Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Finding a Way into the Networked English Classroom

I was out of the English classroom during the 2007 and 2008 school years, a time during which I perceived a digital revolution in reading and writing in and out of school settings. Barraged by blogs, wikis, social networking, Twitter, Ning (and a variety of other oddly-named Web 2.0 platforms and programs), it seemed to me that the world of the book and the notebook (or is it Kindle and iPad?) had become suddenly passé.

The truth is, of course, that there was nothing at all sudden about this digital revolution. Rather, it had been in full swing well before 2007, but I had not begun to find my professional entry point to the ongoing exploration of the potentials and pitfalls of the new communication age.

Discovering such an entry point—an intersection of that with which you’re already familiar and that which you and students need to know more about—is a valuable professional gift to give yourself and your students. In this week’s blog, I’ll share a partially realized version of one of my entry points (along with what I’ll do better next time) and offer with some resources that might facilitate the development of your own entry point.

At the end of last semester, a business/careers teacher asked our school librarian and me to facilitate a session for his students on verifying the credibility and usefulness of a web resource for a research project. Awash in ideas on how to best use a single fifty-minute session to launch into such a huge topic, we decided to play on our strengths as savvy navigators of search engines and the content they deliver us by adapting ideas from the ReadWriteThink.org resource “Hoax or No Hoax? Strategies for Online Comprehension and Evaluation.” As part of the lesson, we conducted carefully constructed think-alouds on how we’d use a search engine and evaluate sources using a variety of strategies.

As their ticket out the door, we asked students to tell us one thing they learned about using search engines to find content and how to evaluate a source once they find it. Their responses, unsurprisingly, revealed enormous gaps between Internet-savvy students who surf thoughtfully and intentionally…and those who seem not to understand that Google itself is not a content source.

(Case in point: As we tried to demonstrate the importance of cross-referencing sources, one particular student logged into Wikipedia and changed the entry we were about to project to contain significantly erroneous information. Much of the rest of the class was baffled, and our well-rehearsed think-aloud took a spontaneous diversion into a real-life example of the fallibility of Web-based research.)

When I deliver similar instruction with more time and to my own students, I’ll definitely keep the think-aloud component to model my processes for searching and evaluating, but I’ll also add a follow-up activity that I’m borrowing from some middle school colleagues. While students are engaged in the first steps of independent inquiry, I’ll meet with each of them for just a few minutes as they search and evaluate a site. Prompting them to engage in a scaled-down version of a think-aloud with five or so targeted questions, I’ll be able to uncover what the entire class still needs to know, what some individual students still need to know, and what I still need to learn about effective information navigation.

I’ll be the first to admit that my entry point into instruction in our network world is a relatively simple one. Or at least it seemed that way until I discovered how much I take for granted about the background knowledge and thought processes behind a basic Google search. You may already know the right entry point for your own students, or you may not know where to start. Either way, here are some NCTE resources that can get you going:

  • Check out Sarah Kajder’s fantastic new book, Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students. You’ll see cases of real teachers finding their way in the networked classroom and a framework and resources to get started (or further along) yourself.
  • Enroll in Bill Kist’s web seminar The Socially Networked English Classroom: Web 2.0 in the English Classroom if you’re ready to move beyond Google to blogs, wikis, and social networks.
  • From ReadWriteThink.org’s new professional development section, in the Reading Online strategy guide you’ll learn how online reading differs from offline reading and strategies to build and reinforce the skills that online reading requires.
  • Looking for a sustained examination of what 21st century curriculum and assessment looks like? Interested in tapping the rich resources and collaborations made available in a 21st century learning community? Consider enrolling in Pathways for 21st Century Literacies.
  • Don’t feel you have to do any of this alone! Check out the conversations in the NCTE Ning where you can learn about social networks while participating in one!

1 comment:

Nan said...

While I am personally very active in social networks, I have a very hard time figuring out how to use these tools with my elementary students. I know I should meet the students where they are at and so I am working on that. I was interested in the NCTE web seminar last week on blogging with elementary students: http://www1.ncte.org/store/webseminars/130959.htm.

Any other good suggestions out there?