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The Art of Researching

January 18, 2022 | Brent Harris

The 7th and 8th Graders embarked on a research unit after Christmas break. They are slowly figuring out how to navigate the muddy waters of the internet and are working their way towards a 1000+ word research essay on a topic of their choosing. Students can complete either a research based argumentative essay or a research based informative essay.

With the abundance of misinformation on the internet, it’s crucial that students learn to sift through the chaff to find their way to the gold. There is one skill that is entirely essential to this type of researching: Lateral Reading. Lateral reading is when one leaves a website to research that specific website. Instead of scrolling through the website post vertically, students are learning to hop off that site, open up a new tab, and research that site. They seek to find the answers to four questions in their background research:

 

  1. What person or organization sponsored or created the website?
  2. Who is the author? What is their perspective? Are they qualified?
  3. What’s the motivation behind the article?
  4. Based on all of this, is this a reliable source?

We have been following the Stanford History Education Group’s lessons for media literacy and are watching a lot (probably much more than students really want…) of John Green’s YouTube videos where he explains the importance of researching appropriately online and unpacks some of the skills necessary to do it well.

We have also learned that everything on the internet has been placed there by human beings, and human beings are fallible. All posts, articles, websites or Twitter Bots were placed there by a human being, either by them writing it or by them programming it, and humans mess up. Because of this, we should research with an appropriate level of skepticism. This doesn’t mean that everything on the internet is wrong, is just means that if something feels off, it probably is. Students should spend time digging to see if a source is worth their time or if they should dismiss it.

We have been practicing over the last few weeks, and shortly, students will begin their own research on a topic of their choosing. Be sure to check in with your child about how the process is going, and maybe even ask them to explain why the websites they choose to use in their research are reputable! Since the virtual landscape dominates the information world, students need to know how to decide what to believe and what to dismiss. Hopefully this unit will make them better citizens of the internet!

Brent Harris

Teacher, Grade 7; Language Arts, Seventh and Eighth Grades

Brent Harris has been teaching Middle School students since 2015. He loves teaching students how to understand the world through literature and writing. He teaches English Language Arts, but he likes to teach other things too! Both of Mr. Harris' parents are educators, and despite trying his hardest to avoid following in his parents’ footsteps, he graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in English Education and a Minor in Physical Education; as a result, Brent is a great argument piece for any “Nature versus Nurture” debate.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Harris enjoys playing guitar and drums, listening to music, spending time outside, playing sports, and hanging out with his kind and loving wife, Lauren. A native of Ontario, Canada, Mr. Harris stays true to all the Canadian stereotypes by being extremely kind and perpetually sorry. He has been a director and counselor at multiple children’s camps in Canada and Michigan, and he appreciates the idea of teaching students and campers in a place where there is freedom to entertain new ideas and try out new things. Mr. Harris has enjoyed coaching volleyball, soccer, and baseball, and while he loves nature, he is being slowly converted into a city boy.

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