Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WebQuest: A useful tool in any classroom

Good morning!

I wanted to share a tool that I have found useful in the frontloading of information and the building of background knowledge.

My students come to me with varied levels of what most people consider traditional background knowledge.  I have students new to the country, some who have been in and out of school their entire lives, and some that have limited exposure to books and news.  I often find that this is one of the biggest barriers when it comes to my students' ability to read and understand a text.  As we all know, making connections via background knowledge is an integral part of the reading process.  Couple this with a student body that struggles to finish a short story, let alone a book and you have a recipe for confusion and frustration.

So, last year I decided I was going to teach a book.  I am usually a fan of short stories (my next blog post!), but I decided I wanted to teach Night.  We are fortunate enough to have a Holocaust museum here in the city, and I knew I could take some kids there.  So naturally, this book seemed like a no-brainer and I began tackling the lesson plan.  While sitting, staring and wondering how I was going to get my kids into the idea of reading, I remembered a Shakespeare WebQuest I used in class a few years back.  BAM...this is what I was going to do.  I began looking online for a Holocaust WebQuest, but I couldn't seem to find one that I thought would serve my needs. What is an educator to do then? Get creative!
I made my own using Google Sites..

Now to the actual point of my post.  What this site allowed me to do was address the needs of multiple learners.  While thinking about what to include and how to engage students, I decided to just try and hit all learning styles.  I made sure to include visual and audio.  I then collaborated with a colleague on how to best assess their learning along the way.  She suggested open-ended questions that required them to think deeply about what they read/heard/viewed.  While this all seems like a lot of work (and it was), it is sooo worth it.
I took the students to the lab and gave them the link.  I then instructed them that they needed to read the instructions and speak with a peer before asking me "what do I do?".  For the most part they could figure it out and began their journey.  I walked around monitoring students and was surprised at what I heard.  Students were gasping and actually talking about what they were seeing or hearing.  Some students were crying, while others felt compelled to tell me how angry they were.  This lesson quickly became one of few that will stay with me forever as a game changer (hopefully I experience more as I grow).  It seems like such a simple tool, but my students (some who truly had no knowledge of this historical event) taught me how powerful a well designed WebQuest can be.

  • This is not a lesson for those who do not want students to be frustrated by the way.  I believe that there is a level of functional frustration necessary to learning.  If we are to create critical thinkers and problem solvers, then we must let them struggle to some degree.  Because many of my students had little experience with tech, they sat for a bit working through the frustration.  In the end they figured out how to navigate the lesson and get their work done.  I think this is important to remember when giving students something new and a bit challenging.  
Skills addressed by the lesson:
21st Century learning skills:
Digital Literacy
Skilled Communication
Problem Solving
Collaborate with Others
Other Skills Addressed:
Engage in Meaningful Discourse
Build background knowledge

When it came time to read the book I felt that the students were equipped with some of the tools needed to help them digest and process the text at a more critical level.  I believe the WebQuest also worked on a psychological level to help them feel more confident in attacking the book.  There is a sense of helplessness one feels when they know they don't know.  And contrary to what some believe, our students are usually more keenly aware of this than we are.  
We read the book and it was glorious:)

I think a wonderful extension or entirely new activity would be to have students create a WebQuest after reading a specific text.  I love the idea of letting them create and demonstrate their knowledge. Thinking this might be in my next unit.....

Here is a helpful sight if you want a clearer explanation of what a WebQuest is:

Do you have any great WebQuest tools or ideas?  If so, please share away.  Together we can foster a new generation of learners:)

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