Developmental Readiness

One of my takeaway moments from Mark Treadwell's day earlier this week is the point that we (teachers and the curriculum we are employed to deliver) often expect students to take on concepts and skills that they are not developmentally ready for. We are so focussed on doing more sooner that whether the kids are actually ready for it or not is a secondary question.

Here's an example. Treadwell proposes that in the Year 5 -7 year levels (10 - 13 year olds) that effectively searching the web in the name of "research" is a skill that the majority of these students are not developmentally ready for. Instead, he proposes that smaller groups of pre-picked websites are a more manageable way for students to develop their critical literacy skills. Considering that the vast majority of teachers that I know struggle to use Google in any more than a superficial manner, I'm beginning to warm to this perspective. It would certainly explain why some of the projects that I've overseen with students are just mere collections of assembled digital slabs - as Mark pointed out, it makes cut'n'paste the easiest way to achieve results.

I was all for students following their own choices thinking that the web provides for the variety of source material to provide a quality overview of their chosen topic. But the reality is that many students rarely use more than a handful of sites, usually whatever is on top of their initial Google search and the result is regurgitation, not understanding. Plus 30 kids working on their individual themes means no-one else to discuss things with, no-one else to push and challenge understanding or to even ensure that the information passes muster. Just because the talented kids can construct something useful and informative does not mean it is an effective way to equip kids with effective web skills.

But what I'm interested in is your point of view. Is Google a tool to be embraced with students of all ages or do we take a more scaffolded approach to helping their develop their search and evaluation skills? I'm really torn between my instincts that want to empower kids as soon as possible and the other possibility proposed by Mark's overall picture of the "21st Century Learner" that also reminds us that we don't just keep shovelling in extra stuff for the students to take on board without working out how to make it manageable or to jettison some practices that just aren't needed any more. Please, help me to make sense of this. Where do you sit in this picture or am I missing something that is obvious?


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10 thoughts on “Developmental Readiness

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  2. Paul Wilkinson

    This might be a part way compromise solution
    This is a google based kid safe search tool.

    I teach year 7/8 pupils in NZ and I agree with Mark Treadwell on this one. Critical literacy skills are the key to using the internet for research with this age. We must be teaching them to identify main points, summarise key ideas, sift and sort etc etc.
    I have been teaching my class how to use thinking maps
    to help them organise their thinking and make stuff manageable.
    There is always a middle ground. I scaffold for some things by providing sites bookmarked on our intranet page. For other things they are free to graze. Teaching them how to use Google effectively is a good starting point.
    I clearly remember a point perhaps 10 or 12 years ago when one of my pupils handed me an assignment. I gave it straight back and said to him, “Microsoft can have an ‘A’ for this work but you need to resubmit”. He had handed me an 8 page printout from Encarta thinking I would be thrilled with all the work he had put in.

  3. patriciacone

    You make a valid point.

    I remember a way long time ago when the web was new, and two “experts” were talking to us the teachers about doing research. Their comment was that we need to teach students how to read to find information; in fact one could use pages from an out-of-date encyclopedia to begin to teach the basic skills.

    I find that my students of this age group don’t know how to effectively read anything let alone start searching the internet using Google. When they do come to a possibly useful site, it is my experience that if they can’t find what they are looking for at the top of the page, in the heading or the first sentence, they will cease looking. As well, most of the sites on the internet need reading skills well above those of my students in order to be deciphered. Most treat web pages like a game and if it doesn’t entertain them they will let themselves be distracted by the advertising.

    There has been a lot of good research done on reading for information. It also applies to using the internet.

  4. russel

    Hi Graham

    As you know, I teach maths to this age group in a middle-senior school (read “high school”) setting. So, kids doing open research is not part of my normal practice. [perhaps greater access to computers would change that[?]].

    However, developmental readiness is a huge issue for me. By the time kids get to Year 7 there is a 5 year spread in developmental readiness.

