I just completed the Walden University course Supporting Information Literacy and Online Inquiry in the Classroom. One focus
of this course is embedding the teaching of 21st century literacy skills into my English Language Arts instruction; to enrich my students’ learning and to teach them to create authentic products as a result of new understandings.
I gained strategies to guide students in searching the Internet efficiently, selecting and evaluating Internet resources, making meaning from multiple electronic texts, and communicating and extending learning through the use of technology. The essential concept I learned about the teaching of new literacy skills is that students need multiple strategies to successfully manage, comprehend, and use the abundance of information available online; and that teachers must model selective, safe, effective, ethical, and creative uses of information. Jukes (2007), explains “the primary task of the educational system must be to give learners the right tools and provide them with a critical mind, so that they can ask the right questions and make the right connections” (p. 1).
Internet Inquiry is another focus of this course. Online inquiry projects, such as QUEST (Eagleton & Dobler, 2007, p. 51) projects, teach students to develop essential questions for research, to understand resources when locating information online and when navigating websites, to evaluate pieces of information they read, to synthesize information by summarizing it, tying it all together, and making meaning from it, and to transform information by doing something useful with it. These skills are all examples of 21st century literacy skills, too, because "students who actively make observations, collect, analyze, and synthesize information, and draw conclusions are developing useful problem-solving skills. These skills can be applied to future ‘need to know’ situations that students will encounter both at school and at work" (E.B.C., 2004, p. 1).
My new understanding of 21st century literacy skills and my knowledge of the QUEST model will inform my future curriculum planning. Using QUEST projects, students can learn English content and master these literacy skills. For example, the ability to develop meaningful, focused questions and to find the answers through the skilled exploration of multiple reliable resources is also an essential 21st century literacy skill; and developing strong, focused research questions is an essential first step to a successful inquiry project. “The quality of student learning will be determined by the questions each learner chooses to explore. Well formed questions lead to deep explorations, and poorly formed questions do not” (Thornburg, 2004, p. 7).
With these views, and with the aid of technology, I find myself planning more student-centered projects, based on students’ authentic interests. Thornburg (2004) says "the challenge for educators is not how to present content to students—most of us know how to do that very well—it is, instead, how to present content in a way that serves as a springboard for student inquiry" (p. 7). I also find myself planning more collaborative work for students; and work that produces authentic results, as well. Eagleton and Dobbler (2007) say "a primary aim of schooling is for students to be able to communicate their understandings effectively with others, and for teachers to provide experiences for students that promote purposeful interactions with others" (p. 11). In today’s society, students need strategies for researching, collaborating, and communicating safely online; and my content instruction is adapting to include these elements. I look forward to designing a service project with students, based on their research on Environmentalism, as a means of “promoting purposeful interaction” in my classroom, and motivating students to read and write with care, for a purpose.
In English Language Arts, I consider my most important role to be “reading teacher,” and now I am expanding my teaching of reading comprehension strategies to include Web-based texts. Eagleton and Dobler (2007) explain "reading on the Web is truly a cognitively complex endeavor" (p. 31). They point out "hypertext documents allow the reader to select her own path through the extensive networks of textual and multimedia information. Therefore, the idea of the act of reading being an ‘active process’ takes on new and more literal meaning when we describe Web reading" (p. 33-34). For my students, this means they must learn to make informed decisions frequently while reading. For example, they must learn to “adjust their reading rate depending on their purpose and the Web texts they encounter” (Eagleton & Dobler, 2007, p. 41), and to “switch between various text structures quickly” (Eagleton & Dobler, 2007, p. 48).
I find myself seeking opportunities to include online resources in my curriculum, so students can practice these reading skills and also take advantage of content that would be unavailable to them in print. Because of my learning in this course, I am able to share new strategies for searching for information online and evaluating web resources, as well. I teach students to search efficiently using key words and appropriate search engines. I teach REAL (November, 2008, p. 31) search strategies to my students; which include reading the URL, examining the content, asking about the author and publisher, and looking at the links. I know “Internet readers must be able to collect and synthesize ideas from resources that present information in quite different ways” (Eagleton & Dobler, 2007, p. 203) and I teach students to create graphic organizers, take notes, and write informally to accomplish this.
