Donald J. Leu, Jr.
To appear in:
McLaughlin, M.& Vogt, M.E. (Eds). Creativity and Innovation in
Content Area Instruction. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Developing New Literacies: Using the Internet in Content Area Instruction
The nature of literacy and learning is rapidly changing as new technologies for information and communication such as the Internet appear, providing us with new challenges and new opportunities as we consider how best to prepare children for their futures. In fact, if there is one thing that is certain in these uncertain times, it is that the technologies of information and communication will regularly and repeatedly change, regularly redefining what it means to be literate (Leu, in press). This presents particular problems to those of us charged with preparing children for their future. How can we best prepare children for the new literacies that will be needed for the new technologies of information and communication that appear?
Some argue that the new technologies for information and communication are either harmful, too expensive, or lead to surface level, not deeper and more complex, thinking (Birkerts, 1994; Oppenheimer, 1997; Rochlin, 1997; Roszak, 1994; Stoll, 1995). Nevertheless, a growing body of work suggests that one's ability to effectively use these new technologies will be central to the workplace demands in an information economy (Bruce, 1997; Harrison & Stephen, 1996; Johnson, 1997; Leu, in press; Mikulecky & Kirkley, 1998; Negroponte, 1995). Preparing children for their futures in an information age will profoundly change content area instruction for it will require that we integrate the new technologies of information and communication into our instructional programs.
This chapter will begin by describing the changes taking place in content area reading instruction and explain why these changes are taking place. It will then explore answers to a series of instructional questions teachers often ask as they consider their new roles within the new literacies required by the Internet:
THE WORLD OF CONTENT AREA READING INSTRUCTION IS CHANGING
If you have any doubts that the world of content area reading
instruction is changing, consider these observations:
The changes to content area instruction resulting from the integration of Internet technologies into classroom instruction are nothing short of revolutionary. They change the information resources available to our students, of course. The Internet opens a wonderful window on the world to new information resources, new people, and new perspectives about content area information.
In addition, however, they also reshape traditional relationships between teachers and students. Because the technologies for information and communication are increasingly powerful, complex, and continually changing, our students quickly become more knowledgeable than us in many aspects of information technologies. As a result, our role as teacher is changing from being the central source of information in the classroom to becoming a facilitator and guide, putting children together with other children who possess various types of expertise in order to exchange information and solve common problems.
Internet technologies also raise new issues about our relationship to content area information. In a world where anyone may publish anything, how does one evaluate the accuracy of information one finds? In a world where there is too much information, not too little, how do we prepare children to quickly locate the most useful information resources? In a world where new juxtapositions of multiple media forms may be created, how do we help children critically evaluate the variety of meanings inherent in the multiple media forms in which messages appear (Flood & Lapp, 1995). Clearly, what has traditionally been referred to as critical reading or critical thinking assumes greater importance and new meaning with the introduction of Internet technologies into the content area classroom.
All of these changes require us to consider how best to prepare children for the new literacies necessary for success in the complex world they will enter as working adults. As teachers, we need to help children develop the new composing, comprehension, and response abilities the Internet demands for its effective use.
Why are these changes happening? Reich (1992), Rifkin (1995), and many others argue that we have entered an information age where success is often defined by one's ability to use information for solving important problems. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that networked, digital technologies provide rapid access to vast amounts of information, increasing the importance of effective information use (Harrison & Stephen, 1996). As individuals or organizations identify problems, gather information, and seek solutions, digital bits become faster and cheaper than atoms (Negroponte, 1995) and in a highly competitive context speed, information, and cost become paramount. The changing definitions of information, literacy, and content area reading instruction are largely driven by these global forces in the nature of work. Moreover, the globally competitive context in which we find ourselves ensures that new technologies for information and communication will continually be developed, resulting in continuously changing literacies (Leu, in press). As a result, content area literacy instruction becomes even more important to our children than in the past. In an information age, success will be determined largely by our students ability to use information and information technologies in effective ways.
How can we prepare children for their literacy futures by using networked
technologies such as the Internet? The rest of this chapter will
address this important issue. I will organize this discussion around
the most common questions teachers ask as they begin to consider the use
of Internet technologies in their classrooms.
"I DON'T HAVE MUCH TIME.
HOW CAN I USE THE INTERNET TO QUICKLY FIND USEFUL INFORMATION FOR MY CLASS?"
A common challenge for busy teachers is to quickly locate useful information resources on the Internet. No one has large amounts of time to spend finding classroom resources. Yet, search engines often turn up hundreds of thousands of locations when one uses a keyword such as "Jefferson", "tessellation", "geometry", "physics", "cell structure", or "Shakespeare." Moreover, many of these sites are not developed with the needs of children and classrooms in mind. As a result, we have to search through hundreds of sites in order to find one those useful for classroom instruction.
