During this time of remote school, a common activity is to ask students to search for information on the Internet, then share what they learned during an online discussion or by creating a project. The Internet provides a vast collection of resources, which is super helpful during a time when print books may not be readily available. Internet inquiry activities encourage reading, develop research skills, and can lead to a deeper understanding – but only if we help students move beyond the “grab and go” method of reading the Internet.
For some students, locating facts online for a school project usually begins by googling a question or topic, then cutting and pasting the first bit of information found. Reading on the Internet “is not just point and click. It’s point, read, think, and click” (Tapscott, 1999, p. 63). Each link is a decision point; the reader must decide if the information is useful for their project AND if the information is truthful.
In other words, finding good information is not as easy as it looks – but our students don’t always know this! They see adults google questions, but they don’t know how we grapple with finding helpful information. They aren’t in on our thinking processes as we sort through useful and not so useful websites. The next time you are searching online with kiddos, slow down your search process and think aloud about what you are clicking on or not clicking and why. Making your own Internet reading process explicit models what students should be doing as they are reading online.
The grab and go method of Internet reading can lead to shallow learning, which is the opposite of what we want students to gain from research. Deepening understanding is the goal! Here are two ways we can guide students to tackle an inundation of information head on.
- Teach students to check more than one website as a way to confirm or deny facts. Lateral reading is an important first step in letting young readers know that not everything found on websites is accurate.
- Have students include a basic reference list for websites. For youngers, include the article title and website link. For older students, add the author and website host.
Essentially we want our students to become fact-checkers and then to record this process as a part of their project. They are detectives in search of clues to truth. Impress upon them the importance of this work – that sharing untrue information reflects on each of us as learners.
If you want to read more about lateral reading and developing student sleuthers, check out Michael Caulfield’s free ebook Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers.
Caulfield, M. A. (n.d.). Web literacy for student fact checkers. https://webliteracy.pressbooks.com/front-matter/web-strategies-for-student-fact-checkers/
Tapscott, D. (1999). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation. McGraw Hill.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Dobler