Julie Coiro, PhD., University of Rhode Island
Having the ability to comprehend and create online information texts will play a central role in our students’ success in a digital information age. Unfortunately, it is challenging to know how best to introduce these new online reading comprehension skills as part of today’s reading and writing curriculum. To address this challenge, I offer ten promising practices that reflect research-based guidelines (Coiro, 2009a) for supporting students’ online literacy development in school classrooms.
- Help students understand the unique relationships between offline and online reading strategy use. Literacy and content-area reading lessons should encourage students to notice the similarities and differences between offline and online text features (e.g., graphics, hyperlinked headings, digitized speech, and video) while discussing suitable reading purposes and audiences for each. Several lessons designed by classroom teachers for the ReadWriteThink online lesson databases (www.readwritethink.org) effectively illustrate reflective classroom assignments that compare and contrast offline and online text comprehension processes. Over time, reflective thinking about these differences helps students gain a deeper understanding of how to navigate and comprehend information on the Internet.
- Provide explicit teacher and peer think-aloud models of effective online reading comprehension strategy use. Instructional think-alouds can model strategies for formulating online questions, generating effective keyword searches, critically evaluating online sources, or integrating information from multiple sources using a particular online communication tool such as email, blogs, or discussion boards (see Coiro, 2005 for four strategy lessons in this area). Over time, you can gradually release responsibility to empower students in the online meaning-making process.
- Embed explicit strategy lessons within curriculum-based online information challenges. Rather than teach online reading strategies as part of an isolated technology lesson with the computer teacher, a curriculum-based online information challenge invites students to use a range of Internet technologies linked directly to a particular content theme or learning objective. Small groups of students are presented with contentrelated information problems designed both to develop conceptual knowledge and elicit important online reading skills (e.g., asking questions, locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating). Lessons are designed to minimize teacher talk, maximize student engagement, and provide time at the end for students to debrief and to exchange strategies with the entire class, after having done so in their small groups (for more information, see Leu, Coiro, Castek, Henry, Reinking, & Hartman, 2008).
- Honor the literacies students bring to school from their daily lives. We are in need of new frameworks and associated instructional models that bridge in-school and out-of-school practices to exploit the multiple literacy competencies that students bring to school. We can begin by fostering a classroom culture that recognizes the multiple literacies of every student and makes space for students to share their expertise as part of classroom routines. Emerging research highlights the potential of connecting personal and academic online reading tasks to facilitate conventional learning outcomes, new literacies, and student engagement (e.g., Burnett & Wilkinson, 2005; O’Brien, Beach, & Scharber, 2007). Gradually, students begin to understand how to use literacy differently for different purposes, in and out of school, and realize the need to flexibly apply these skills for new purposes and new contexts using new technologies.
- Provide space for students to explore, interpret, and create multiple forms and genres of texts. Opportunities for students to interact with images, soundtracks, and text interconnected in complex, multifaceted ways as part of school projects can prompt more sophisticated uses of multimodal online texts (Tierney, Bond, & Bresler, 2006). When teachers recognize the role of creative composing and innovation as part of literacy development, reluctant readers and writers, in particular, see themselves as capable text producers with authentic opportunities to contribute to their classroom literacy communities.
- Clarify new roles and relationships for collaborating with peers and teachers. Because literacy contexts change so quickly on the Internet, it is important that teachers be flexible in exploring and clarifying what they expect from themselves and of their students as part of face-to-face and online collaborations. Students should come to appreciate that each of their peers brings to the group a different, but valuable, set of skills and experiences that can positive influence the group’s overall ability to solve problems with the Internet (Cope & Kalantzis, 2002; Schulz-Zander, Buchter, & Dalmer, 2002). Similarly, as teachers explore how to plan and orchestrate complex online learning tasks, students should have plenty of authentic opportunities to work as partners with teachers to support their use of technology in classrooms.
- Promote students’ awareness of how positive dispositions impact reading comprehension and learning on the Internet. In open-ended Internet reading environments, successful online readers are those who manage rapidly changing text forms with persistence, flexibility, creativity, patience, critical stance, and self-reflection (American Association of School Librarians, 2007). As individual students gain a sense of themselves and their efforts as readers, they should be encouraged to understand how their habits and attitudes influence their ability to comprehend challenging texts. Regular strategy conversations can integrate a focus on personal dimensions with social, cognitive, and knowledge-building dimensions of classroom life to support students as they work to make sense of online and offline texts.
- Design collaborative inquiry projects that naturally prompt interdisciplinary connections to 21st century life skills. Productive online learning tasks empower students to solve important problems by integrating their knowledge of several subject areas with opportunities to apply their developing financial, global, and civic literacies in real academic learning contexts (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007). Thus, effective online literacy teachers seek to promote students’ self-efficacy and online reading confidence, while integrating opportunities to practice entrepreneurial skills, develop a mutual respect for diverse cultures and lifestyles, and participate effectively in civic life experiences.
- Employ multiple alternative forms of assessment that evaluate group and individual learning processes and products. Students learning how to read successfully on the Internet should have opportunities to engage in self-, peer-, and teacher assessments of their online strategy use as part of reflective learning process (Coiro & Castek, 2010). In doing so, students begin to accept more responsibility for their learning and reflect more thoughtfully on their literacy efforts and performance. Take time to teach your students how to set and monitor realistic online comprehension goals and encourage students to share and reflect on their online reading strategy use during each phase of the inquiry process. Finally, employ alternative measures of Internet reading performance that capture both a student’s individual online reading ability or contribution to an assigned online reading task and the quality of his or her working group’s interactions and discussion (see ideas in Coiro, 2009b).
- Read, network, reflect, and read some more: Because online literacy contexts and digital literacy tools will continue to rapidly emerge faster than any one person can keep pace with, we must join forces as educators in ways that capitalize on our different areas of expertise and interest. Build partnerships with colleagues, read as much as you have time for, and exchange ideas and questions you have about new literacies with those around you. Become an active member of an online learning community such as The New Literacies Collaborative (http://newlitcollaborative.ning.com) to seek advice when things get overwhelming and to share moments of success as they emerge. Actively build connections between your own literacy efforts and those around you as you venture forward on the journey to prepare today’s students for their literacy futures in a globally networked, digital information world. Keep reading, choose a starting place, set an action plan, be patient, and move forward – you will soon be amazed to realize the new possibilities of the Internet for teaching and learning literacy in school.
American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st century learner. Retrieved October 1, 2008 from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslproftools/learningstandards/standards.cfm
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Coiro, J. (2009b). Rethinking reading assessment in a digital age: How is reading comprehension different and where do we turn now. Educational Leadership, 66, 59- 63.
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Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2002). Multiliteracies. London, UK: Routledge.
Leu, D. J., Coiro, J., Castek, J., Henry, L. A., Reinking, D. & Hartman, D. K. (2008). Research on Instruction and Assessment in the New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension. In C. C. Block, S. Parris, & P. Afflerbach. (Eds.). Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (pp. 321-346). New York: Guilford Press.
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Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2007). Learning for the 21st century. Retrieved January 10, 2008 from http://www.21stcenturyskills.org
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