Surfing the Internet:
Sink or Swim!

Ted Nellen

Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers

New York, New York
Cyber English

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 stranded.

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.


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 teach you.

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 other.

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 flow.


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 be found.

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.


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 back.

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 Internet classes.

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.