Instead of using a search engine, teachers often rely on central sites
for content areas (Leu
& Leu, 1999). Central sites contain extensive and well organized
links to resources designed for use in content area classrooms. Visiting
a central site will quickly provide you with many resources for your instructional
units and save you valuable time. Table 1 lists a number of exceptional
central sites for content areas. Most have been designed for busy teachers.
As a result, they are organized to make it easy to locate useful resources
for your class. Many teachers find it useful to set bookmarks on their
Internet browser (e.g. Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer) for central
sites such as these. This permits them to quickly find classroom
resources throughout the year as they begin different instructional units.
Table 1. Central Sites on the Internet for Content Areas
Figure 2. The Math Forum, a central site for mathematics education.
The answer to this question is one of the greatest challenges we face.
Increasingly, Internet connections are appearing in school classrooms.
Unfortunately, however, funds are not always provided for the staff development
and teacher education necessary to effectively use these technologies (President's
Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology: Panel on Educational Technology,
1997). Three instructional models are especially useful as you begin to
integrate Internet resources into your classroom: Internet Workshop,
Internet Project, and Internet Inquiry (Leu
& Leu, 1999).
If you are just beginning your journey with the Internet, you may wish to start by using Internet Workshop in your classroom. Internet Workshop is especially useful to introduce students to sites for an upcoming unit and develop useful background knowledge.
Internet Workshop has many variations. Generally, though, it contains these steps:
Next, develop an activity related to the learning goals of your unit that requires students to use this site on the Internet. Sometimes this will be used to introduce students to a site you will be using in your upcoming instructional unit. Sometimes this will be used to develop central content during your unit. Often, teachers will have children write down interesting information they find at this site in an Internet journal and then bring their journals and share this information during a workshop session at the end of the week. Sometimes, teachers will prepare an activity page for students to complete and bring to this workshop session.
Figure 3 shows an example of an activity page developed by a teacher to introduce a social studies unit on Japan in a 4th grade class. It was designed to allow students to develop wide-ranging background knowledge about Japan and then share what they discovered with the class during a workshop session at the end of the week. The teacher used this session to launch a cross-curricular unit on Japan. A similar set of activities could be developed for students at the middle school level by using another, more age appropriate, site: Kid's Web Japan. At the high school level, one might to choose a more advanced site such as Japan Window.
Internet Researcher: ____________________________
News About Japan
Go to the bookmark I have set for Kidís Web Japan and scroll down to the bottom of this page. Now click on the button "Monthly News" and read several recent news stories from Japan. Write notes about some of the news you discovered and be ready to share this with us during Internet Workshop.
Nature and Climate
Click on the button "Nature and Climate" and read a description of what it is like to live in Japan. Be certain to read answers to some of the questions at the bottom of this article. Write down notes about what you learned about the nature and climate of Japan. We will share these during Internet Workshop.
Whatís Cool in Japan?
Now letís find out what are some of the biggest fads among children
in Japan your own age. Visit "Whatís
Cool in Japan" and find out what kids are doing. Write down notes
about what you discovered is most popular among kids and be ready to share
this information during Internet Workshop.
Virtual Japanese Culture: Origami
Now letís discover a small piece of Japanese culture. Visit "Virtual
Japanese Culture" and follow the directions to make an origami (folded
paper) object. Use the special origami paper I placed next to the
computer. Read the directions and make an airplane, a crane, or a soldierís
helmet. Bring this to Internet Workshop so we can see how well you
Visit at least one of the many other locations at Kids
Web Japan. You decide where to go! Write down notes of
what you discovered and share your special discoveries with all of us during
The third step is to assign the activity to be completed during the week. If you have only a single Internet connection in your classroom, you may wish to have students work in pairs to complete the assignment. If you have access to a computer lab with multiple Internet connections, this could be completed during your weekly computer lab session.
The fourth step is to have students share their work, questions, and
new insights at the end of the week during a workshop session. This
is a time for the class to get together and share the learning they completed
during their Internet activity. It is also a time to ask questions about
issues about their work on the Internet. Often, teachers conduct
this workshop session similar to a grand conversation (cf. Eeds & Wells,
1989; Peterson & Eeds, 1990; Tompkins & McGee, 1993) where children
participate and share information in a collaborative process of meaning
After you have used Internet Workshop in your classroom, you may wish to try Internet Project, a more complex instructional model. Internet Project is a collaborative learning experience between two or more classrooms that takes place over the Internet (Leu & Leu, 1999). Two basic types of Internet Project exist and are used by teachers: web-site Internet projects and spontaneous projects developed by teachers who find one another on the Internet.
