I recently had the privilege to work with a group of early and elementary teachers from a school near UConn and spent the morning discussing the changes to literacy that are happening as a result of ICTs, and about halfway through the talk, I was interrupted by some teachers that didn’t believe what I was saying. It wasn’t that they did not see the changes that were occurring, or what I was describing…they all frequented the same social networks, used the same tools and toys that I did. They also acknowledged that they knew their students were using these networks, tools and toys that they were. The basic argument was one that I’ve frequently come into contact with when working in early and elementary grades when discussing new literacies and their impact on the classroom, and that is…My kids can’t do that.
In response to the teachers we spent the remainder of the session discussing three, “hands-on” lessons that can be used when working with early learners as they search and sift through online information. The ideas that I shared with them are as follows:
1. Print out pages from either a search engine, or a website and hand them out to students and teach them how to read the webpage. Printing out the page eliminates the level of complexity that comes from hyperlinks, multimodal page elements, and losing the students as they click, click, click away. With the printed out pages, read along with the students the same way that you would teach them how to read any other piece of text. This exercise can ultimately be worked into active reading strategies in which you have students “hypothesize” where links will take them, or summarize the information.
2. Do a teacher “think-aloud” as you search and sift through online information. Using a computer and project, identify a question you would like to know information about, go to a search engine and use/revise keywords, locate information either in the search engine results or on a page, and then summarize the findings to the class. The think aloud process allows the students to not only recognize the value and strategies you use as you search online…but more importantly start to use this knowledge, skills, and dispositions on their own.
3. Build a custom search engine for students to use in their searches. As you gradually work students into searching on their own, you may still want to scaffold them and keep them on track as they search. By building a Google Custom Search Engine, you can preselect the and confine the information or search sites that their search engine will kick out during their searches. I put together a tutorial on creating and using custom searches to make it easier for you to follow: https://sites.google.com/site/wiobyrne/google-c
There are numerous other ways in which you can scaffold early online learners, in any content…the challenge is to take the first step.