that they're interested in. We share these with the class, talking about the "width and depth" dimensions that could define the topic. Dogs? Too broad. Working dogs? Fine. History? Too broad. How about The Civil War? Probably too broad still. How about a particular person, a particular regiment, a battle, a year? Kids are fascinated with thinking through the "size" of a topic. One student wanted engineering, then he subcategorized to public works, environmental engineering, bridges. "I'd like to study bridges, but is that too small a topic?" We had a good laugh thinking about how some people study nanoparticles all their lives. Is that too small? And on the other side, people study the universe, its beginning, its continuing evolution. Is that too big? It's like making a sculpture out of clay, fashioning the beginning of the study. The clay is wet and somewhat formless, we have to give it a shape.

After 10 possibilities are chosen, I have the kids talk with their parents, for suggestions, and most importantly, for scoping out the books that are available on the right level. That's essential: at least 3 really good age-appropriate books, with in-depth information on the topic. Finding them is not always easy! If the books can't be found, the topic has to change.

After the topic is chosen and resources found, we begin "Research Cafe." This part of the project is so settling. I get a giant pot of hot water ready for tea. Each child gets to make a cup of tea and a "study nest" in the classroom. A student might bring a rug, a pillow, a blanket, a stuffed animal. Each student will make a space for him/herself, under a desk, in a corner, out in the open. The room smells of cinnamon-apple tea, one of the favorites, or raspberry, mint, plum. Very soothing.

During Research Cafe, students read silently, absolutely silently, for 45 minutes to an hour. At the end of the time period, students share "one amazing fact" about their topics.

Reading silently gradually turns over to reading and taking notes. Note-taking is a hard thing to teach, and each child needs to be allowed to experiment with and develop a style that works for him or her. I tell the kids to take notes on one side of the page only, because we're later going to cut up those pages and splice them in with other pages' notes.

(And Ken--I agree with you: cutting and pasting is not synthesis. Not when it's done on the computer. But this sort of cut and paste is the beginning of synthesis, since the notes are in the child's words ("digested," we say) and then arranged and rearranged in the child's version of the topic's structure. It's not simple "juxtaposition," something Gardner warns us about in "Interdisciplinary Synthesis.")

We talk a lot about what it means to "take in" a topic. Analogies fly all over the room. To "digest the knowledge" is an apt and accessible comparison--kids get that. I always get going with my corny "pool of knowledge" talks: "Ok, there's this pond of knowledge, and you're jumping in. You have no idea how deep it is, or what the edges are. Guess what? You get to decide its shape, but you have to make it sensible. And you can only define the shape after you've read a whole lot. You have to see what's in the big pool to define the shape of your pond." The kids look forward to a traditional scolding: "Hmmmm.....right now I am seeing some students who have ponds with ice over them, and they are skating across the surface. What do I mean by this?" The discussion is such fun. Students lecture each other about really getting into their work. They give personal examples of how the shape of the pool of knowledge changed as they got to know it, through "diving in."

Weeks go by, the students stay fully engaged. It's their work. They develop that satisfying feeling of becoming a kind of expert on a subject. Students look forward to the day of the week we have Research Cafe.

Meanwhile, some parents freak! Where is your outline for how you want the kids to cover the topic? What are the expectations? Why didn't you provide an outline first thing? They calm down when I show them examples from other years, the beautifully deep 12-70 page papers written by previous students, all professional and in the students' own words. It's simply a matter of helping the parents keep faith with this nontraditional approach. Newsletters to parents about the "method in my madness" seem to help, but I never get too many of these out, only two or three. One thing I tell parents is that many kids think in webworks more easily than outlines. (Thank heavens for the application Inspiration, which lets students design their coverage in a set diagram, and use a single button that allows them to rock back and forth between the webwork and the outline. This serves as a good illustration that those forms of thought are connected.) I show the parents how the students are designing their webworks as they go, and ask, "Would you just have them follow an outline of someone else's organization of the topic? No, they have to come up with their own plan. It's part of the investigation."

After months of research, the time comes for putting together the narrative (report) in the student's own words, the student's own structure. This is the time of Synthesis. I use that word a lot, and it's always accompanied by a gesture (which kids love to imitate, making fun of me, but really getting it). I put my hands in front of me, palms inward, fingers spread out, and bring them together showing the fingers interlaced. "Synthesis: one of the highest levels of knowledge. This is now your goal." (Gesture, giggles, gesture, giggles.) Now you tell me what this means. These conversations reflect some of the best learning in class. (I have tried to record these for podcasting, but haven't yet found a mic that works effectively for recording group discussions. Really need help with this!)

Then it's time for writing, chapter after chapter. Kids write from their notes and their memories. They don't write with open books, because then it's too easy to just parrot someone else's study. Students learn the importance of going back to check facts; books get opened momentarily to check, then are closed. (At this stage, students also learn "for real" the importance of a previous lecture that uses yet another analogy: "leaving tracks of your exploration." "You'll have to come back to see where and how you got your knowledge. Are you leaving a good enough trail for yourself?"

