Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good Reader's Habit #6: Synthesis

My son asked me what I was writing about, and when I told him "Synthesis," he was convinced this had something to do with Star Wars (doesn't everything?).

Sorry, kiddo.

Synthesis is the coming together of all the other habits: the connecting, the visualizing, the questioning and predicting, the inferring, and the determining of importance. Synthesis is when you've done all those things and they've linked together in your brain to give you whole new ideas.

Notice in the image above how the colors, by overlapping, create new colors. In effect, synthesis is growing your brain, creating new scaffolds on which to hang still more information. It's the moment when it all comes together, makes sense, crystallizes, gels -- your A-Ha! moment. The a-ha moment can be monumental (you want to move to Ethiopia and help people build wells for clean water) or very small (you realize that you would have handled the situation differently). It can be an observation about human (or non-human) behavior, a observation about patterns, a generalization about how similar situations might play out, or a lesson that you draw from the story. It may simply make you want to rush out and tell other people about the book. Synthesis is a varied as the people experiencing it.

Can it be taught? Kind of. You can't really force someone to have a realization, an a-ha moment. But, it can be encouraged and it can be modeled. By helping kids develop the other six habits, you increase their chances of achieving the a-ha moment. And when you're reading something to them, particularly something longer and more complex, modeling your own a-ha moment is helpful. It tells kids that this is what they're shooting for, this is desirable behavior, a desirable result, of reading.

When you have an a-ha moment while reading, talk through it with your child. Explain what led up to your realization. One way to spark conversation that might lead to an a-ha moment is to have your child think about what the story makes them want to do...or what it makes them think about...or what has changed in the way they see themselves or the world.

Kids express synthesis differently. My 8-year old has an a-ha moment with virtually every book she reads: The Mysterious Benedict Society had her strapping a pail to her waist and climbing trees for 2 weeks straight. Just this week she read ER Vets and now she wants to be a veterinarian. She's been giving the dog physicals all week. My son, on the other hand, rarely has this kind of a-ha moment and if you asked him what he felt motivated to do after reading something, he'd tell you "Nothing. Whatever." I am not overly concerned about this because a) he's 6, b) he's kind of private about his feelings, and c) he's not reading anything earth-shattering right now. I don't really expect him to draw great life inspiration from Captain Underpants.

Don't sweat it if you read something that doesn't have an a-ha moment -- not everything is going to rock your world and cause your brain to double in size. But do encourage reflection, do talk about what the story might make them want to do or what it makes them realize. And keep modeling your own motivations and realizations as you go along.

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