Web-site projects are the easiest to use and a good way to begin, but they are less common than spontaneous projects developed by teachers and sometimes hard to locate. Web-site projects are coordinated through a web site, developed by the originator. They are usually precisely defined with clear directions for participation. Because they are more precisely defined, however, web-site projects are sometimes more limited in scope and their learning potentials. There is not yet a central Internet site for web-site Internet projects. You will discover them in your explorations on the Internet. Examples of web-site projects include:
This project is especially useful for primary grade classrooms. Classrooms and students are matched. One student draws a monster and writes a detailed description. The description is sent to the student's partner who must draw the monster from the description. Then, both pictures are posted in the monster gallery. This supports both reading and writing skills as well as communication skills via the Internet.
Students conduct research about geographical locations and then develop a five-city journey around the world. They exchange clues to the locations with their Internet partner. Each attempts to discover the cities and the travel itinerary.
Raise Monarch butterflies, tag them, release them, record observations about Monarchs in your area, then watch as your data and those compiled by others are used to track the annual migration of this wonderful creature!
An excellent stock market activity for middle school students. Students manage a portfolio and compete with others to see who manages their portfolio best.
An excellent project for an ecology unit in the elementary grades. Students decorate grocery bags with environmental friendly messages and distribute at local grocery stories just before Earth Day. Classrooms report on their experiences.
Here you will find a number of permanent, ongoing projects.
In addition to web-site Internet projects, there are also spontaneous Internet projects between collaborating classrooms. These are more common that web-site Internet projects. During collaborative projects you work with another class on a common project, with students and teachers communicating extensively about the topic both classes are exploring. Collaborative projects also take place when classes contribute data to a common site and then, after the data are analyzed, see how their data compare with others. Often there will also be discussion between participating classes about the meaning of the results and even opportunities to use the data for further analyses. Each leads to rich learning opportunities.Generally, spontaneous Internet projects follow these procedures (Leu and Kinzer, 1999; Leu & Leu, 1999).
Next, post your project description and timeline several months in advance of your starting date at one of several locations designed for this purpose. One of the better locations for posting project descriptions and finding collaborative classrooms may be found at Global SchoolNet's Internet Projects Registry. If you are looking for collaborative projects with schools in other countries pay a visit to Intercultural E-mail Classroom Connection, a wonderful resource provided by St. Olaf College.
The third step is to arrange collaboration details with teachers in other classrooms who agree to participate. Projects require careful coordination between teachers so that information is exchanged in a timely manner. Planning these exchanges in advance helps to eliminate difficulties.
After collaboration details have been worked out, you only need to complete the project. This is the exciting part as you and your class connect with other classes around the world and discover how common and how different is our perceptions of the world around us.
One example of Internet Project, Passage to Hiroshima, took place recently between a classroom in Nagoya, Japan and classrooms in several other countries around the world. The classroom in Nagoya sought collaborating classrooms interested in studying about the importance of peace and international cooperation. They proposed to exchange useful sites on the WWW related to world peace. They also asked participating classrooms to develop interview and research questions that the Nagoya class could use during their upcoming trip to Hiroshima. The class in Japan volunteered to interview citizens of Hiroshima and then share the results, including photos, upon their return.
Thousands of projects similar to this one take place each day on the Internet between collaborating classrooms. If you are interested in a project approach to using the Internet, pay a visit to NickNacks Telecollaborate! where you can discover more information about this approach.
Internet Project is especially useful for several reasons. First,
it provides opportunities for students to work together, a skill increasingly
important in an interdependent world. Internet Project also provides unique
opportunities to learn about different cultural contexts; sharing a learning
experience with students in other parts of the world leads to important
insights about cultural differences. Finally, Internet Project provides
special opportunities to integrate the language arts with other subject
areas such as science, math, and social studies; communicating via Internet
technologies is often a central part of Internet Project.
A third instructional model often used with Internet technologies in the classroom is Internet Inquiry (Leu & Kinzer, 1999; Leu & Leu, 1999). During Internet Inquiry individuals or groups identify an important question and then gather information as they seek answers to their question. Internet Inquiry is a student-directed activity since it turns over much of the responsibility for learning to students who explore issues important to them. Internet Inquiry includes five phases:question; search; analyze; compose; and publish.
Each phase provides important opportunities to support tradition reading comprehension as well as the new literacies required in networked information contexts such as the Internet. Often this will take place during workshop sessions when useful strategies are exchanged.
