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Can 'Googling' for Texts Motivate Struggling Readers?

Students struggling with reading fluency should be asked a simple question, says educational therapist Diana Black Kennedy: "What do you want to read about today?"

In a recent piece for Language Magazine, Kennedy writes that searching the Web for information on topics of interest can give students a reason to read. 

"As is often the case for me, I learned this 'Googling for content' technique with another student—a bright, curious, dyslexic middle schooler whom we'll call Steve," she explains. "Steve's explanation [was] that he would pretty much prefer reading anything to fiction because 'if I have to read, I can at least learn something' transformed our work together."

Another student—a high school sophomore named Sophiawas motivated by reading about nail painting. "As trivial and nonacademic as this sounds, Sophia had to work through sentences like 'Greasi­ness from lotion prevents polish from adhering' and 'Polish remover that's pure acetone will get rid of residue faster, but if that's too drying, try a nonacetone remover,'" writes Kennedy. "And yes, she was able to work out acetone. And from there, we got to analyze nonacetone. We also looked at greasiness and its link to grease and greasy."

'Offline' vs. 'Online' Reading

Kennedy isn't explicit in her piece about who actually does the "Googling"—whether it's her or the student or a collaborative effort. But isn't that critical to the task?

Researcher Donald J. Leu of the University of Connecticut describes the difference between "offline" and "online" reading. Offline reading can occur on a computer or e-reader, but it's really not much different from print reading. The text is read from top to bottom without much interaction. If Kennedy is printing the article or simply having students read it on-screen without much clicking, that's offline reading.

But online reading, as Leu explains, requires a whole new set of skills. It's the process of reading to find information online—for instance, using a search engine, evaluating a website's credibility, clicking on hyperlinks, and comparing information from different sites. If Kennedy's students are doing the Googling themselves, then they are doing online reading.

Whether reading practice is done offline or online should likely depend on both the student's ability level and the instructional goal. If the instructional aim is simply to improve fluency using an engaging topic, it's probably fine for the teacher to select the text. But if the goal is to teach students to find material that they'll enjoy reading, and to encourage them to do that on their own, then perhaps letting them do the Googling is a better way to go.

Would love to hear from teachers: Is using a search engine a good way to find engaging texts? And how do you decide who does the Googling? 

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