    To polarize the issue for simplicity:
    1. There are those who want to shovel it into the kids regardless because they have to be ready for – [fill in the blank according to the need of your argument]. I am definitely not in this camp as you can tell from my tone.
    2. There are those who see only the student and her need, regardless of where she is in the system. Each student must be given the opportunity to develop at her own pace.

    I began my career at 2. But I have come to see this position as naive. It is a recipe for rapid burnout.

    So, 18 years into a teaching life, I try to provide enough structure for the late developers and enough freedom for early developers within a frame that won’t kill me.

    Graham, I think I am saying that while I agree with Treadwell, there are the everyday practicalities of teaching that restrict what we can do. You have to compromise.

    Paul’s compromises seem practicable.
    1. A kid friendly search engine puts some fences around them.
    2. Thinking maps etc will help them to sort out their thinking and generate key focus questions.

    A couple of other thoughts.

    Teaching them good search strategies might be something that you could do without too much effort.

    But, I reckon, having a handpicked set of sites for everything task you set them would be a lot of work… perhaps too much.

  5. Graham Wegner

    This is what I love about being connected to a network of educators – a chance to re-filter my ideas through new perspectives. It is why just taking anything as gospel regardless of how well regarded the expert is a risky thing. There is that grey area where the boundary of their expertise ends and overlaps with my (and others in a position similar to me) daily experience in the actual classroom.

    @Paul Your link is very similar to one that I found when searching for an image for this post. I also appreciate the point towards the ThinkingMaps site – but you are right, middle ground is a good place to be, the place that allows some freedom without giving up on structure. After all, we do have to assess where our students’ skills are at so that they don’t think that rehashing others’ content is the way to go.

    @patriciacone It’s definitely not just the kids who struggle to make sense of the results of a Google search. I’ve worked with many teachers who can’t tell the sponsored links from the search results, who could not tell you what the cached version is or even an awareness that advanced search capabilities are available. I also have seen more than my fair share of kids citing “Google” as their reference for their research. Their understanding seems to be that Google is one big website with all of the answers – and sadly, many educators do too.

    @Russel I appreciate what you are saying about making a rod for one’s back with regards to handpicked sites. What concerns me is the number of my colleagues who would not effectively know how to compile even one of these hotlists. We seem to have outsourced much of this professional critical thinking out to edna, Links Plus and even Wikipedia. Again though, like Paul, your suggestion about middle ground is probably where I personally need to go. In my role as coordinator however, I have to think about how to empower my colleagues and ensure that they have the skills to find that middle ground.

  6. Charlie A. Roy

    @ Graham
    A great post and much food for thought. I work in the states in a high school (secondary setting) with 14-18 year olds. I believe this age group is certainly ready for full searching and learning how to decipher results. At the lower levels using the scaffold approach could be very helpful and more meaningful for the students involved.

    The question of “Why?” are we assigning a certain task becomes very important. Is the point to teach students how to search? or to put them in contact with great web-based sources? If it is the latter then why have younger students spend time trying to navigate search engines.

    Many of the above comments hit the nail on the head with references to teachers who can’t sort sponsored advertisement based links from authentic results. One question we struggle with in our school is how do we do quality training for our teachers in the area of technology?

  7. Graham Wegner

    @Charlie Your comment has triggered an idea that maybe I can incorporate in my role as the ICT leader within my school. We are trying to develop a culture of teachers developing their own delicious accounts and joining together to create a sharing network. I should and can embed effective search methodologies within my sessions on social bookmarking, hopefully opening my colleagues’ eyes to the capabilities and nuances of search engines in general whilst harnessing the power of social media as well.

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  9. Pam Thompson

    I agree with Paul. There are some instances where I scaffold the research and provide students (via our class delicious account) with a range of websites that I’ve already checked out, and other times when I encourage them to search for themselves. I run some critical literacy lessons to look at some criteria for choosing web sites to use and also encourage them to use search engines other than Google.For example:

    Used to use too but it doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.

  10. Kigose

    Hi Graham,

    Our site is multi kids search engines where students can search many things such as the web, images, videos, songs and many more – as suggested by teachers and other users. We hope you can write something about us as well.

    Kids Search Engines


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