Today students will specifically work on skills associated with writing standard numbers seven and eight which focuses on research. Specifically, they will work on assessing the strengths and limitations of sources, as well as synthesizing this information. While the synthesis essay is one of three on the AP exam, I want to frame this skill in a broader context for students—that in any field they get into they will have to do research, and part of researching is having the ability to evaluate sources quickly and efficiently for central ideas, relevancy to your own work, and credibility (from a common core perspective, this lesson is a bit of a hybrid with the Reading Standards for History/Social Studies, where standards 1-3 and 6 are specifically about evaluating resources and creating summaries--so they are, in essence applying the Reading Informational text standards to a new context as they learn to read a series of texts in order to synthesize information and write their own unique argument). So I will explain this as part of the introduction—that the timing element of the activity today isn’t simply for a standardized test, but to practice efficiency in researching, too.
In the magazine version of Business Week, most of the articles have two items beneath the story title—a pithy statement of the big idea followed by a quote from the article that represents it. Then, at the end, they have a “Bottom Line” statement—a statement that captures more fully the central idea or main take-away for a reader. This is the model students will follow today as part of their learning how to evaluate resources.
Yesterday I modeled this in class with a few different pieces, so today will simply be a review before going into the activity. I will first show them a Businessweek article we worked with yesterday, then the model statements we did with a couple pieces (one text, one a visual), followed by the credibility checklist. After review, I will ask if there are any questions about the process, and I will also give them copies of the examples so they have these to follow as they move on to their next task.
The power point attached here has slides for the review, as well as for the rest of today's protocol (synthesizing resources.pptx).
I will put the students in groups of three (I have twelve students, so groups of three will give us four groups—I feel like I need at least four different groups for the carousel activity that follows to have enough breadth, though I will know if that is actually true after I’ve tried it!). Each group will be given two articles on the minimum wage debate and one visual argument, as well as chart paper and markers (last week I asked students to each bring in an article from each side of the debate; while I used a few of those here, I realized that they all found generalized pieces because that is what came up first in a Google search, so I found some resources that address more specific aspects of the debate, such as on how McDonalds developed a website to teach their workers how to create a budget, which created a lot of controversy. I also found some political cartoons, in part because the AP test will include a visual as part of the synthesis essay prompt. Some of these resources are attached).
The groups will have fifteen minutes to: read the articles, fill out the credibility checklist (resource eval.docx), write “big idea” statements, choose a quote, and write a Bottom Line statement (for the visual, they will only write the Bottom Line statement). They will write all of this on chart paper, which will be used in the next activity. The clock is to really force them to make decisions quickly (since we’ve been practicing evaluating rhetoric all year!), though I may give them a couple extra minutes if necessary (I’ve never tried this activity, so I’m not really sure what to expect). As an AP teacher it is a fine line of preparing them for a timed standardized test that is so high stakes and teaching them more meaningful skills; they get this, so I will be forthright with the fact that the clock is for practicing the exam, and they are conscientious enough to practice that skill, knowing I will be fair with respect to the course itself outside of the exam.
The previous part of the lesson was simply to practice evaluating individual sources. This next part is to work on synthesizing ideas and entering into a conversation with a unique perspective. After the groups finish their work with the individual articles, they will post them around the room beside chart paper that has already been placed on the wall that has this prompt at the top: “this connects to (title of another piece) because. . .and makes me think about. . . “ Additionally, other copies of the articles reviewed at that station will be available.
The groups will each begin at the “station” immediately to the right of their own around the room. They will spend five minutes to read the summary statements written on chart paper by the other group, review the articles they wish to review based on these (they can take them, too, for reference later), and each student will write a statement on the blank chart paper that completes the prompt. While this will not be a silent activity (in this case, students talking together about the issues, I think, will help in the learning process), they will each write their own unique perspective. After five minutes, the groups will rotate to the right to the next station.
At each subsequent station, they will go through the same process, with the additional benefit of reading other students’ response to the prompt. This allows for additional “collaboration” in a sense, giving students the opportunity to see the different perspectives that can the resources can lead to, which in turn will deepen their own understanding.
When the groups return to their own pieces, they will read how their peers responded before returning to their groups.
As they are doing this, I will be around looking at what they are writing and listening in to their conversations as formative assessment of how they are building their understanding of the topic, and also to evaluate this activity for learning how to synthesize information from multiple sources.
Back in their own groups, the students will have five minutes to process, answering the following:
-what articles stood out for logic? Anecdotes?
-what did you find interesting/surprising regarding your peers responses? What patterns did you see?
-in one sentence, what is your perspective on the prompt?
After they’ve had a chance to process, they will spend fifteen minutes completing a free-write response to the prompt, using the resources they collected during the carousel activity (they should use a quote or two). If we have time, I will also ask students as a class to process the activity itself—what they learned about evaluating sources, synthesis, etc., and challenges they see as they go into their own research. I will also emphasize that they will be using the resources they evaluated today as their evidence for a 40-minute essay tomorrow based on this prompt (Synthesis Essay Prompt.docx). I'm trying to take a step by step process in getting them ready for the timed testing. In this case, they will have the opportunity to select texts to use and think about the prompt, and obviously they've already seen all the resources. Eventually they will do an actual practice of the AP synthesis; this is a step in that process.
Next Steps: After the 40-minute essay tomorrow, students will begin a more in-depth research essay. We’ve been looking at different elements of the economy and its influence on modern culture for the past week or so. For the essayhey will consider a specific question/topic they have regarding influence of the economy on us (for example, the importance of going to college, or evaluating what jobs should have higher pay, etc.), as they complete their own research-based argument.