As Greg McVerry points out, one of the best ways to start examining argumentation (especially using online informational sources) is in the comments section in sports or politics sections. When reading across these pieces it’s interested to sort out fact from opinion from rage-fueled blather. In providing teachers with a starting point for including online information into classroom activities focused on examining argument, I suggest starting with having students look across the information found on two websites. I suggest selecting a topic or issue from your content area and curriculum. I also suggest selecting informational sources that aren’t entirely “correct” or “incorrect.” Make your students think deeply about the information they’re evaluating and examining.
Looking at an exemplar of work process
In working with teachers I originally start by watching a student as they work across two different pieces of information and examine their work process. In the video below, the student uses sophisticated organizational strategies to read, organize, and structure elements of the argument in the final presentation. Usually after critiquing the video, teachers comment on how the student “is not like any of my students.” My response to this is that I’m not interested in the academic, ability, or literacy levels of the student. I am interested in the work process that the student uses. What strategies does he use as he reads across sources? What strategies does he use as he metacognitively examines text and copy/pastes it over to the PPT used as a graphic organizer? In a very simple sense…how does the student use a copy/paste mentality as an effectively learning tool? The key is to think about strategies…and what strategies or work process can we expect from our students?
Looking across online informational sources
After viewing the video of the exemplar student, I have teachers work in groups to collaboratively read through the information on two websites. I selected two websites both discussing the issues associated with CFCs and damage to the ozone layer.
One change I make in presenting this information to teachers is that I give them printed out copies of the websites. Many times when thinking about having students read online sources we think we need to have a one-to-one computing environment. My suggestion is to print out the websites and make copies ahead of time. This allows students to annotate and mark-up texts using the strategies they normally use to actively read information. I ask teachers to identify the facts, the opinions, and the general thesis of both webpages.
I also suggest using a tool like Clearly or Pocket to strip out the links, images, ads, and other distractor information from the website before printing it. This allows students to focus only on the text, or words in the website. I still show the original website to students (teachers in this case) to let them see that is really is a website…but that I’ve cleaned it up a bit. It is worth noting that this is a great activity to use with teachers and students as this usually leads to a ton of dialogue about how we view the information differently when the distractor information is included.
Looking at organizing our thinking
After teachers read through and annotate their copies of the two copies of the websites, I ask that they begin to organize their thoughts and “position” about the information they read. To organize their thoughts, Greg McVerry and I have been promoting the use of Vee Diagrams for use in organizing details that they pull from the text. Vee diagrams, also known as Gowin’s Diagrams have been used in reading research as a way to scaffold the metacognitive skills of students. An example of the Vee diagram that we used is available below.
As teachers (and students) detail their ideas on the Vee diagram they should also begin to develop their position based on the arguments included in the two sources. The final output of the work is up to the teacher and based on student learning objectives. Students could develop a speech, a PPT, a website, a mashup, a paper, etc. Regardless of what the work product is…I think a fundamental skill or strategy that we need to teach our student is the process involved in reading across multiple sources, while scaffolding their own reading and metacognitive strategies.
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