Then it's editing, editing, editing. Writing and rewriting. I like to show E.B. White's rough draft for Charlotte's Web to illustrate the many writing stages a great author goes through. This dispels the notion that really smart people just write something once, which many kids seem to think. That must come from some aspect of training in education kids pick up from people who say, "Do it right the first time, then you won't have to correct things." I had a second grade teacher who scolded us harshly for ever having to erase. "If you'd think, you wouldn't make mistakes and wouldn't have to change things." I won't even start on why that's so wrong, not right now. But I have to say that making mistakes and changes seems to me to be a core component of learning, and should be overtly encouraged in the learning process.

Check and recheck your synthesis of the knowledge. Do your authors agree? If so, blend their ideas--always give them credit, of course. Do your authors disagree? Say so. Discuss your view of the learning. (Here I know many people disagree with me, that the student's voice shouldn't be part of the report, that using "I" is illegal. But if I'm encouraging the kids to own the learning, to make it theirs, shouldn't first person discussion be allowed?)

In class Research, the internet is used a LOT. But it's only used after the students have read out of books. They need to get some initial perspective, enough so that they can discern what is and what isn't a good resource. That's another topic entirely, and also forms a core component of learning, one that runs throughout class activities constantly. "Check the quality of your resources. Become an expert hunter of knowledge. Don't be fooled."

The final production, the polished report, all put together in a notebook of many pages and chapters, is something in which each student takes enormous pride. The final research report is a giant stepping-stone of childhood, a most-meaningful self-produced trophy of sorts.

I notice a gesture that often accompanies the final turning-in process, on the final day, the day the student walks into class and hands me the book s/he authored. The book gets held close to the heart; it gets "hugged," and then handed to me.

The next stage is sharing, peer evaluation, teacher evaluation, and much prideful rereading of the great work.

Does this seem to meet the parameters of what Gardner would call synthesis? I am open to critical analyses of the process as set forth here, and any sort of feedback.

Ken and Skip, I hope this is an example of what you were wanting to get as part of this forum. I don't know if it's a "turnaround scenario" at all. It's actually pretty old-fashioned. What might be atypical is the depth and continuity of the students' studies, as those things often have to be thrown out in a curriculum that is bound and bogged-down by accumulation of facts set forth by standards.

What do you say? Am I working towards teaching the students Synthesis? What should I do better?
I believe that Gardner would agree that you are helping your students to build/use their synthesizing mind. Clearly your teaching of note taking strategies and practice with putting things together in different ways is getting at synthesis. The fact that they cannot write from an open book should reinforce the synthesis process.

Your description did make me think about the chapter on the disciplined mind. In it he talks about having students study a topic from many different perspectives. Your description does show that you are aiming at more depth than breadth. Do you ever use the art or music perspective? Is there an opportunity to work with physical artifacts where appropriate? I know that it takes different skills on the part of the teacher to use some of the other perspectives. Personally, I don't have the background to help students much with the artistic approaches but there definitely is an opportunity for deeper understanding by looking at the topic from a different perspective.

I really liked your description. I will bet those children will keep that book for a long time. Wouldn't it be great if students had memorable experiences like this in every class?
Thanks for the reply, Ken. It's just what I needed to hear right now. You are right on the "depth" component being the emphasis.

But "research" is just one part of "week's work" that the kids are engaged in. During the week a student would also be writing creatively about the topic in a journal, making playful webwork diagrams of how the thought for their subject seems to be structured, and even making zany pictures of the workings of the human mind. (It's always a blast to see how kids picture the brain. (Some examples: filing cabinets, rooms, ladders going up to new levels, a seashore with regular waves.)

Still, I want to get back to your point about "more depth than breadth."

No, I don;'t do nearly enough horizontal expansion. The class "research" should be broadened in the ways you suggest. Art, music, artifacts. Sounds like fun to me! In fact, I'm more at ease in the creative world. Art and music would be easy for me to encourage and bring alive. Also, drama. Artifacts? Hmmmmm.

Would you have suggestions about artifacts?

And also I'd love to get some ideas about Web 2.0 productions that would smoothly dovetail with class research work, just directional pointers.

I'm actually exhausted from trying to think in a disciplined manner lately, and synthesis seems like such a complicated idea!! Skip's comment that there wasn't enough information given to determine whether or not students engaged in an act of synthesis has me puzzled; it's a good question. But--I would and will ask him, if you look at the final product, the "book," is the assessment available even yet, just by looking at the product? There are many debates here--to be continued!

I think I'll start a forum on The Creating MInd--so much more my "homeland" or natural state. Particularly in summertime. (Yea!) Thanks so much for the response.



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