Evaluating Online Information…The 5 W’s

As I have previously posted, explicit instruction is essential for supporting our students’ online non-fiction reading skills. Traditional reading strategies are simply not sufficient when navigating the internet. One of the important skills students need is the ability to evaluate and critique the information they locate. I appreciate Will Richardson’s perspective in his article, Creating Student Editors, that we must see our student readers as editors. As he states,

It’s no longer sufficient to be able to simply make sense of the words, sounds and images we ‘read’. We have to get behind those words and images. We have to do the work of the editors whom we have relied on for most of our lives but who in many cases have been eliminated from the publishing process on the Read/Write web.

What skills do our editors require? Amongst others, they need to be able to question content, identify authors and publishers, locate supporting information and utilize online text features.

When thinking about what this would look like in my own classroom I wanted a reference or tool that students would ultimately be able to internalize as part of their reading repertoire. I put together a set of questions based on the 5 W’s that I can post in the class and simplify to create individual bookmarks. These can be kept with the iPads, at the computer stations and with students.


I plan on introducing these 5 W’s through modeling with think-alouds. While some of the W’s will be easily answered, a number of them will require their own lessons and extended practice – namely determining audience, identifying, defining & utilizing online text features, and recognizing bias.

As the students start to take ownership they can work in partners or small groups:

  • groups can be assigned a W and become close readers or experts in that area for an assigned site
  • partners/groups can choose a site and answer the 5 W’s
  • partners/groups can present a site they evaluated to the class by annotating a screen shot with an app such as Skitch, creating a video screen capture, or…the list goes on.

The end goal is for students to routinely ask themselves these questions as they conduct their own research.

And, as we work through this as a class I anticipate some changes and adaptations to the 5 W questions as I’m sure  students will come up with essential questions I haven’t even considered!



Richardson, W., (2008). Creating student editors. District Administration. December, p. 80.












We are Writers. We are Collaborators.

“New digital tools, internet technology, it’s the next leap, maybe a quantum leap, maybe an evolutionary leap, in the technology that we’ve created to communicate and to work together.”
Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
How has the act of writing changed? What skills should we developing with our students? What are we now asking of them as composers, communicators and creators of information?
What we do know is that they are no longer passive recipients of information, nor are they isolated writers. Our students can see themselves as writers and co-constructors of information in platforms that move far beyond pencil and paper within the four walls of a classroom. 

In this video, Elyse Eidman-AAdahl of the NWP invites us to consider the changing opportunities our students have as communicators and reminds teachers that the power of clear, purposeful writing is more important now than ever. 

IMovie Trailers

In my class this week we began exploring literary elements. I introduced my students to the elements of character, setting, conflict, and theme. We have also been working on the skill of summarizing. We are working towards a class learning goal of being able to have thoughtful and critical discussion about our reading. These “discussions” come in many formats – book talks, informal conversations, letter essays, and this year they will include digital book trailers.

In order to understand the process my students will have to go through and to prepare a “how to” lesson for them I decided to create one myself first.
I used the IMovie app on my IPad and chose to start with a manageable task by using a picture book. I went right to one of my perennial class favourites – Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller.
I was using the trailer project option in IMovie. It provides a great selection of pre-set trailer projects which users can input their own pictures, videos, and wording. The program offers a variety of themes such as family, retro, scary, and adventure. Within each theme the user has about 8 frames (with a varying number of images/videos) to create their trailer in.
I first began by mapping out the story (on paper) focusing on the elements of character and conflict. I then chose images from the book which would support the 8 lines I wrote to convey my message and took pictures of them. An alternative to using pictures from the book would be to search creative commons for images from the internet which would support the text, or to create video which could be inserted.
From there it was a simple process of inputting the text and images.
In the end I had a 1 minute trailer which succinctly shares the gist of the story and invites viewers to read the book.
I can now use the trailer to introduce the project to my students, critique the product, and develop criteria with them.

Two Voices

The following is a two voice poem with the voices of my students on the left and my voice on the right. Our voices combine to share our thoughts on how we see ourselves as writers.
(sorry mobile users – the formatting gets messy. check it out on your pc)
We need to Write?                                                                                            
I feel irritated
I find writing really hard
What’s that?
It’s really hard
I can relate – writing scares me
I don’t like being forced
Writing for an audience is scarier than
writing for myself
When I’m in the mood I write for myself
I love writing in my journal
It’s something I’m excited about
I have most of my life down on paper
I don’t see myself as a REAL author
Does writing emails make me a writer?
One day I could be an author
An author of emails?
Writing is annoying and boring and I don’t
like it.

It’s Moody                                                                                                                          

I like to write when I’m upset or bored
It helps me clear my head
It seems to help me up when I am down
I write more when I’m sad or angry
I just love to write – but only when I’m happy
Seldom when I’m feeling good
I can express my feelings
It pulls it all together.

                                                                                                                Time to start

I hop on my computer
and start typing out ideas
It takes forever to get going
My stories aren’t planned – I just write
My ideas are maps
Staying on topic is hard
Walk away, come back, walk away
I take short walks or look out my window
Come back again
My imagination is huge.
There’s Purpose                                                                                                
To be a writer is to think about
the things you like
Thinking about learning
At school but not at home
I write to learn
I can create a different world
It’s for an audience
Poetry for friends and family
Better for me than others
Writing music to help escape the real world
A journey to build confidence
It’s a supply and demand kind of thing.


