Taming the Web: Reading for Comprehension
Lewin, Larry, Multimedia Schools
by Larry Lewin, Teacher Monroe Middle School Eugene, Oregon
Teachers who access information from the Internet's World Wide Web may have experienced this scenario: As they send their students to useful Web sites, sounds of enjoyment flood the computer lab. Upon arrival at a site, students dart around the site to see what's there, which often means exploring eye-catching graphics. Once this get-acquainted session ends--maybe 10 seconds--they are eager to head to another appealing site, only to repeat this superficial browsing. The result? Students become rapid Web navigators but learn little to nothing substantive about the subject under study.
NAVIGATION, EVALUATION, AND COMPREHENSION
Students must move beyond browsing for "cool stuff" to develop solid Web navigation, evaluation, and comprehension skills. Unless students repeatedly hone these skills, the Web will remain a fun experience, but one that delivers little educational benefit.
I have taken advantage of my students' keen interest in using the Internet by explicitly teaching these skills through structured Internet training lessons that focus on the Middle Ages (http://cyberschool.4j.lane.edu/people/faculty/lewin/arts/Assignments/Internet /Internet_Assignments.html). These lessons guide students to a Web site created by Trista Schoonmaker's ancient history class at Timpview High School in Provo, Utah (http://www.byu.edu/ipt/projects/middleages/intro.html). A series of three tasks requires students to answer questions about the topic and the structure of the Web site.
Navigational skills start with teaching students how to use a Web browser successfully. Many students stumble when they attempt to type in the URL (Uniform Resource Locator, the Web "address"). One mistyped character will prevent successful navigation. So students must learn how to accurately type a URL or how to copy a URL and paste it into the browser. Navigational skills also include teaching students to detect a hyperlink and how to return from a link.
Evaluating a Web site means thinking about the credibility of the information presented at that Web site. This is no easy task for many students. They assume if something is in print, it must be true, accurate, and useful information. Students must be taught to consider such factors as the author's qualifications and experience, the sponsoring organization or institution, the currency and relevance of the information, and cited sources. I am indebted to Kathy Schrock for her excellent "Critical Evaluation Surveys" found at her Web site: http://www.capecod.net/schrockguide/eval.htm.
Comprehension means reading for understanding. For some kids, this seems to take the fun out of the Internet because reading doesn't always come easily to them. So, it's my job to assist them in developing strategies to guide them through the reading process and improve their comprehension without diminishing their enthusiasm for the Web.
READING DIFFICULT MATERIAL
For all the Web's bells and whistles, it remains predominantly a text-based medium. A young visitor to a Web site may look (and sometimes listen) for information, but ultimately he or she must read the words, sentences, and paragraphs to gain understanding. I use a four-step process approach to encourage students to read for comprehension:
Prepare: Getting ready to read, establishing a mental set for incoming information.
First Dare: The first reading of a selection, constructing meaning of the information.
Repair: Returning to the selection to re-read passages, improving understanding.
Share: Revealing one's understanding of the selection, putting new information to use. …