For example, as students determine the question they will explore during the question phase you might help them to brainstorm different questions and record these on the chalkboard. Afterwards, a discussion about each question helps children to clarify what they know and what they need to know related to each topic. Initial K-W-L techniques (Ogle, 1989) might be used. Exchanging information about these topics during conversations is often helpful to developing appropriate background knowledge before children begin their research.
As students engage in the search phase, you might support their work by calling them together for a short workshop session. This helps them to exchange research strategies. Children can exchange library resources, WWW locations, and strategies for finding information. Each is important to children unfamiliar with independent inquiry and the use of the Internet.
During the analyze phase you want to help children determine the accuracy of information they locate on the Internet and with other, traditional, resources. Critically evaluating information accuracy is an especially important issue with networked information resources. Anyone may publish anything on the Internet. As a result, children may sometimes encounter web pages created by people with political, religious, or philosophical stances that distort the nature of the information they present to others. Or, sometimes a person simply gets the facts wrong on a web page. T is requires us to help our students become healthy skeptics about the accuracy of the information they encounter. Literacy on the Internet requires new forms of critical thinking and reasoning about the information that appears in this venue. Such skills have not always been central in classrooms where textbooks and other traditional information resources are often assumed to be correct.
The compose phase of Internet Inquiry often relies on writing process stages. Peer revision conferences help authors become more sensitive to the comprehension needs of their readers. These conversations can lead to important insights about reading comprehension.
The publish phase of Internet Inquiry may also be used to heighten awareness about useful comprehension strategies. As students share their work in your class you might direct the audience to share elements of the presentation they found especially useful as a listener or reader. Discussion about these elements often lead to important insights about useful comprehension strategies.
Following a classroom presentation, teachers sometimes publish the results
of independent inquiry projects at their classroom web sites. This
makes the results of independent work more meaningful since it is then
shared with a far wider audience. Often other students and classrooms
will use the resources in their own curriculum, a revolutionary development
in education as teachers and students begin to define exciting, new curricular
Karchmer, & Leu; in press).
"HOW CAN WE PROTECT CHILDREN AS THEY BEGIN TO EXPLORE THE WIDER WORLD OF THE INTERNET?"
Part of the new literacies demanded by the Internet include the literacies of responsibility. As teachers, we need to assume new responsibilities for our students' safety. In addition, our students need to assume new responsibilities for the appropriate use of these powerful technologies. Students may travel to sites that are inappropriate for them to view, they may send out or receive an offensive e-mail message, they may be contacted by strangers, or they may interfere with the running of a computer system.
To prevent the viewing of inappropriate sites, some schools use software filters. Software filters deny students access to certain Internet sites. These filters deny access to locations where certain words appear. Teachers and parents may edit the list of words used in the blocking software. Software filters include products such as: Net Nanny; SurfWatch; and Cyber Patrol.
Software filters, however, are not a perfect solution. They tend to block access to sites you may wish you children to have access to (e.g., Middlesex School District) and they tend to allow access to sites you may wish restricted.
Whether your district uses a software filter or not, every school and district should develop an acceptable use policy as part of a comprehensive program of Internet literacy. An acceptable use policy is a written agreement signed by parents/guardians, students, and teachers defining procedures to be followed while using the Internet at school. It specifies the conditions under which students may use the Internet, defines appropriate and unacceptable use, and defines penalties for violating items in the policy. All parties involved in the education of each child need to be aware of the consequences for misusing the privilege of Internet access. Developing an acceptable use policy and then asking everyone to sign it helps to ensure that all parties understand these important issues.
What does an acceptable use policy look like? Acceptable use policies usually contain the following elements:
"HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE CHANGES TAKING PLACE ON THE INTERNET?"
The Internet and other networked technologies are continuously changing, regularly redefining what it means to become literate (Leu, in press). As a result, they require each of us to continuously develop new literacies and new instructional strategies to support our students. While networked technologies are responsible for these changing definitions of literacy, they also provide us with the means to keep up with the change that will be a part of all our lives.
Many teachers find the use of mailing lists or listservs essential for professional development. A mailing list, or listserv, is a discussion group run via e-mail. A message sent to the posting address of a mailing list is distributed to everyone who has subscribed to that list. This enables you to engage in conversations with colleagues around the world who share common interests. As you listen to conversations among colleagues, you will regularly discover new ideas for instruction that can be immediately used in your classroom. Joining the right mailing list(s) will provide you with many new instructional ideas as you discover how other teachers respond to common challenges.
How do you join a mailing list? Depending upon the software a mailing list uses, there are slightly different procedures. Listserv is the most common software used for mailing lists but other popular programs include Listproc and Majordomo. You will find directions for using the various types of software at these central sites for mailing lists:
Each of these central sites contains a list of mailing lists organized by topic. Each also contains a search engine to help you find the mailing list that matches your precise interests.
