Gilligan’s Island castaways / Black Gate / public domain
Invariably, during a research “unit,” you’ll have that student who has taken a ride on the S.S. Minnow. All of the other students did their searching on Days 1 and 2 as you had planned in the research unit overview. But then there’s Gilligan. This is the student who at the end of Day 7, still hasn’t found anything on his topic. This surprises you because you and the librarian have handed him no less than 15 books, set him up with 75-80 websites, and showed him where the “Culture-grams” are kept. Doesn’t matter. Gilligan has now been stranded for a solid week on the school library’s apparently informationally-barren sands instead of having completed that three-hour tour you intended him to take around the stacks.
RSS to the Rescue
In our district, the curricular focus for grade 7 English/language arts (ELA) is research. And in fairness to Gilligan, research on a topic of your own choice IS difficult with too few hard-copy resources, as in a school library, and too many resources on the Internet. It is easy to lose direction and become stranded.
That is why next year I would like to implement using either Netvibes or Pageflakes (which appears to now be Pageflakes/CrunchBase). Either of these would allow me to have a class dashboard for RSS feeds about whatever topics my students and I were researching or studying together. During a research unit, the students could also create and tend their own dashboard based on the topic that they were investigating. The students could also include a feed on their blogs if we used WordPress or another blog service that has a connected reader. Additionally, I would be able to monitor and to prompt a student who is feeling overwhelmed on how to choose and stick with sources that are provided for them if I were connected to each student’s individual feed. Another benefit of using this service is that, generally, articles that are generated by an RSS feeder are shorter in length and easier to digest by students who are reluctant or overwhelmed readers.
Along with the information gleaned by the research that the students do, they will also learn 21st Century technology skills of creating and maintaining a “reader” or a dashboard with a reader. They will practice ELA/21st Century skills vital for information gathering in our world today:
- Skimming to choose text
- Review of website/blog/etc. information to determine validity of information
- Review of website/blog/etc. information to determine bias of information
- Determining research focus and questions that help to limit the number of texts to read
- Deep reading of important texts
- Note taking/annotation/annotation online
- Networking/Sharing with peers
- Discussing about texts before even using them for research