The Internet: Our “Frenemy”

The internet is a wonderfully useful tool, when used correctly. It can provided information at the click of a mouse; but how do you know if that information is reliable? My experience with students is that they don’t know if a source is credible or not. They usually click on the first link or links that are listed and use that information (or say they can’t find anything). Unfortunately one of the downfalls of the internet is the level in which text is written (Weigel & Gardner, 2009). Students who struggle with reading, or younger students, are more compelled to the visuals than the actual text the webpage is offering. As teachers, we have to understand that just like reading, writing, and math, internet skills need to be taught. Allowing students the opportunity to explore and do online reading is fantastic, but skills on appropriate browsing, credible sites, and “deep reading” need to be addressed. As stated by Wolf and Barzillai (2009), “What we read and how deeply we read shape both the brain and the thinker” (p. 35).

A fallback of early reading online is that students are rewarded for multitasking (Wolf & Barzillai, 2009). The internet offers many visuals, hyperlinks, and other eye catching graphics that “even the most well-intentioned reader may be tempted by the siren calls of Web links” (Weigel & Gardner, 2009, p. 38). I know many of my students think the internet only exists for games and get very frustrated when something they click on doesn’t immediately load. Their attention is quick to change to something else. I’ve attempted a few web quests as well as providing a list of websites to find information on, only to find some students on unrelated sites. I understand the temptation of wanting to click on hyperlinks or visuals, but also realize I have the self-discipline needed to stay. Wolf and Barzillai (2009) say it best:

The digital culture’s reinforcement of rapid attentional shifts and multiple sources of distraction can short-circuit the development of the slower, more cognitively demanding comprehension processes that go into the formation of deep reading and deep thinking. (p. 36)

We have to help students develop these higher-level comprehension skills through guidance and instruction (Wolf & Barzillai, 2009). Many teachers, at least some of the teachers I’ve worked with at the middle school level, feel that the students should already know how to navigate a web page correctly and they shouldn’t have to spend time teaching them. If a student doesn’t know how to read do we ignore it because they’re already supposed to know how? Absolutely not. The same goes for navigating the internet; it’s a part of literacy and needs to be addressed. When I realized my students were unfamiliar with navigating web pages, we had a few “explorer” days where as a class we looked at web pages and discussed them. We looked at Kate DiCamillo’s website to learn more about her before we read Because of Winn Dixie. We discussed the links on her page and how they may be helpful. It was worth it to me to explore these things because although my students probably would have been able to navigate and find her website, they wouldn’t have taken the time to see what all it had to offer. Although I can’t expect my students to exhibit the same deep reading as I do, I can help them develop it with guidance and instruction.

It’s amazing what the brain is capable of doing, seeing as our brains weren’t even wired to read in the first place (Wolf & Barzillai, 2009). If our brains are capable of adapting to, and creating new connections to read, we should be able to adapt and create new connections for online reading. Deep reading requires that a reader be proficient and the mind be free to comprehend what it is reading. Reading is a skill that develops with practice and therefore deep reading is something that takes time. Our students need to be taught to question and connect prior knowledge as they read. For younger students, using digital “reading” games can help start their interaction with online reading. Older students now have many technological tools that have transformed the way they research as well as write (Weigel & Gardner, 2009).  These tools need to be explained and explored in order for students to gain the full benefit. Students can participate in a class walk through of a website and discuss how it may be biased or if it is credible. Teaching students to be aware of websites can help them become “careful, thoughtful consumers of online information” (Wolf & Barzillai, 2009, p. 37). The internet is not going away. Just like our brains have created new connections to reading, we as teachers need to create new connections to online reading and help guide and develop deep online reading skills in our students.


Wolf, M., & Barzillai, M. (2009). The importance of deep reading. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 32-37.

Weigel, M., & Gardner, H. (2009). The best of both literacies. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 38-41.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. heatherjohnson4255
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 18:11:37

    I need to begin by saying I love your heading-The Internet: Our Frenemy. This title pretty much sums it up! 🙂 Moving on, I completely agree that internet skills need to be taught just like any other subject we teach. I love the fact that you give your students “explorer days” where you looked at and discussed websites with your class. I’m sure your students were more engaged in the reading of Because of Winn Dixie due to your use of the Internet. If every teacher did this then our students would be more likely to benefit from the Internet. I also agree with your concluding paragraph-the internet is not going away! We can choose to either use it to our advantage or miss out on some great learning experiences.


    • lenasprinkle
      Jun 11, 2012 @ 18:03:31

      Thanks Heather! It was helpful for the students to do a little guided “research” before reading. I know I asked Michelle, but since you teach younger elementary, what kind of internet activities do you do with your students? Do you engage in online reading or are they still in the decoding focus?


  2. tisenhour
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 19:30:00

    I love your title, “Frenemy”. That is exactly how I feel about technology!! I have a love hate relationship with technology. I was surprised that middle school teachers assume that students should be able to navigate the internet. I know we are surrounded with technology but I know teaching professionals that do not have computers at home. So why should we assume the majority of households have computers and teach how to use it. I agree that educators need to teach “deep reading” whether it is using traditional text or technology. I enjoyed your response. Well written.
    Tonya Isenhour


    • lenasprinkle
      Jun 11, 2012 @ 18:01:33

      I agree Tonya! I was shocked too when some teachers didn’t give much thought to teaching and guiding the students online. Our school does require the students to take a “computer class” but that is dedicated more to word processing tools and computer lingo than it is to searching the internet (although they do touch on it some in that class as well). We have to be willing to incorporate teaching the skills into our classroom if we’re expecting the students to give us quality work while using the internet.


  3. Michelle Moffitt
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 20:34:16

    I think that your first sentence is right on target. The internet is a wonderful tool but as educators we need to guide our students to use it correctly. There is a wealth of information out there, but some of it is not valid and students need to be guided to find good sources. I had not thought a lot about the level that the material is written, but you make a good point about the level being too hard for some of our struggling readers. It is an obvious point that I had not considered maybe because I teach kindergarten. It is hard to engage in deep reading when struggling to decode is the main focus.
    I also notice my students being impatient while things load on my computer at school. When it does not load immediately they click on something else and then they lose what their main focus was supposed to be. They often lock the computer up because of their constant clicking. I think that we have to rewire them to think of the computer as something other than a place to play games. It is a tool to broaden their horizons if introduced to them in the right way. Students need to be taught how to navigate around web pages and how to find the information they need without being distracted by links and pop ups and pretty pictures. The internet is our tool to 21st century learning and it is our job as teachers to prepare our students to make the best out of the new digital media that we have at our fingertips.

    Michelle Moffitt


    • lenasprinkle
      Jun 11, 2012 @ 17:57:58

      I agree that students need rewire and think of the computer as a tool and not just a game. If we begin to instill early and help rewire and shape their thinking of the internet as a tool first, and then perhaps a place for games, they’ll be powerful researchers and seekers of information. I think the key is to start early and continue teaching and guiding students every year in order for them to be successful. (Sounds a lot like teaching to read…) 😉


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