Current Events and Internet Inquiry

I was amazed at the students response. We were doing interviews after our twenty week Internet Reciprocal Teaching unit and we asked, “Do you prefer laptops over using books?”. One of our students simply replied, “Yes, we have to spend all this time learning about old stuff. With the laptops we get to learn new stuff. We get to use what is going on now.”

I never thought immediacy of information would have been a motivating factor, but then I thought back to some of our best lessons and they usually involved current events.How a discipline approaches internet inquiry changes based on both content and pedagogical needs. We found the teaching of current events to be a great tool for modeling, practicing, and using online reading comprehension skills. In our class we focused specifically on using specialized search engines and synthesis.

Specialized Search Engines
Google News can be a great tool. Too often when teaching with the internet students get bogged down in the search process. If your lesson is not teaching locating skills you could simply add additional scaffolds through Webquests or you could teach students specific locating skills. One of these skills is the use of specialized search engines. We introduced students to Google News as a means to find information probably written by a somewhat reliable source.

In our lesson we poached from Dick Wolf, and ripped an activity right from the headlines. A few years ago, over the the Winter break, two people were attacked by a tiger at the San Fransisco Zoo. TIGER ATTACKS! A perfect lesson for middle school. We demonstrated to student show to use Google News and then had them read articles about the attack. They had to formulate an argument and decide if the tigers were to blame, the zoos, or the victims.

We all know how current events are usually taught: 5 W’s, an H, a summary, and then your own opinion. In the age of the internet how we interact, summarize, and respond to media is different. We do not simply summarize an article and add a thought. Now in blogs, and discussion forums readers use block quotes, find viral videos, and post hyperlinks to summarize an article.

This idea of taking multiple streams of information and making them your own is a difficult skill to teach. Students need multiple strategies to mesh video, websites, and blog discussions. Once again we turned to current events to model these skills and strategies. When we were teaching IRT it was in the midst of the Democratic primary for President. During a televised debate Hillary Clinton accused Barak Obama of plagiarizing a speech by Deval Patrick, an Obama advisor, To teach synthesis across multiple modes we took a screen capture of Youtube (blocked in our school) of the debate, and Patrick’s original speech. Then we had students find multiple websites on the issue. Next using graphic organizers, we had students use elements of each source in their response.

Teaching Perspectives
Deborah Tannen, in The Argument Culture railed against the everything is war metaphor. This perspective has gone viral with the Internet. I have been following the posts in response to the Brown-Coakley election on the Boston Globe. They are down right nasty and often cut and pasted from other sources. Viscous at every level..on every side. Part of digital citizenship is formulating a well-written and respectful argument in small bits of language. Central to this ability is understanding diverse perspectives. Current events and internet inquiry provide teacher an opportunity to create opportunities for students to express these types of values.

First using a specialized search engine such as Google News allows students to see a news event from international perspectives. It would be great for students to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not just from history books but from the pages of newspapers from all over the region.

Second current events can provide wonderful models for persuasive writings. With news aggregators you can find multiple perspectives on any given topic. How does the editorial board of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal differ on an issue?

Finally current events and internet inquiry provide students a chance to respond with succinct grace online. We can not simply block any website with interactive features from schools. If we want students studying the 5 w’s they better be able to summarize their thoughts and add additional thinking to the WWW.

Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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