Digital literacy is more than knowing about how and when to use the tools. It is the ability to process information by locating, understanding, analyzing, evaluating, creating, and sharing it using digital technology. In the past, we used to do it with printed materials, but now technology provides access to a much wider range of learning resources available at all times and allows us to communicate information in a variety of media beyond word and text; so, looking up information in the library in traditional ways is obviously not enough. To be literate today requires navigating a connected world offering us endless information with which we can interact in many different ways.

Our students are familiar with technology but they use it for social purposes. They know how to copy and paste but they don’t know how to process information with the help of technology. They should master the critical skills below to conduct research effectively and come up with creative projects instead of copy-pasted ones:

• Identify how information can support their learning
• Locate and access information from a variety of sources both print and digital
• Compare, evaluate and select information
• Organize and manage information
• Apply information to specific problems/ issues
• Analyze and synthesize information
• Communicate information in a variety of media

If we deprive our students of all these skills, they will graduate without being ready for the challenges of the work and social life that is awaiting them. Therefore, it should be the prime duty of each teacher and school to teach information literacy to their students.

To integrate information literacy into your curriculum, you can start by checking the resources on Cybraryman’s Research Page and by visiting Kathy Beck’s website. Power up offers a great guide you can use while planning your lessons. This blog post will take you to a link  where you can find resources for your elementary students. Do your students look up information for projects and end up with websites way beyond their reading level? This tutorial will show you how you can change the reading level of your Google results and this post offers you tips on teaching the research paper to your students.

Many schools have policies against plagiarism and there are consequences for students if they plagiarize, but in many cases students do so because they don’t know how to deal with that information. They should know how to paraphrase , how to locate and cite sources, how to use the information to explain, persuade, and create. There are also great tools that help us conduct research and our students should be familiar with them and this link will take you to a post on creating collaborative research projects with Google Apps.

Information literacy is not only about finding information but also about evaluating what you find.  Students should learn this critical skill to determine whether the information they have found is relevant and reliable. You can check the resources on evaluating websites and the quality of content in this list before you start creating your own resources.

While teaching effective researching skills to our students, we should also teach them the inquiry process.

the-inquiry-processIMAGE SOURCE: Inquiring Mind Website

The first step in teaching the inquiry process is the art of asking good questions if we want our students to come up with creative solutions to the problems using their critical thinking skills. Questioning is a skill that has often been neglected because we tend to focus on the correct answers rather than questions in educational systems based on standardized testing. However, thinking is driven by questions. Here is a video from an expert explaining why we should focus more on questions than the answers:

Here is another video that you can share with your students on the importance of questioning:

The next step is to teach them about essential (thick, rich, fat) questions.

Another important step is to help them refine their questions to come up with questions that cannot be easily googled by hitting a search button. There are a number of frameworks used for guiding students’ questions. My favorite is created by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and here you can find an update for it.

The next step is the information processing. There are a number of models you can use like the Big 6 (and Super 3 for young learners). Here you can find a long list of tools students can choose from and use at each step of the inquiry cycle and here is another great list with both tools and resources curated at ISTE 2015. You can also use Google tools for your project.  This website has great resources that you can use during the entire process.

When their research is finished, students share what they learn via a presentation tool of their own choice. After they have presented their project, have them write a blog post to reflect on their learning and share evidence of their understanding. This also gives them an opportunity to assess their progress and think about how what they have learned may apply elsewhere beyond the project.

In her blog post, Projects with Rigor Jane Kraus lists the important aspects of critical thinking to make better projects. After reading her list, you can also check the project ideas here and some project samples in ISTE Resource Library.  Once your students master the questioning skills and the inquiry cycle, you can go a step further by not giving your students problems to solve. Instead, help them find real-world problems for projects. You can watch Ewan McIntosh’s TEDx talk for more information on this.

Inquiry, project and problem-based learning help students enhance collaboration, problem-solving, critical and creative thinking skills if they are used correctly. By using these pedagogies, teachers can connect their curriculum to the real world and make learning meaningful. Many students prefer this kind of learning in class to being lectured as they have a real need to know something so that they can use this knowledge to solve a problem or answer a question and they learn by actually doing it. Using these approaches will bring learning to life but only students with strong information literacy skills and schools that are able to build strong learning communities can do that effectively.

What tools and models are you using for your learners to internalize information literacy and inquiry learning? Please share your experience.



After my previous post, some colleagues asked me what I think the best web tools are and which ones we are using at my school. I am going to answer this question in a future post when I write about tools and websites for English teachers. On the other hand, I think there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Schools or individual teachers should choose them by considering their learning objectives and expectations for the school year and manipulate them to serve their needs. In other words, learning should drive the technology rather than technology driving learning. Therefore, the choice of these tools may change from one school to the other depending on the learning objectives and expectations. Indeed, it isn’t really about the tools, it is about how you use them to enhance learning and  to combine the incredible powers of the human brain with the creative potential of the new technology.

The chart by Teachbytes below shows the difference between using technology just for the sake of using equipment and web tools and integrating it to serve specific purposes to transform and enhance learning.

We all know that our students are motivated if they are given the opportunity to choose and if their curiosity is triggered. Big questions that are interesting and difficult to answer, encourage students to offer theories instead of giving answers.  Moreover, they learn much better if they interact socially. If they are allowed to discover and experiment in flexible and creative environments where they are not afraid of making mistakes, they can construct their own understanding of new concepts by relating them to what they already know with the guidance and encouragement of their teachers. Otherwise, it is against the human nature to expect them to sit at their desks all day long, trying to learn what we have planned to teach them. Research has proved that if curiosity is not triggered, the human brain can’t retain or internalize information.

All this information matches with the 21st Century skills that our students have to master to be ready for the future. Therefore, inquiry, project, and challenge–based learning are the key learning approaches today. Provided that they are carefully planned and conducted, all these approaches align with the requirements of the 21st century education. Learners are faced with authentic situations to explore and solve problems. They are involved in social interaction via collaboration. Learning is structured around big or essential questions, which require higher order thinking skills. Students use their critical thinking skills to solve problems and innovative skills to come up with their own solutions.

SOURCE: Essential questions by Susan Oxnevad (Please hover your mouse and click on the interactive images).    

Luckily, technology provides us with many tools to adapt these approaches more easily and effectively in and outside the classroom. It also helps us to access information like how our students learn best and how we can make learning real, more enjoyable and engaging for all types of learners in the classroom. Consequently, it enables us to reconsider the old methodologies we have been using and discover, learn, unlearn and relearn the new pedagogies that increase learner engagement and autonomy. Many people think that transforming education in the 21st century is about using modern technology. However, it is mostly about our approach to learning.    

SOURCE: TEACHER FACILITATED LEARNING EXPERIENCES by Susan Oxnevad (Please hover your mouse and click on the interactive images).

As educators we already know that every child learns differently, so our job should be to give them choices to express what they know in various ways and give them the opportunity to use their imagination through innovation. Technology offers us many different tools to differentiate our instruction according to the diverse needs and interests of our learners and to personalize learning.

SOURCE: FLEXIBLE LEARNING PATHS by Susan Oxnevad (Please hover your mouse and click on the interactive images).

If the purpose of schooling is to enable the students to discover who they are and what their talents and passions are, why are students still being loaded with irrelevant information they will forget before the school year ends? Today, we need teachers who can foster curiosity and exploration and guide their students to find joy in learning and discovery through their passions and interests.  Only this type of schooling can motivate disengaged teenagers bored of traditional schooling. The graphics below illustrate how the source of information and the way we build knowledge have changed in the 21st Century:


SOURCE: Richard Wells

With all this in mind, we should see technology not only as an aide to learning  but as an important factor to transform learning, helping us create dynamic learning environments where learners become active participants in their own learning, rather than passive recipients of knowledge. This new definition of learning shouldn’t focus on getting high marks. We should care more about our students’ cognitive needs than the results they achieve at school.  We should encourage them to create and share information instead of memorizing it so that we can instill the joy and love of learning in them. They need to know how to think critically, creatively, and to evaluate multiple viewpoints. In these new learning environments enhanced by technology, the teachers are learners, too. They don’t control the learning any more, but instead, try to empower their students to take ownership of their own learning as passionate learners. This will eventually open the doors to self-directed learning by increasing learners’ involvement and responsibility for their own learning.

SOURCE: Med Kharbach Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

Of course, all these changes won’t be easy but  as we often tell our students, we should all have the confidence to take risks, learn from our mistakes, try new things, and develop a discipline of self-reflection to become the change agents in our communities.

Video for teachers on becoming a change agent by Justin Tarte.

Please share how you have personally transformed education.


Lesley Dodd in her article, Learning to Think: Thinking to Learn, published in the Lancashire Grid for Learning gives us valuable information on how our brain works. I think everyone should read this to be able to successfully incorporate thinking skills into their lesson plans.

In her article Lesley gives examples of brain – break activities, which, I believe, especially primary teachers will find very useful.  The parts on learning styles, thinking skills, questioning techniques to develop comprehension are for everyone to read.


Source: Taolife Studio by Gaye Crispin

After reading the part on questioning techniques to develop comprehension in Lesley’s article, I prepared this worksheet part 1 and part 2 for our 6th graders, which I think you may find useful.

The art of asking questions is as important as answering them if we want our students to internalize high level thinking skills. Please note that thinking is driven by questions rather than by answers. To think through or rethink anything, one must ask questions that stimulate thought. Another reason why student questioning should be emphasized in education lies in the fact that questioning sparks curiosity.

Like any skill, asking questions can be taught and practiced. If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we should train them to be inquisitive explorers.

What resources are you using to teach effective questioning? Please share them with us.