Since computers entered libraries (and classrooms), students have been reading on screens. The difference today during the pandemic is that many students are reading exclusively online. This means that during this academic school year, more K-12 students than ever before will be engaging with digital texts.
An 11/11/20 Knowledge Quest blog post by Elizabeth Pelayo, librarian at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles, Illinois, brought this situation into sharp relief for me: “Print Nonfiction vs Databases.”
Elizabeth’s post reminded me of the challenges of allocating funds for library collections during tight budget times (and a pandemic). Her post also brought back a comment a high school junior made to me in 2010 when attempting to use a database during an inquiry project related to Harlem Renaissance literature and the arts: “Dr. M., can’t I just use a book?”
I agree with Elizabeth’s conclusion that students need both paper print and digital information sources. Her conclusion also aligns with Kathy Lester’s perspective in her 10/26/20 KQ post “Access to Print Books? Yes!”
Comprehension Using Digital Texts
I think it is critical that all school librarians and educators, including administrators, read the research referenced in Jill Barshay’s The Hechinger Report article “Evidence Increases for Reading on Paper Instead of Screens” (2019). This is essential information if we are not only focused on providing access to paper print and digital resources but also committed to ensuring readers comprehend what they read.
This research finding should give us direction: “The excessive confidence of screen readers (with regard to their comprehension) is important, (researcher Virginia) Clinton said, because people who overestimate their abilities are likely to put in less effort. The less effort a person puts into a reading passage, the less they are likely to comprehend. That’s because reading comprehension, like all learning, isn’t easy and requires work” (Barshay 2019). (Emphasis added.)
As noted in Barshay’s article, the genre of the text figures into the mix. When Clinton’s research separated out studies in which students had read narrative fiction, there was no benefit to paper over screens, “but for nonfiction information texts, the advantage for paper stands out” (Barshay 2019).
Physical/digital access without intellectual access does not support traditional or any other literacy.
Connections to Inquiry Learning
Today, when students are engaged in remote and hybrid inquiry learning, they will be even more inclined to use digital texts accessed exclusively from the web in their information search process. Sorting fact from fiction, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies during free-range web searches requires the “work” that Clinton’s research supports.
SIFT + Comprehension Strategies = Critical Thinking
In a recent School Library Journal blog post “Enough with the CRAAP: We’re Just Not Doing It Right,” Joyce Valenza makes a research-based case for reassessing and changing the way we teach validating online information. I have never used the CRAAP test in my teaching. I have not found this apparently linear list useful to students. (Not to mention that I find the acronym off-putting.) On the other hand, I have used graphic organizers that I hope have led students to dig deeper when they are analyzing a source of information.
In her post, Joyce cites “Educating for Misunderstanding: How Approaches to Teaching Digital Literacy Make Students Susceptible to Scammers, Rogues, Bad Actors, and Hate Mongers,” research from the Stanford History Education Group. Joyce’s post and SHEG’s research finding should be a wake-up call for school librarians. It’s time to rethink how we teach digital literacy. (I encourage you read both Joyce’s post and the SHEG study.)
Joyce also cites Mike Caulfield’s “SIFT (The Four Moves).” For me, the SIFT process is aligned with and reinforces reading comprehension strategies that (upper grade) students should know and be able to apply. Parenthetical are mine.
Ask yourself if you know this website and the reputations of its authors. (“Stop” is precisely what readers are advised to do in order to self-assess their comprehension. Questioning and monitoring comprehension are reading comprehension strategies.)
Review Your Purpose
How will you use this information? (Reconnecting with the purpose for reading is a “fix-up option” reading comprehension strategy.)
Here Caulfield makes a distinction between next steps for a shallow or deeper investigation. Since this discussion focuses on students who are engaged in inquiry learning, school librarians and coteachers would guide them on to:
Investigating the source (building background knowledge)
Finding trusted coverage (determining main ideas and questioning the text until trusted information is found)
Tracing claims, quotes, and media back to the original context (verifying background knowledge) (Caulfield 2019).
And for me, at this point, educators stress the importance of deeply examining the author’s purpose, bias, and perspective, which is when students will make inferences combining their background knowledge with the evidence in the text (yet another reading comprehension strategy).
Digital Reading Comprehension
At this time as new practices are developing in instruction, it is essential that we have focused conversations with education decision-makers about how student read for meaning (reading comprehension), engage in inquiry, and determine the reliability of digital information.
AASL’s own “The School Librarian’s Role in Reading Position Statement” is also a rich resource for engaging in this conversation with decision-makers.
The skills we have traditionally considered “information literacy” must not be separated from reading comprehension strategies, inquiry, and critical thinking. All of these tools—working in various combinations—help students analyze and make sense of texts. This is essential work for today’s students. Educators must teach these skills and motivate students to practice them—consistently—most especially in the free-range web learning environment.
In an SLJ article, Irene C. Fountas, professor in the School of Education at Lesley University in Cambridge and Gay Su Pinnell, professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University, were quoted: “Having a library is a treasure, and having a librarian is a gift. And when reading teachers, classroom teachers, specialists, and school librarians come together as a team, their collective knowledge about texts can help every child love to read independently, love to read in their classroom, and love to read at home” (Parrott 2017). (Emphasis added.)
Working together as a team, educators can also ensure that students deeply analyze and comprehend the “informational texts” they read in paper print and on their screens. School librarians can be leaders who make (digital) literacy teaching teams effective for the benefit of students.
Barshay, Jill. 2019. “Evidence Increases for Reading on Paper Instead of Screens.” The Hechinger Report, https://hechingerreport.org/evidence-increases-for-reading-on-paper-instead-of-screens/
Caulfield, Mike. 2019. “SIFT (The Four Moves).” https://hapgood.us/2019/06/19/sift-the-four-moves/
Parrott, Kiera. 2017. “Fountas and Pinnell Say Librarians Should Guide Readers by Interest, Not Level,” School Library Journal, https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=fountas-pinnell-say-librarians-guide-readers-interest-not-level
Valenza, Joyce, 2020. “Enough with the CRAAP; We’re Just Not Doing It Right.” School Library Journal, http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2020/11/01/enough-with-the-craap-were-just-not-doing-it-right/
kalhh. “Learn Media Internet.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/learn-media-internet-medium-977543/