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Google Reader for my students? No way.

favicon I love Google Reader and use it every day. Instead of having to find interesting things to read, interesting things come to me.

But when I tried to explain the concept of Google Reader to my seniors, they looked at me like I was crazy.

Only two had heard of it.

So I backtracked and asked about RSS feeds. That didn’t go very well, either. “You know,” I said, “the little orange icon you see on websites?”

Um, no.

I stepped back some more and asked my students where they got their information, where they got their news.

The “information” question was easy: their friends, their parents — sometimes, their teachers. As for news, a few of my students said they watched the news on TV. Two said they got their news from their mom. One had an app on his phone. Others checked out the Yahoo homepage (which tonight featured a UFC knockout). By the way, not one student said Facebook or Twitter.

My conclusion: There’s not a whole lot of reading going on. And Google Reader is in no way the immediate answer.

Instead, I need to think of a better way to get my students to read the news. When I was in high school, I read The San Francisco Chronicle every morning. Then I graduated to The New York Times when I got to college. I didn’t always know what I was reading, but I kept reading anyway.

In other words, to become an avid reader of the news, you have to build a relationship with individual news sources first.

Now that we have the Internet, though, that doesn’t have to be one publication. It can be a news aggregator, like Google News. But the problem is that most of the most compelling services, like Flipboard and Zite and Feedly, are either iOS-based or, yes, dependent on Google Reader.

We can’t expect our students, as news newbies, to curate their own content on the Web without first building the habit of reading.

I want to make sure that before my students graduate and go off into the world, they know that they’re supposed to read and follow the news, by any means necessary.

In fact, it gets me thinking about a possible current events sequence:

  • Quarter 1: San Francisco Chronicle
  • Quarter 2: Time Magazine
  • Quarter 3: Google Reader, teacher-directed.
  • Quarter 4: Student-curated aggregator.

Please let me know what you think and if you have ideas. favicon

5 comments

  1. Vanessa Siino Haack

    I love this idea. (Admission: I love the idea of curating, generally) And, actually, I can see learning to peruse a news source like the Chronicle or Time could be an excellent way to practice predicting and quickly getting the gist of a text.

    It is sometimes daunting to approach something like a newspaper and feel like you have to read it cover to cover (I know I still feel guilty when I “mark all as read” on Google Reader when I’ve gotten behind). So maybe some explicit direction or modeling on how you scan a news source and look for interesting or important stories–and how to get a sense of what is going on in the world in varying amounts of time–would be helpful. This would also be a good way in to talking about how the act of reading changes depending on the purpose with which we are reading.

    Also, once you moved on to Google Reader, I feel like they could really get into the idea of special interest news bloggers. And then you have an opening to talk about vetting sources!

    (AND we create new Google Reader users so Google doesn’t take it away!)

    Again, I love this!

  2. Mark Isero

    I share your passion for reading and curating, Vanessa. You’re right that we need to introduce students to navigating a newspaper or magazine. They need to feel comfortable with what one is and how to read it.

    Once students get more comfortable, then they’re ready to move to Google Reader. I like the idea of using folders/collections: one for “news” and one the student gets to choose. Then, students could present their folder to their peers (though no longer on Google Reader!).

  3. John at TestSoup

    I feel like all teachers should curate a feed (or multiple niche feeds) for their students to read outside of class. It could be optional, but it would still be very beneficial.

    • Mark Isero

      John, I like that idea a lot. Teachers can’t expect students to read out of the blue unless we provide them with high-interest stuff to read.

      To curate a collection of sources into a unified feed, however, would require a different tool than Google Reader. Do you know of any good tools for this? I’m thinking of one of those make-your-own-newspaper tools. I’m going to check them out. After teachers model it, students would enjoy making their own collection on a personal interest and then sharing it with the class.

      And now that I think about it, there are different levels of curating. One is to find specific articles and items to form a specialized collection. I don’t want that — yet. The other is to set up a personal news aggregator for a specific topic. That’s what I’m looking for as a first step. Vanessa, what do you think?

      The key here is to keep things simple and to build from one reading experience and skill to the next. I don’t like it when teachers use one tool for two weeks and then move to another. It’s confusing and annoying to students.

  4. John at TestSoup

    Yeah, I’d rather not have to pick individual articles either. That’d be more like a twitter feed and would take too much work. But you could use an aggregator and sort certain sites into categories.

    If I were a teacher, I would set it up and let it run all semester and have occasional assignment based on it just to let students know it exists. But give them a lot of choice as to what they could base their assignment off, if that makes sense.

Please share your brilliant insights!