Sunday, April 19, 2009


Of all the strategies I learned about this year, the GIST has probably been the most effective in my classes. I've struggled for YEARS to try to get students to summarize nonfiction rather than repeat absolutely everything that they've read. I've not yet had a clear method to help students summarize what they've read, so this easy-to-use and easy-to-understand strategy has been a great tool for my students.

At the beginning of the school year, I have always attempted to teach students to use a highlighter to separate out key phrases, definitions, and important ideas in what they've read. What I've found is that students cannot reliably pick out this information from nonfiction articles. They tend to highlight the ENTIRE text or not highlight enough material.

I plan to use the GIST right off next year. Rather than giving tips and hints about locating and highlighting the important info in a text, I'll use the GIST to give students a concrete strategy that they can use throughout the year in all of their classes. I am excited to see how far students progress when this strategy becomes a tool that they can use in the content areas and not a strategy that they need to think about and explicitly learn every time they use it. We did not have enough practice with it this year so that they could use the strategy without thinking about the process; however, I am confident that we'll be able to use it in multiple situations next year.

I used the GIST to teach a book called Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck. I've taught this nonfiction text in the past and have experimented with a variety of techniques to do so. The GIST worked better than any other method I'd used to teach this text. Students built a solid base of learning from which they made connections while reading Of Mice and Men by the same author. I'll definitely use this strategy next year with this text.

I also used the GIST to lead into the reading of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. To read this play with an understanding of the characters and the world of the Puritans, it is essential to understand the historical context in which they lived. The hard part of introducing this subject matter to heterogeneously grouped students is that some of the readings can be very wordy and lengthy, while others may be too simplistic for a more advanced reader. The beauty of the GIST is that it can easily be used as a differentiation strategy for students at various reading levels. I picked out readings for each student and grouped them by subject matter in a way that allowed for the various abilities in my classroom to shine. Students built a base of knowledge about the Puritan religion, Puritan children, and the expectations for women and men during this time. We created a chart of our findings that we referred back to as we read the text. This definitely helped us to understand the motivations of the characters and their decision-making process.

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