Are we teaching dogs to chase cars?

I’d love a dollar for every time as a TL I’m asked to teach students “how to search” or “search terms” or “searching. Once upon a time I complied. I’ve become a bit more bolshie in my old age. I now try to engage. Engage in a conversation as to what exactly the teaching and learning aim is behind the request.

You see, we don’t need to teach dogs to chase cars. We need to teach them what to do with them once they’ve caught them. And we need to teach that bit first, so that they can decide with the right amount of information at their disposal that actually, cars are not edible and therefore not worth the chase.

I understand the impetus behind wanting to teach better searching. It comes from a good place. One which recognises that students are going to google anyway, it will probably be their first and last port of call and we may as well teach them how to use it better so at least the results somewhat resemble the information they’re looking for.

But without some kind of prior knowledge or context, how will they recognise what is in front of them for what it is? And without deep literacy skills, both on the reading and writing side, how will they do something with it? And why am I seeing two huge time sucks in student “research” – searching and gathering “information” and dressing it up in some kind of (digital) presentation form. aka, the dogs chasing the car and trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear. Which leaves precious little time for the meat in the middle.

Am I overly cynical, or is this a more generic experience? And what can we / dare we do about it?

One thought on “Are we teaching dogs to chase cars?

  1. In my experience, the answer resides in communities of like-minded people. Teachers who share your insight into the need for deep reading and meaningful engagement with writing will work with you to build those skills into the teaching and learning going on in classrooms. The biggest battle is to convince others that it is worth the time it takes to read *in class* and to write (outline, draft, revise) *in class*. It’s a matter of school culture and building this expectation in administrators, teachers and students–perhaps with you/us at the fulcrum.


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