Friday, June 23, 2017

Understanding How Children Read and Evaluate Online Resources

Have you ever considered how different it is to read online than read on paper? What about the difference between assessing the validity of a print resource vs an online resource?  Perhaps you solve this challenge by printing articles and resources you find online so they replicate print resources, and sticking with known web sources rather than taking the top of the Google search. Our children are less likely to be fixated on materials in print form - and yet they are not likely to have the skills to select reliable sources, or to choose sites that match their reading and interest level.

Creating research around this question 
Our Lower School Librarian and I have been exploring how students approach online resources, studying how they attack a new site, what they choose to focus on, and what they decide to click on. We wondered how much information students in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade succeed in getting from an online source, and whether they have the tools to determine a site’s validity. 

To do this, we set up interviews with a number of students prior to teaching their class a lesson about how to assess a site for validity and how to find needed information on a site. We chose two contrasting sites for the interview, one with ads and questionable sources for its information, and one that has no ads and is a known, reliable source. Using a thinking routine inspired by Harvard’s Project Zero, I sat with students one-on-one and asked them the following questions for each of the two sites: 
  • What do you notice first?
  • What do you wonder about this site?
  • Who made this site and who is it for?
  • Show me how to find information here.
Each interview revealed different aspects of a student’s understanding, or lack of understanding, about how to approach websites, how to assess them for appropriateness and validity, and how to find the information they are seeking. 

Comparing Non-Fiction Print Materials with Online Sources
Next, the librarian and I taught a full class lesson comparing online resources to non-fiction materials. We brainstormed the parts of a non-fiction book, discussed where to find the author, copyright, and publisher, and thought about what you should look for to confirm that the book will contain the most up to date information. We then looked at several non-fiction websites to assess them with the same rules: 
    Author and Publisher? (We taught them to look at the URL and to look at the bottom of the page)
    Copyright date?
    Table of contents?  How do you navigate on this site?
    Reading level - is this a “just-right” level for you?

We incorporated the five media literacy questions in this discussion:
Author - Who created this message?
Format - What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
Audience - Empathy - See the message/site through someone else’s eyes. Who is it for and how might people respond to it differently?
Content - What points of view or values are represented or omitted from this site?
Purpose - What is the purpose of this site or message? Who is it directed to and why was it made?

As a class, the group was able to identify parts of the site and understand how to assess its purpose and audience based on the reading level, the types of ads, and the graphics. I waited a month, then I met again with the same students and interviewed them about new sites, asking the same questions as before. I was pleased to discover a change in behavior. During the first interview,  interviewees ignored the fact that there were constantly changing ads, most of which would hold interest only for adults. During the second interview, after our full class analysis of a similar website where we asked students to wonder who those ads are directed at and why they would be on a page that appeared to be for kids, they showed much more awareness and began to ask those questions on their own.

Examples of student comments before the lesson:  

What do you notice first?
Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 2.18.38 PM.png
"Game commercials, video ads, shops
I do see something about Greek Mythology and Poseidon
They're to get more shoppers, game players or followers
Food commercial - to take a taste of different products"

"Probably the ads are there so that while you are looking at what you are interested in - you might be studying Ancient Greece, but you like dresses, so you press the ad because you are trying to focus on something else and they are trying to egg you into buying it"

"I know there are ads on all websites, so I don’t wonder about that.”

Examples of student comments one month after the lesson: (Screenshot: Social Studies for Kids)

What do you notice first?
"If it were for kids there wouldn’t be all these ads - It says social studies for kids, which is strange. There are different tabs you can click on
Home - Fun Facts - Glossary
Bunch of ads that no kid would use, but it’s for kids"

"Says Social Studies for Kids - it’s about the past -
List that is like a table of contents
Ads along the side - I remember that ads are there to earn money, to draw more attention
Noticed the list of facts and links about US history.
I notice more ads under everything"

"Says it’s for kids but the ads mean it might be for older kids, they might want those ads."

Building Skills Over Time
This is not a “one time” lesson for students. Each year the librarian and I will work with students to evaluate and question online sources, just as we have them evaluate the age and quality of the information they are using in non-fiction books. Since every website has a different layout, it is important to give students something to help them orient themselves each time- identifying the Title, Author, Publisher, Copyright, questioning whether it is a “just-right site” for them, and then evaluating how best to find information there. As teachers and parents we often forget the importance of these steps before we turn our students loose to do research online.

For more information on this topic, you can explore our ISTE 2017 presentation and visit the resources. 

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