With the exorbitant and continually multiplying amount of even credible information available at our fingertips, synthesizing that information into effective and purposeful formulations, has become a near impossible feat. Appropriately, our society holds synthesizers, those people who can make sense of the vasts amounts of information available, to draw formidable conclusions, with the highest regard. That being said, synthesis is one of “five minds of the future”, as expressed by Howard Gardner, in his book of the same title, which in note, required an awe-inspiring act of synthesis to write!
As a teacher librarian, I often see so called research reports, which require little to no synthesis. For example, students are asked to create a powerpoint presentation to tell other students about a particular biome, body system or country. They start with a list of content based requirements or questions, such as: “What is your assigned country’s primary export” or “Include what your assigned animal eats” and there’s always room to include a few fun facts too! Students go straight to Power Point, title each slide with one of the requirements, pull up a Wikipedia article about their assigned topic and cut and paste the needed information onto their slides. Next they go to google images, search for their country or animal and attach a pretty picture to each of their slides. Now all they have left to do is write the words form their slides onto note cards so that when they “present” their presentation, they don’t look silly looking back all the time. Oh my.
The truth is synthesis is scary, both for students and teachers… and it takes time. It requires deep understanding, independence, decision making and individual connections. It is not a black and white concept and is not easily taught. The inquiry process, exhibited above, is a method for promoting synthesis. Authentic Inquiry projects require the elements Gardener outlines as necessary for synthesis: a goal or purpose, a starting point or connection, a strategy or method and continual feedback and reflection, (Gardner, p. 51-52).
The above presentation, exemplifies the Inquiry Process as a means for meeting a real world need. The connection is a car accident at a dangerous intersection. The purpose or goal of the inquiry is to have a traffic light erected at the intersection to prevent further accidents. In order to make that happen, the Inquirer will go through the Inquiry process: asking questions to help identify needed information; creating a search plan and a means for evaluating information; synthesizing found information, by looking for connections and prioritizing evidence; and creating a narrative presentation to share with the town board which expresses his findings and hopefully persuades the town to erect the stoplight.
The presentation also includes strategies for student inquiry projects. Primary Common Core State Standards fostered are ELA Writing Standards to 7, 8 and 9, “Research to Build and Present Knowledge” In addition it’s important to note this statement “Research and media skills are blended into the Standards as a whole,” which is included in the Common Core State Standards Initiative English/Language Arts Introduction.
Gardner, H. (2008) 5 Minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business Press.