Last week, one of the teachers with whom I work came to me with a dilemma. In a few months, his fourth-graders will participate in their annual State Night. To prepare for this event, students choose a state to learn more about. Their findings form the basis of a presentation given in front of an audience of peers, teachers, parents, and other members of our school community. My fellow teacher expressed a desire to expand the resources that his students use for research from encyclopedias and reference books to websites and informational databases available through our school library. His worry, however, was that their note-taking skills were not up to the challenge of the amount of information available on the internet and that in frustration, they would simply rely on copy-and-pasting to create most of their reports.
We quickly identified several strategies that this teacher could use to avoid this situation: generate an essential question, such as “Why would a person want to live or visit this state?” to force students to make an answer composed of original thoughts, rather than just find an answer; educate students about plagiarism; and directly teach strategies for paraphrasing and notetaking. However, an idle comment by the teacher produced the most interesting strategizing from us. That comment was, “My only concern is that they’re going to come up with garbage if they just Google – stuff from Wikipedia and Ask Yahoo! How do I get them to look beyond the first hits their search query produces?” (Fairchild, D, personal communication, November 2, 2010). We decided that before we could spend any time on any of the other ideas we had generated, we first needed to devote some class periods to teaching the kids how to evaluate the quality of the information they found on the internet.
Description of Lesson
To help these fourth-graders begin to judge the credibility of the information found on the internet, we considered Fitzgerald’s opinion that teaching such evaluative skills is often the work of several years and that this process should start slowly and build over time (1999). Our primary objective is to help the learner determine how to judge the reliability and accuracy of websites. We determined the most understandable and critical components to reviewing websites for our purposes would include the credentials of the author, the date of the information, the purpose of the website, and could the information be verified elsewhere. These skills correspond to Kathy Schrock’s 5W’s of Website Evaluation, which ask students to examine the who, what, where, when, and why of websites (Schrock, n.d.) After examining a bogus website on Midwestern history as the basis for modeling the evaluation process as a whole group, students will then form small groups to explore three different websites about the state of Minnesota. As none of the students chose Minnesota to research, it makes a fine exemplar state. A more...