Filtering Focus (part one)
Posted by lpearle on 17 June 2008
Last week I attended a Reunion at MFPOW. It was fun, and a bit weird, seeing students from different “generations” all mingling. One of the students, Class of ’99, had done a project I used as an example for why not to filter in an article I wrote several years ago.
A few years ago, a student of mixed ethnicity came to me. He was a senior, doing research for his Current Politics and Culture class on the Columbine shooting. He wanted to know what the shooters at Columbine had found when they were looking at hate sites and how such sites could have contributed to their brutal actions. Given the nature of the subject, my student was concerned about searching at home (he’d heard about cookies) and at the local public library (he didn’t want to offend other patrons). I reassured him that using the school’s library computers for this purpose was exactly right – that no one would think he was doing this for any reason other than this paper. Sometimes, after he searched for a couple hours and took notes, we would talk about what he had seen and examined this information in light of his original question.
I still feel that way – filtering is never a good idea. Teachable moments come when you can allow students the freedom to make mistakes.
In thinking about setting up for next year, I’ve been working with teacher redesigning some of our History curriculum. One of the goals for the ninth grade course is to create additional opportunities for the students to work in the library using print and electronic resources (ultimately, we’d love for them to get to a level at which we could submit work to The Concord Review). Part of this will involve teaching students which resources to use, and when, as well as how to efficiently search for and evaluate them.
Toward the end of this year, a class did an assignment based on The Jungle. The teacher suggested – strongly – that students use Lexis/Nexis as their “go to” resource. Many students grumbled because they preferred Google and Wikipedia. In essence, the teacher was filtering their choices.
Aha! A contradiction, right? I’m pro-filtering when it suits me, right? Wrong!
While I do want my students to use the many databases we provide and to realize that often a monograph will give them much more information than any cursory websearch will, I also want that teachable moment. So the question is, how do I provide this?
For me, the ideal template is Lenger’s article “If A Tree Doesn’t Fall on the Internet, Does it Really Exist?” Let’s give our students an assignment, one that we know can easily be completed by using print or database resources, and strongly suggest that they use them. Rather than hovering and requiring, we should then allow them the space to go to Google, Wikipedia or whatever other resource they want and then allow them to fail. Yes, you read that right: allow them to fail.
Then, after the shock has worn off, perhaps they’ll be open to the idea of listening to us “experts” and really learn how to do quality research.