Surfing the Internet:
New York, New York
Sink or Swim!
With all of the hoopla about the Internet-which includes
mandates from our President, from other government officials,
from businesses, from parents, from school boards, and from our
students-we English teachers need to respond. Allowing our own
technophobic tendencies and pedagogies to halt the forward
movement of education is fruitless. So rather than sink, we need
to learn to swim. Instead of clinging to tradition, we need to be
creative and develop and use innovative ways to incorporate new
methods to use new technologies in our evolving classroom and
world. In short, we need to change with the times or be
Advice is cheap, and you will get lots of it as you embark
on using the Internet in your language arts class. I have three
offerings to all landlubbers: become a student, morph into a
cybrarian, and empower the students.
BECOME A STUDENT
Perhaps the greatest barrier m implementing the Internet
in the language arts class is staff development: the teaching of
teachers. Rather than doing after-school workshops or weekend
workshops or any kind of workshop, consider letting your kids
First, most computer teachers will tell you that they are
self-taught. Secondly, everyone agrees hat the kids know more
about computers than the teachers. So why not use this resource,
students, to help you become computer literate? I have conducted
teacher workshops for many years, and the return on investment
has been pretty low. When I began having students train teachers
to use the Internet, we found that more of these teachers became
active users and more willing to use the Internet in the class.
in addition, we have student interns in the computer rooms to
assist the teacher with the technological parts of using the
Internet in the class. This practice has taken the onus of
knowing computers off the teacher.
Also, it is good for the students and reinforces their
newly acquired skills. I often defer to my interns to assist in
the chores of the class while I concentrate on the language arts
elements. I am an English teacher, not a computer teacher, but I
am an English teacher who uses computers. By giving my students
due respect, I have gained their respect. Learning has become a
reciprocal process in my classroom.
I prepared student interns two ways. First, I began an
after-school computer club . During this time students didn't
have to follow a curriculum and could spend their time learning
about computers in a nonregimented class. They reinforced their
skills by teaching other class members and teachers who wandered
in. It was during this time I and other teachers would sit with
the students and watch and learn and practice with them.
Learning became informal, and roles became fuzzy. We taught each
The second method I used to train students was in class.
Once the students had been in one of my classes, they were
trained to work as interns in my future classes. They knew the
programs I used and could assist new students, including teach-
ers, through the rough spots. Teachers would come work with my
students or with my interns, learning on the job.
Teachers who expressed a desire to use the computers were
encouraged to spend a professional period in of my classes for a
semester in preparation for teaching a class in the computer room
the next semester. Student interns would be assigned to assist
all teachers in computer rooms.
This process has been very successful. My advice is to
create a crew of student commandos who find computers user
friendly to train the computer-phobic teachers. We can all use
the age-old teacher-student relationship and merely reverse the
MORPH INTO A CYBRARIAN
A cybrarian is a librarian in cyberspace. Just as you
prepare a lesson before teaching it, you need to prepare on the
Internet before you teach a lesson. As you prepare a project,
find the sites that will provide your students with the
information they need to satisfy your assignments. Create an on-
line library which has the links to the sites that you or your
students have already found to be useful in their work. Load the
sites onto your local site - if possible - or load them into a
computer memory cache.
Permission to do this is as Simple as writing to the
source, and I have never been denied permission. Rather than
ask, however, I inform the source what I am going to do and
explain that I will be loading the remote site onto my server.
(Loading material onto the local server will facilitate faster
loads and eliminate the flood of students going to someone else's
server.) I explain the material will be taken off our server when
the project is complete, and the students' hypertext essays will
point to the site of origin and not to the local site.
I call my on-line library of World Wide Web links the Cyber Library -
which functions like any library with reference book links to
other, sites which offer information like any book on any shelf
in any library in any city. In fact, our Cyber Library is the
starting point for many of the students' research. Certainly the
Internet offers more resources to your students at a quicker rate
than most libraries. Reliability of these sites is another
matter and another discussion, but the Internet is more reliable
than some would have you believe.
Once you find one site to use in your class, you will find
it links to many other sites. Basically, as you find one site,
you will be introduced to perhaps another ten sites. In our
Cyber Library we have links to the many Internet search engines
which act like the librarian in our libraries: students ask the
search engines to find material just as they ask the human
librarian. Once a search engine is activated, the student will
be given a list of sites at which the information requested can
The Cyber Library can also include resources found by the
students and teachers
for future researchers, including Classroom Connect, Global
Schoolhouse, and 21st Century Teachers, all Internet sites
created by teachers for teachers and students. In addition,
colleges and universities across the country offer web sites
which offer resources to teachers and students as well as tra-
ditional libraries. In short, students have access to much more
on the Intemet then they have in the best school libraries.
Most importantly in your training and in your morphing is
that you are being made aware of your new virtual community. Use
places like Route66 and Sackmans to locate the other wired
schools and see what they are doing in their classes. Remember,
you are not alone: you shouldn't worry about drowning because the
pool is filled with so many like you and with those willing to
help you learn how to navigate the Internet.
EMPOWER YOUR STUDENTS
Before you send your students surfing, give each student a
permission slip to take home and have signed by the parents.
Treat the Internet like a field trip. Secondly, provide an AUP,
Acceptable Use Policy, which reflects established school rules
about behavior that is modified to include the Internet. (Looking
at other schools' AUPs will give you an idea of how to construct
one for your school.)
Now your students can surf the Internet. My first
assignment is to have the students make their home page. Once
the students see their home page on the Internet, I have their
attention. Pride and self-esteem immediately become motivational
tools in the classroom. The home becomes the base of their web-
folio, an Internet portfolio.
Because the home page is on the Internet, peer review and
mentoring become additional tools available in the education of
my students. Peer review is done within the class and between my
two classes. In addition, collaboration with other schools in
America and around the world becomes easier.
Another added bonus is the mentoring program. Mentors who
have access to the Internet can read my students' work and give
advice on writing, life, and webweaving. Mentors can be retired
teachers, retired professionals ' business people looking to
volunteer in schools via the Internet, and college students doing
community service. Students work on their assigned projects at
their pace and in the order which they choose. This allows my
heterogeneous class to work at individual levels. Slower
students are not left behind, and quicker students are not held
Another bonus is the socializing which goes on during
class: students assist each other and are more than willing to
share their resources. I find great joy in my heterogeneous
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about using
the Internet in the class is that students and teachers will have
to learn new ways to perform the learning process. Teachers will
help students learn how to learn. Students won't rely on
teachers to tell them what to do and how. Students will learn
how to learn, and teachers will guide and direct this process.
It is crucial that teachers planning to use the Internet
in language arts classes become students, become cybrarians, and
empower their students. To continue in your own education, join
educational listservs. It is your best way of communicating and
connecting with other teachers around the world. Asking
questions, sharing ideas, and generally mingling with other
cybrarians will keep you buoyant.
With the nation's attention being directed towards
education, it becomes incumbent upon every teacher to respond.
Effective use of the Internet in your language arts class is one
way for you to contribute to your nation's call. As you become
wired, you may always e-mail me or my students to ask advice,
share your experiences, or begin a collaborative effort. Come on
in; the water is great.