Best of all, I learned of some great student projects to share with my students, as models for our work as we begin our own inquiry projects. I developed a three week lesson plan for student Environmentalism inquiry projects. I also developed a rubric for our inquiry project, ensuring that students are assessed on process and content knowledge as well as final products. I will teach students effective note-taking strategies, and strategies for bookmarking, organizing, and citing information found online while they research. I will also present them with choices when creating their final products, as “most students will devote additional effort if they are…given some latitude to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a format of their own choosing” (Eagleton & Dobler, 2007, p. 251).
One of my new professional development goals, to develop my technology skills, is to add more visual and audio elements to my written blog, such as screencasts, podcasts, and videos. I will then be better able to teach students to use multimedia elements in their own work. A second goal, then, is to teach students to use these technology tools for self-expression and communication, in addition to the traditional written format. The assignment I developed for this course includes multimedia elements, and students are very motivated by this. The steps I will take to accomplish these goals include online research and tutorials to learn to use Audacity to edit audio, and Wax or Windows Movie Maker to edit video. I will share my creative use of these tools, then I will complete a “digital storytelling” project with my students.
Another goal is to follow up this Environmentalism inquiry unit with a student-developed service project, teaching students to use online communication with purpose. The steps I will take to accomplish this goal will be to continue working with students through our Junior Environmentalists blog and in the classroom, helping them generate and develop ideas.
From reflecting on the online learning process, to discovering new strategies and instructional models, to exploring student projects; this course afforded me the time to update my knowledge of 21st century learning and to develop an engaging unit of lesson plans. I also discovered new learning goals for myself. Always seeking to motivate students to read and write, I am eager to engage them by incorporating technology tools into my content instruction. Always striving to prepare students for the future, I am also glad to learn strategies to help them make meaning from the vast sources of information available and to use the information thoughtfully.
Eagleton, M., & Dobler, E. (2007). Reading the web: Strategies for internet inquiry. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Educational Broadcasting Corporation. (2004). Workshop: Inquiry-Based Learning. Retrieved from http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/inquiry/index.html
Jukes, I. (2007). 21st century fluencies quotient insta-audit. The InfoSavvy Group.
November, A. (2008). Web literacy for educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Thornburg, D. (2004). Inquiry: The art of helping students ask good questions. (Executive Briefing No. 402). Retrieved from http://www.tcpdpodcast.org/briefings/inquiry.pdf
Throughout this course, as I developed my own information literacy skills, I discovered many helpful websites and pages I wish to share with other teachers visiting my blog:
• Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Digital Youth: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-howard-gardner-video
• Big Thinkers: Henry James on New Media: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-henry-jenkins-media-video
• Creative Commons: http://creativecommons.org
• Edutopia.org: www.edutopia.org
• Vicki Davis featured in Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-teachers-vicki-davis
• The Center for Social Media at the American University School of Communication: http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/
• The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education: http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/files/pdf/Media_literacy_txt.pdf
• Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video. Downloaded from http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/files/pdf/online_best_practices_in_fair_use.pdf
• ThinkQuest Contest featured on Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-thinkquest-video
• Kids and Adults Design New Tech Tools: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-kidsteam-dana-video
• Big Thinkers: Sasha Barab on New-Media Engagement: http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-sasha-barab-video
• Secondary ICT Web Literacy: http://www.teachers.tv/video/5425
• Standford University Copyright and Fair Use: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/library_resources/
• Teaching Copyright: http://www.teachingcopyright.org/
• The Ethical Researcher: http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/ethical/
• ThinkQuest: http://www.thinkquest.org/en/.
• United States Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/
• Workshop: Inquiry-Based Learning: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/inquiry/index.html