Using Digital Technologies to Support Literacy Instruction Across the Curriculum

Clare Brett

While the Internet is now the number one information source for both children and adults, research is showing that online reading differs significantly from print-based reading. In fact, learning how to obtain sound, relevant information from online  sources requires specific kinds of practice and experience, and there is little evidence that schools are currently providing this experience. Children need to learn effective strategies for identifying valid information and information sources, and navigating hypertext links. These are elements of information literacy but also involve a lot of print literacy elements such as good reading comprehension  strategies along with an understanding of digital literacy (how to find, evaluate, and effectively use online information). Gathering information  online may require even more sophisticated reading comprehension strategies, and, interestingly, students are aware that they need help learning to evaluate online information. The combination of reading comprehension and digital literacy is an important instructional focus and can be incorporated into any given subject area.

Teachers can:

Start with  identifying important questions: helping students develop generative and interesting questions (not  just factual information-gathering ones) in groups to set the stage for their online inquiry.

Help students  navigatcomplex information networks to locate appropriate information  by  using  age-appropriate  web search tools, or select some sites yourself beforehand that seem useful. Help students develop some basic knowledge about websites, such as how to “read” a URL; how to find the publisher of a website; and how to validate a website.

Work  with  students  to  question  and  evaluatthat information through group activities and follow up with class  sharing of their experiences. Practice looking at and deconstructing  the  content  of  particular websites by considering  questions  such as: Where is the important information? What sources of information did the website use and are those good  sources? How do you identify the sources? (Alan November’s site has useful questions to pursue, and the Media Awareness Network also provides some very helpful  curriculum  examples, activities, and suggestions.)

Work with students to decide what the most   important   and   valid   information seems to be from these searches and help them  synthesize it to address those questions. Make sure that students discuss and understand what information gets left  out in  this  process and  why. Also, discussing what new questions may have been raised by the first web search may prompt a second, more focused, round of searching.

Raising questions such as how web-based research differs from the experience of regular library searches can lead to  discussions about particular online features such as hyperlinks, that provide detailed information about a word or


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