Ten Tips for Teaching Students how to Research and Filter Information

I was recently involved in a conversation about how difficult it now is to filter what is on the internet and research effectively. In the past, students would primarily use books to research; being overloaded with possibly unreliable information wasn’t really an issue.

Teaching students research skills is becoming increasingly important. Some refer to the filtering and critical evaluation of information as ‘web literacy’.

Unfortunately, many teachers don’t feel confident with their own skills to be able to assist their students with this. Often this is due to the fact that teachers aren’t actively searching and using material from the internet themselves.

Some schools get around this issue by heavily blocking the sites children have access too. My philosophy is to educate rather than block, in most cases.

I’m no expert in this area but I have compiled a list of ten tips that I try to give my students to help them with internet research and filtering. I’d love you to add your tips in a comment!

  • Search: Start with some general key words. If your results aren’t what you want, alter the keywords to make a more specific search. I often encourage my students to put the word “kids” in to find child friendly websites and articles. The Google Search Education website provides detailed lesson plans on teaching search skills. This cheat sheet also summarises some of Google’s advanced search features.
  • Delve: Look beyond the first few results. Flick through a few pages if need be. Let students know that many websites use Search Engine Optimisation to improve the visibility of their pages in search results. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most useful or relevant sites.
  • Source: Look at the actual URL address to see where you’re going before you click on a search engine result. Use some intuition to decide whether it seems reliable. Is it from a well known site? An educational or government institution? Is it a forum or opinion site?
  • Validity: Ensure students understand that you cannot believe everything you read. Encourage them to make their own judgement by checking more than one source if they’re not sure.
  • Purpose: Be wary of websites that are cluttered with advertisements or might be trying to sell you something.
  • Background: When reading articles, try to look for the author’s name and when the article was written. Is it recent or outdated?
  • Teach: Integrate the teaching of these skills into everything you do. Model your searches explicitly and talk out loud as you look things up. Researching skills don’t need to be covered in stand alone lessons.
  • Justify: When you’re modelling your research, go to some weak websites and ask students to justify whether they think the site would be useful and reliable.
  • Path: Students might like to start their search with some sites they know or have used before rather than randomly googling.
  • Cite: Give students lots of practice of writing information in their own words, and show them how to use quotation marks and cite sources. Remind students about the seriousness of plagiarism and copyright infringement. These are terms even my grade two students used. It’s never to early to learn about web literacy.

Image: 'not quite clear on the concept' http://www.flickr.com/photos/73645804@N00/1431384410

There are some useful lesson plans on the Common Sense Media website if you’d like to try some more structured lessons in your class. There are also some great links on the Education World website.


What tips can you add?

How do you teach ‘web literacy’?

Do you use custom search engines designed for children?

Evolving Parent Communcation

When I began teaching in 2004, my main forms of parent communication were:

  • the occasional class (paper) newsletter
  • chatting to parents at the classroom door
  • signs on the classroom window with reminders
  • reports and parent teacher interviews
  • communication books for some students
  • phone calls or notes home if issues arose

While some things have stayed the same, many things have changed. I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of parents who visit the classroom every day. Moving from the junior school to an older grade also means parents are around less.

Since I started teaching, advances in technology and online communication have changed the way people interact and access information. It has been important to keep up with this, not only with what I’m doing with my students, but with how I’m interacting with parents too.

I now don’t worry about putting signs on the classroom window. I doubt they’d be read. I don’t see as many parents on a regular basis to pass on messages. Paper newsletters were time consuming for me to make and often got lost or buried at the bottom of a child’s bag.

As always, an ongoing stream of two-way information is important. I have found the more parents are kept informed and involved in their child’s learning, the more successful and smooth the child’s education is.

Every fortnight I email parents a class newsletter.

I wrote about this in 2010 but the main points of my system are:

  • I collect parent email addresses via a Google Doc form. I invite families to complete this at the end of the previous school year. I also use this form to collect more information about the child’s strengths, weaknesses, interests etc.
  • There are always a couple of parents without email addresses (I’m finding this is becoming less frequent). I print paper copies for these families.
  • I put email addresses in the BCC field of my emails to preserve parents’ privacy.
  • Kelly Jordan and I have surveyed our parents a couple of times and found they really enjoy this method of communication.
  • I invite parents to contact me via email if it is easier for them. Many embrace this option.

Our class blog provides information and a window into our classroom.

  • The 4KM and 4KJ blog is updated 2-4 times a week. Parents are encourage to subscribe and comment.
  • The blog houses a lot of information about what is happening in our classroom, including a regularly updated Google Calendar on the left sidebar. This calendar also helps the students to get organised.

I’ve found the class blog combined with parent emails means there is always a channel of information available for parents.

Of course some face-to-face contact always needs to be prioritised. For example, last week we held a successful Family Blogging Afternoon where students could teach a special person in their life about blogging and global collaboration. This is part of our Family Blogging Month celebrations.

As the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development points out “Family participation in learning is one of the most accurate predictors of a child’s success in school and beyond.” While this message has remained constant over the years, the way participation is taking is place continues to evolve.

I’d love to find new ways to continue to make parent communication easy and effective for all parties. What ideas do you have?

How do you communicate with parents?

How have your approaches to communicating with parents changed over the years?