Recent approaches to the teaching – or rather the development – of learners’ reading skills have seen considerable emphasis placed on inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning is an active learning approach centred around learners’ own interests, and hence fosters conducting research, asking questions and exploring. As such, this approach aids learners to develop problem-solving, critical thinking and research skills in tandem with the development of their reading skills. In this article, a lesson against the backdrop of WebQuest is outlined, showing how young learners access online reading material with a view to developing their reading skills.
Text by: Angeliki Cheilari, Peter Falvey and David Coniam
Key features in a communicative approach to the teaching of reading (see e.g., Brown, 2001), have long been seen as involving learner relevance, engagement and motivation, and where possible the use of authentic materials (Juan & Flor, 2006). The internet has proved to be an invaluable resource in this regard in that materials can easily be found for a wide variety of learners, and – as long as learners are sufficiently computer literate – not only can reading skills be developed, but research, critical thinking and exploration skills too (Aydin, 2016). Gao (2008) describes communicative reading activities as being centred around motivated activities, topics, and themes which, as far as may be possible in the confines of a language classroom, involve learners engaging in authentic communication. A natural component of authentic communication is therefore pair or group work, for which the extension is some form of cooperative learning (Zacharia et al., 2011).
WebQuests pulls many of the threads above together. A WebQuest may be viewed as “an inquiry‐oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the internet” (Dodge, 1995), with Quests (under the tutelage of the teacher) providing scaffolded learning structures via links to internet resources and authentic tasks that motivate inquiry. Pulling the threads mentioned above together leads naturally, some educators argue, to WebQuests as online language-learning tools (Aydin, 2016). The perspective that is described and developed in the current article, presents WebQuests as a kind of teaching strategy or methodology, extending considerably beyond Dodge definition.
Against this backdrop, A WebQuest activity may be seen from two angles. One part is the Web element that includes web sites and the internet, while the Quest element refers to notions associated with inquiry and exploration. In this manner, WebQuests sit well with learner-centered approaches and project-based learning (Kelly, 2000).
The final element in a WebQuest activity is the evaluation stage. Here, learners self-assess their achievement via a self-evaluation checklist regarding completion of the activities and the final product. Self-assessment develops metacognitive skills, makes learners responsible for their learning and enhances learning-how-to-learn strategies.
THE WEBQUEST LESSON
The lesson presented below illustrates the use of a WebQuest in developing reading skills. A sample lesson plan aimed at young B2 learners using the three stages outlined above is presented below. These days, such young learners tend to be quite computer literate in that they use computers on a daily basis to carry out various tasks – from searching for information in the internet to chatting with friends. Many may indeed be viewed as “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) because of their comparatively extensive use of digital technologies.
The topic of the WebQuest lesson outlined below (“The history of chocolate”) has been chosen since it is a topic generally felt to appropriate to learners’ interests and to their level. Ideally, learners will already have been exposed to relevant (or similar) topics in previous units of their course book (the actual topic along with other similar topics appear in certain Greek course books). This WebQuest thereby gives learners the opportunity to build on prior knowledge.
The WebQuest contains the following attributes/components: introduction, task, resources, process, evaluation and conclusion – along lines proposed by Dodge (1995). Against this backdrop, the lesson comprises three stages: the Planning stage, the Implementation stage, and the Evaluation stage. At the Planning stage, learners are introduced to the WebQuest and are presented with the introduction and task attributes. At the Implementation stage, learners follow the source and process attributes of the WebQuest template as they begin to create the WebQuest product – a written piece summarising the key features and benefits of chocolate. In the evaluation stage, they follow up on the evaluation and conclusion attributes. The duration of the lesson is approximately two hours.
LESSON PLAN: THE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE AND ITS BENEFITS TO OUR HEALTH
The use of WebQuests to develop and enhance a multitude of readings skills is evident in list of skills that are utilised during the implementation of a well-crafted WebQuest. Reading skills such as summarising, note-taking, skimming and scanning, inferencing and analysis can be improved. Of course, in addition to improving reading skills, problem-solving, critical thinking and research skills are also developed in tandem with the development of the reading skills already listed. Furthermore, the use of real-life issues and topics of interest to the students lends an air of authenticity to the activity and can increase students’ collaboration and motivation through learner engagement.
As mentioned, the texts and the activities that accompany WebQuests for developing reading strategies may be seen to have a number of positive attributes. Through practising a wide range of reading strategies, learners take steps towards becoming “thoughtfully literate” individuals (Allington, 2000), enhancing their metacognitive skills while also learning how to learn.
The use of authentic material contributes to learners’ greater engagement in the learning process and enhances motivation levels since learners are exposed to texts and activities that replicate real-life contexts.
Learners nowadays are growing up in an ever-changing landscape of new digital literacies. Against this backdrop, pedagogies need to be deployed which incorporate the potential of the digital literacies into the teaching processes in order to promote and develop learners’ reading skills, strategies and metacognitive mechanisms. WebQuests fit well into this scheme, offering the benefit of online reading material for the development of reading skills in the teaching and learning process so that teachers may adopt more flexible teaching practices in order to help their learners become active learners and exploit their skills and strategies in digital literacies engaging them in meaningful and purposeful learning processes. Explore WebQuests: they have a lot of potential!