Goldie Eyes

It started with an inspiration. The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald  After reading this book I knew I wanted to do a similar activity with my class…two years later I finally had my chance. I set out to model the writing process with my students.

link to amazon.ca

I started here as a pre-write

I needed to think of who I was writing for, why I was writing and what were some of the big ideas I would use to discuss my eyes.

Pre-write continued…

I thought of some specific examples to fit with each of my big ideas. I explained that I wasn’t going into detail here, but I would be in my draft. This was to act as a reminder or an inspiration board to help me later.

It was time to piece it together in the writing phase
More challenging than expected (it’s not easy doing this in front of a crowd!), I pulled the ideas together making sure to share how I was organizing my thoughts.
Almost there – edit and revise
I read and re-read the poem aloud. I omitted phrases, added words, and reorganized sentences to help the flow or change the impact.  I left out a few words because they just wouldn’t come to me. I trusted that they eventually would.
Publish time…
my eyes are the best part of me
from peeking open in the morning 
drooping closed at night
they bring me gifts
my children’s SMILES
their tussled hair
sullen pouts
first soccer goals
dimpled cheeks and dirty knees
Without them I would never see
the fiery glow of the morning light on my favourite oak tree
the delight of a student’s “A- HA!” moment
the soothing words of my novel as it eases me to sleep
they are
flecked with gold and shades of green
odd and mismatched
almond shaped with eyelashes that pop when coated black
a memory of my father
the best part of me


It’s funny how simple questions can sometimes lead to very complex answers.

When asked just over three weeks ago, what is curriculum? it seemed at first (to me) a simple question with a simple answer. Was I ever wrong.

I have been challenged on so many levels to come up with an answer to this question. And, I have struggled to piece together all the new ideas I was learning about with the beliefs and understanding I had in the beginning. When trying to make sense of it all, I realised that I was really thinking about two separate spheres. Two spheres that of course come together at some point…neither exist without the other.

There’s the system and there’s me.

The Paradox of Systemic Change

We keep hearing, and I think we realise, that we’re on the edge of change. We hear the language, 21st century learners, digital literacy, personalized learning…, but there isn’t a lot of clarity about what it all looks like, what does it mean, how will it work?  We can turn to our emerging provincial documents for some direction. Or can we?

The BC Ed Plan describes the challenges we face in a quickly changing world and offers a new plan to meet these demands. When reading through the document you find dialogue which reflects the language and theories that currently support the new vision of our 21st century learners. Ironically, much of the language and proposals for change are not new at all. We’ve actually seen it all before.

The underlying premise of this proposed change is to create a society which is competitive within the international market; reminiscent of the pressures faced in the early 50’s. The answer in both cases was to change the educational system. In the words shared in the BC Ed Plan,  “…to keep our young people achieving and thriving in a dynamic, rapidly evolving world” (BC Ed Plan, p.3).

As you read on, the document describes the approaches we must take to support our students.  You read about individualised plans, students being at the centre of their learning, and need for flexibility. John Dewey would be proud. In fact, if you read any current trade book on project based learning and inquiry his name is quick to come up.

While the foundation of the proposed changes are sound and relevant I can’t help but feel the plan works on assumption. Assumption that it can actually happen within the systems that we are currently so entrenched in.

We need to train new teachers, but we are training teachers within a system that is just as outdated as the one they propose to change.

It assumes that thousands of teacher will be willing or accepting of a major paradigm shift:  evoking the challenges of intensification as described by Michael Apple (172).

Furthermore, there is also the assumption that this shift in curriculum will take place without any concrete commitment to resourcing. Who will be responsible for outfitting schools with the necessary technology, for the significant training teachers will need, or for overhauling the provincial reporting systems? On a local level, I have seen numerous examples where proposed changes have not been sustained due to the lack of resourcing – little or no time, money or materials put in place. The government seems to be taking on the ideals of Bobbit – maximize output at minimal cost (Curriculum Studies Reader, p.5).

I don’t disagree that there is a need for change. But, I am cynical.  History repeats itself – as we have all learned in this class.

Where do I fit?

I feel like I have been a curriculum theory bandwagon jumper over the past few weeks. I

connected with the traditionalist. I believed in Eisner. I found myself in the thoughts and ideas of the reconceptualists.

And, that is okay because when I look back at my metaphor I can see them all in there.

I don’t think my metaphor has changed very much even though my thinking and understanding has. One of the biggest changes on the map is me. I think I need to redefine myself…less concrete, more asphalt. I’m far more flexible in my thinking. When asked in class what my enduring understanding is, I stated that I need to release myself. I have released myself from my original thinking that curriculum is document. I have released myself to understand that what I do in my class is not necessarily a means to teach to a curriculum, but it is my curriculum. And, it’s a curriculum that I’m very proud of. While it may be stuck in an obsolete system, it already embraces the ideals of 21st century learners… not because it’s the 21st century, but because I continually ask myself why. And, my why is my students.