Reflecting on what I teach

            Whenever I am invited nowadays to teach a class (yes I know I wrote about this last time, but now I am reflecting) about doing online research, I’m conflicted as to what I should teach. On the one hand, I want our students to have the critical thinking skills required for navigating the online world. On the other hand, I want to direct them to sites that I know are reliable and trustworthy.  Because my time with each class tends to be limited to one or two visits, I often go with the latter approach.

            Teaching students critical thinking skills requires more time than I usually have and it also means you need foundational knowledge that many high school aged people are still developing. Take, for example, lateral reading which is a critical thinking skill covered in the Crash Course episode three on “Navigating Digital Information” (1). The idea behind lateral reading is that instead of scanning up and down a webpage for evidence of its reliability, you open up a tab next to the original page and do some research on the source that you were using. 

            First of all, this is an extra step that I know many of my students will not take. Secondly, even if they find a source about the original webpage they were reading, they are still left with the same problem they started with. How will they know if this second page is reliable?

            The problem with this strategy is that many of our students have grown up completely digital and have never stopped at a newsstand or magazine rack (2).  Many of our students are unable to come up with a list of ten print sources. I say this because I have taught lessons where I give students two minutes to list as many newspapers and magazines as they can. I used to give students five minutes, but today’s audiences don’t even need a minute’s time to exhaust their knowledge of paper and ink publications. (We have links to 38 publications in our Magazines page, in case you were wondering where to start) 

            The same can be said about what used to be known as mainstream media outlets. Gone are the days of the three or four major networks along with the local public broadcasting channel, and formats such as a six and 11 o’clock news. I mean, sure they still exist, but most high school aged students I know are not watching these programs to get their information. If recent research (3) is to be believed, then young people are relying more and more on their social network feeds as a means of getting their information about the world around them. (We have links to 20 news outlets on our News page). 

            One of the realities of this development is that most of us don’t care to fact check the information as it spreads since it comes from a “friend”. Besides, many times the ideas are distilled into one-liners with an ironic graphic attached, not meant to be taken seriously, or at least, not quite so seriously that you would have to fact check it. This kind of behavior may be acceptable in social networks, but it’s not what we expect when it comes to academic research.

             Knowing these things about my students nowadays means that I start my lessons about doing online research, by introducing them to the link for our school’s online public access catalog (OPAC), through which they can find a book in our collection. We then talk about the difference between keyword and subject searches, which series of books we have available, and how to read the bibliographic information the OPAC retrieves.  We talk about the call numbers and what they mean in the Dewey decimal language, and how those numbers help us find the books on our shelves. Book in hand, we then discuss how to find the particular subject we are researching by using the table of contents and the index, allowing us to focus on only those pages we need.

            “Why”, I hear you asking, “would your lesson about doing online research begin by showing the students how to find a book?”

            Mainly because I want my students to spend more time researching their subjects rather than researching their sources.  By directing them to books, many of which have multiple writers, I also hope to expose them to authors and publishers they can trust.  Finally, I want my students to be familiar with how the library is organized so that they feel comfortable walking into a stack of books, confident that they will be able to find what they are looking for.

            Once I am finished showing them how to find and use a good book for their research, the lesson can go in many directions, depending on the teachers’ needs.  The next step, however, is usually to introduce the class to our friends at the Haverhill Public Library. They have much to offer our students and faculty, and they are always happy to help us out. Maybe next time I will talk about some of their resources.

             As always, thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something interesting and useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved


  1. Crash Course: Lateral Reading,
  2. Barthel, Michael. “Circulation, Revenue Fall for US Newspapers Overall despite Gains for Some.” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, 1 June 2017,
  3. Twenge, J. M., Martin, G. N., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2018, August 16). Trends in U.S. Adolescents’ Media Use, 1976–2016: The Rise of Digital Media, the Decline of TV, and the (Near) Demise of Print. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication