Four Ideas to Begin Teaching Web Literacy Skills

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Teachers are in the midst of a seismic shift, transforming instruction to online teaching and learning. Inquiry activities give students opportunities to search for information and to use what is learned to answer questions, write a report, or create a project. Projects that focus on web reading for learning about real-world issues and answering students’ own questions can promote engagement and deepen learning.

When planning these activities, keep in mind K-6 students may have limited experiences with reading online. I don’t mean reading ebooks on Epic! or articles on ReadWorks. I am referring to web literacy skills – using a search engine, making sense of search results, understanding website text and media, and evaluating whether what we see is truthful and useful.

Some say reading on the Internet is more complex than reading a print book or magazine. Consider the steps it takes a reader just to get to a quality website text, whether through Google or a search engine for kids, such as Kiddle. Then think about the distractions readers may encounter – popup ads, scrolling graphics, videos – and the self-restraint it takes to avoid these distractions and remain focused. Within the text itself, words may be linked to other webpages or websites, leading even the most riveted reader down a rabbit hole of information. When a quality website is found, the reader may need to toggle between reading text, watching a video, and listening to a podcast to gain the information. This jumping back and forth requires the brain to be adept at comprehending information presented in a variety of formats. Lots of cognitive flexibility going on here!

Here are four suggestions for supporting K-6 learners with Web reading.

  1. For novice Web readers, preselect websites and post within a shared digital space, such as Google Classroom or Canvas, or in an email message. Sharing specific websites controls the quality of the information and lets students focus on gaining an understanding rather than searching for information.
  2. Teach online searching skills by using a kid-friendly search engine, such as KidRex, which presents a simple page layout and usually filters search results. Students do need to learn how to locate reliable information online, but in an online space designed for kids.
  3. Teach how to use text-to-speech features so a webpage can be read aloud to learners. Websites may have useful information written at a level above what students can read, but listening can make the text more accessible.
  4. Provide a notetaking guide so students can record key information, whether from the text, a video, podcast, or image, to use later in their work. A guide directs students’ attention to specific information and guides their thinking to summarize (not directly copy) key points.

It’s easy to assume if students have devices and can get to Google, they can find information online. But there are a myriad of decisions an efficient and effective Web reader makes to support a successful search and comprehension of information.

This blog post is the first of many that will focus on teaching K-6 learners about searching, evaluating, and understanding information found on the Web. Join me as I explore web literacies and how we can support learners to develop skills they will need throughout their lives as they ask and seek answers to their own questions.


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