To subscribe to a mailing list using Listserv software you need to send a subscription message via e-mail to the administrative address of the mailing list. Table 2 indicates the administrative address for several popular mailing lists among literacy and content area educators. Type the administrative address in the To: box of your e-mail window. Leave the Subject box blank. Then, type a subscription message in the first line of the Message box. Your subscription message should contain only the following information:
Be certain to disable your signature, if you use one with your e-mail software; any other information in your subscription message will confuse the mailing list software.
As an example, consider how you would subscribe to RTEACHER, a mailing list for reading educators that discusses instructional practices related to traditional as well as the new literacies required on the Internet. First, type in the administrative address for this mailing list:
Then, type your subscription message. For example, I would subscribe by typing in this message:
In a few minutes, you will receive a Welcome message. Save this message! It gives you directions for how to post a message to the mailing list as well as directions for leaving the list.
To unsubscribeî, or leave a list, you send an unsubscribe message to the administrative address. The message should read:
To unsubscribe from the RTEACHER list, for example, I would again address my message to the administrative address for this mailing list: email@example.com
Then, I would send the message:
Many educators find mailing lists to be a useful way to keep up with the new literacies that will be an increasingly important part of our futures. They are a wonderful way to sustain your professional development, meet new colleagues, and make new friends. You may wish to join at least one of the mailing lists in Table 2 and explore its potential to support your needs.
Mailing Lists Useful to Literacy and Content Area Educators
|NAME||ADMINISTRATIVE ADDRESS||MESSAGE ADDRESS||PARTICIPANTS AND CONTENT|
|RTEACHERfirstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com||A mailing list for conversations about literacy education, including the use of the Internet for literacy and learning.|
|TAWLfirstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com||A discussion group on teaching from a whole language perspective.|
|NCTE-talk||For subscription directions,visit: http://www.ncte.org/chat||For posting directions,visit: http://www.ncte.org/chat/||At the NCTE web site you can subscribe to a number of different listservs/mailing lists devoted to English education, K-12.|
|MULTC-EDfirstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com||This mailing list offers a forum to discuss issues of diversity in schools.|
|SOCSTUD-Lfirstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com||This mailing list has general conversations about the teaching of social studies|
|H-NETfirstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com||A mailing list for high school teachers of the humanities.|
|IMSE-Lfirstname.lastname@example.org||imse-l@ uwf.cc.uwf.edu||A discussion group for math and science education.|
|T321-Lemail@example.com||t321-l@ mizzou1.missouri.edu||A discussion group on the teaching of science in elementary schools.|
|NMMATYCfirstname.lastname@example.org||nmmatyc-L@unm.edu||A wide ranging discussion group on the teaching of mathematics.|
As we begin to bring the new literacies to our students possible with Internet technologies, it is possible that teachers who have forged ahead and created wonderful curricular outposts will guide our way. In a world of rapidly changing technologies for teaching and learning it is likely that the most useful source of information about effective instructional practice with these technologies will shift from university researchers to classroom teachers. Teachers who lead the way will provide all of us with new windows to the world of our futures.
Traditionally, university research has served to evaluate the efficacy of different instructional practices. However, since it often takes as long as 4-5 years between the design of a study and the publication of results, this source of information will not be able to keep up with rapidly changing nature of Internet technologies, instructional resources, and ideas about effective practice. Teachers are able to generate powerful insights and share these insights with others far faster than traditional epistemological approaches. It is likely that teachers who create new ways of using new technologies and evaluate their efficacy in the classroom every day will become an increasingly important source of information about how best to prepare our students in content areas (Leu, Karchmer, & Leu, in press).
Increasingly, our work in content area classrooms will be informed by the work of colleagues around the world who design effective strategies for working with their students and share their work with us on their web pages. It is very possible that exemplary teachers such as Anne Keller at Starline Elementary School in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Donna Governor at Brown Barge Middle School in Pensacola, Florida, Susan Silverman at Clinton Avenue Elementary School in Port Jefferson Station, New York, Michael Hutchison at Lincoln High School in Vincennes, Indiana, Gary Cressman at Enumclaw Junior High School in Enumclaw, Washington, Peter Lelong at the Fahan School in Hobart, Tasmania , Maggie Hos-McGrane at the Insternational School of Amsterdam or many others have important lessons for all of us to learn. It will be teachers like these who open windows to the world for all of us as we discover more effective ways to use these new technologies in our content area classrooms, preparing our students for the world that awaits them.
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