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Online Reading Comprehension

by Joan Sedita | 1 | 0 Comments

I recently came across several resources related to online reading written by Julie Coiro, (link here) an Associate Professor at the University of Rhode Island. I’ve long been a proponent of explicit instruction of reading comprehension strategies, but Julie’s work got me thinking about how teaching comprehension skills for traditional print text might be beneficial for reading online, and if online reading might require additional or different instructional practices. Here’s what I learned from Julie’s work.

Using Think-Aloud to Teach

Using think-aloud to teach comprehension strategies is a hallmark of all my Keys to Literacy professional development programs, so I was pleased to read Julie’s article.

“Talking About Reading as Thinking: Modeling the Hidden Complexities of Online Reading Comprehension”.  Julie combines effective think-aloud strategy instruction for non-digital text with emerging models of strategies adolescents use to solve online information tasks. She then presents an online reading plan that can be taught to students using think-aloud. The article includes two helpful, detailed think-aloud examples. Julie suggests that teachers use think-aloud to teach students this online reading plan:

  1. Approaching online reading tasks: How to use a problem-solving approach to determine the purpose of the reading task, anticipate the challenges, and make a plan of attack before reading.
  1. Navigating and negotiating online texts: How to navigate search engines and different types of site structures, multiple modes of information, and a diverse range of perspectives.
  1. Monitoring comprehension of and pathways through online texts: How to stop at several points in the online inquiry process to revisit purpose and monitor understanding of the content.
  1. Responding to online texts: How to actively engage the text by doing things such as summing up key ideas, asking questions, and making connections.

Critical Evaluation of Internet Sources

The current emphasis on teaching students to combine reading comprehension and writing skills to write from sources, along with the rapidly growing use of Internet sites as information sources, presents challenges for many adolescent students .  Common Core writing anchor standard #8 requires students to “gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism”.

In a recent blog post, (link here) Julie shared the results of a study that assessed 770 seventh graders’ ability to read and critically evaluate online information. Sadly, over 70% of their responses suggested that these students are more concerned with content relevance than with credibility, they rarely attend to source features that would enable them to determine credibility (e.g., author, publication type), and their judgments of sources are vague and superficial. Julie notes that other studies highlight similar shortcomings of high school and college students, and she suggests that this problem won’t go away without intervention during regular content area instruction.

Julie then provides suggestions for how teachers can more explicitly teach students to evaluate the quality of online information. The first suggestion is to teach students that there are four dimensions of critical evaluation: relevance, accuracy, bias/perspective, reliability (see the chart below).

For online reading blog post

Figure 1. Understanding dimensions of critical evaluation. Credit: Julie Coiro

Julie also suggests that teachers provide modeling and practice of evaluation skills, provide prompts to guide students, and teach students to have a healthy skepticism toward information they encounter in both online and offline contexts. She concludes by offering a list of questions students should ask themselves, such as: What is the purpose of this site? Who created the information at this side and what is this person’s level of expertise? Why did this person or group put this information on the Internet?

I’ll end with links to two related podcasts of Julie:

  • Podcast: (link here)  “How offline reading, online reading, and prior knowledge can help predict students’ abilities to understand what they read online.”
  • Podcast: (link here) “Online Reading Comprehension with Dr. Julie Coiro”

Joan Sedita

Joan Sedita is the founding partner of Keys to Literacy and author of the Keys to Literacy routines. She is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 35 years in the literacy education field and has presented to thousands of teachers and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional conferences.

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