Samuel Zeller via Unsplash

Alex Corbitt Teaches Readers In the Digital Age

Written by Kate Durocher

Can you ever recall a time when your high school teacher asked you what book it was that you wanted to read? Or were works like The Scarlet Letter and Of Mice and Men already planned out in your curriculum? Chances are that the novels you would be reading in class throughout the year were already determined by your school, without your opinion taken into consideration.

That’s the normal, usual way things go, but educators are changing that, creating reading lists that are personalized and which resonate with students. Alex Corbitt joined the EdTech NOW podcast to discuss teaching reading in the digital age. Corbitt is an English teacher in The Bronx, New York. He was named one of the International Literacy Association’s 30 Under 30 and is now paving the way for new conversations about education in our digital age.

As he discussed in the podcast, Corbitt has discovered how important it is to pay attention to what students actually have an interest in reading. It’s the best way to reach them and hold their attention.

“Over the past few years I’ve really switched my focus to not just getting books in the classroom, but to getting books that my kids want to read and the books that are culturally relevant to my students’ experience.” — Alex Corbitt

Corbitt continued, “First I’ll ask students what they want to read. I think there is really something to be said about listening to kids at the end of this past year. I interviewed my students and they gave me a lot of feedback on the type of books they want to be reading: more black and Latino literature and YA stuff in particular. And then also in addition to that I’m also trying to go on websites like to get references to other books.”

This method makes the books students read even more meaningful for them as they can actually connect to the experiences in the writing. “What you learn needs to reflect your experience,” Corbitt said.

An issue Corbitt also wants educators to pay attention to is how fake news is manipulating and twisting students around in their attempts to learn today. His advice is to look at seven things to determine whether an article is factual or falsified. Check out his tips to teach students below:

— Be suspicious of news stories when their titles are in all caps.

— Don’t click on websites that end in lo or

— Check for the possibility of hoaxes on Snopes or Fact Check.

— Know specific news outlets that are shams and certain media outlets that aren’t completely reliable.

— Locate the source of a photo with Google’s reverse search engine. If a fake news outlet is uploading photos, this allows you to figure out who actually published that photo in the first place.

— Assess the credentials of the author.

— If an article cites studies, make sure you go and look up those specific studies and see if those hold weight and if they’re credible.

Even though today’s students are growing up in a time where their learning experiences are so intensely integrated with technology and digital tools, educators still need to recognize that students don’t just automatically know how to “drive the internet.” You don’t expect a person to just hop in a vehicle and know how to operate it. In the same way, learners shouldn’t be expected to know how to navigate the internet without any guidance either. Instead, they must be taught what sources are credible and how to spot fake news instantly.

Corbitt says his way of teaching students such things would be to give them hands on experience.

“What I would do for students and adults would be I would provide them with a number of different news articles and sources and see if either students or adults could figure out which ones were legitimate and which ones should be debunked. And then from there, kind of infer different strategies that they can use when doing responsible research. So sometimes, instead of giving my students a list of rules or “look fors” I might also just throw them kind of in the trenches and see if they can work together, collaborate, maybe gamify the activity a little bit, so that they can figure out which ones should be de-bunked and which ones are reliable,” Corbitt said.

Other creative teaching methods Corbitt has tried in his teaching is utilizing digital tools like YouTube to continue students learning outside of the classroom.

“One thing that’s been really successful for my students over the past couple of years has been I use Garage Band to make audiobook versions of some of our short stories and then throw in different sound effects to enrich the students’ reading experience. They listen to me speaking it and then they’re reading along with the text,” Corbitt said. “I upload it onto YouTube so that my students can access it from home. That’s been a really easy, effective way for me to flip learning a little bit and get my students reading more at home, but still with adult support.”

Listen to more of Corbitt’s ideas on the EdTech NOW podcast.

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