In the summer of 2011 I attended the Adaptive Schools workshop put on by the Center for for Adaptive Schools. During that 4 day workshop I learned many things, but one of the most useful was around paraphrasing when collaborating with others to clarify ideas, thoughts, and conversation. In the classroom, I often asked students to paraphrase what I said to make sure they understood my directions. I also used paraphrasing to allow students to make their own meaning around a poem or other piece of text that we were studying. However, what I don’t remember doing was having students paraphrase each other in meaningful and intentional ways. I had them read each others work in a peer review, but typically students (despite my instructions) focused on the structure of the writing rather than clarifying what a classmate meant and the ideas that were included in the writing. As I think back to that activity, I wonder how much more learning they would have gotten out of this collaborative work had I asked them to paraphrase (either through writing or conversation) the work. My guess is that it would have been considerable.
According to the Center for Adaptive Schools, there are three different types of paraphrasing that are efffective ways to to support thinking. Each of these techniques depends on the purpose for the paraphrase and, if used effectively, can help students think in different ways.
- Acknowledge/Clarify – This technique can be used to better understand a phrase or text. Essentially, one person takes the others ideas, speech, or text and puts it into their own words. This is especially useful as students are trying to come to an understanding of a concept. This is probably the most common type of paraphrase that students and teachers use in the classroom. It provides students with feedback and acknowledges their voice and ideas. It also gives the person with those ideas the ability to say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I meant” or, “No, you’ve misunderstood, what I mean is…”. By using this technique, everyone is on the same page.
- Summarize/Organize – This technique is used to organize the thoughts that are heard or read. Sometimes students have their ideas and can verbalize them, but haven’t organized them into cohesive thoughts. Summarizing and organizing puts these thoughts together and can give meaningful feedback to the person with the ideas because it helps them think more clearly about what is being said or written. In many cases, the paraphraser will also include numbers or categories that will help to offer further clarity about what issues or ideas might be brought up. This technique also gives those with the ideas the opportunity to expand on their ideas if they don’t feel the categories accurately portrait their original thoughts.
- Shift level of abstraction – The final technique takes a certain level of maturity and thought process to really implement it effectively. I often think about this in the scope of a socratic seminar where students are beginning to think in abstract ways. A particular student may read a piece of text or have a conversation and, through paraphrasing, explore the values that they hold. For instance, when students read a story or primary source document, they will identify with it in different ways based on their own experiences and values. Many times who or what they identify with can offer insights to their own identities that they may not have even understood. Using paraphrasing techniques as an opportunity, students can begin to think more broadly about some of the essential questions that are part of the curriculum and help them to identify with their own work.
There is far more to say about paraphrasing and how it can be used in the classroom and I continue to think about how this impacts students and teachers. During the Adaptive Schools sessions, our facilitator, Toni Prickett, said that, “Paraphrasing is saying what they didn’t say.” This has stuck with me as I work on my own paraphrasing skills. When I’m in that mode I listen more closely to understand not only what students and teachers are saying, but equally important, what are they not saying.?
How do you paraphrase? Are these techniques that you use now? How could they be used in your classroom and with students?