When our students read just one source on a topic, I would argue they still know almost nothing about that topic or issue. I know you know this. It’s not until they read, view, listen to multiple sources on that topic that their understanding is transformed. This is not a new point. My argument is that students should read more than one source on a topic on a regular basis. I’d even argue that every time they consult a source on a nonfiction topic or issue, they should consult another source or two or more.
Give yourself a moment to do this.
Last summer my husband and I discovered a tide pool with sea stars in it.
(Photo taken by Sunday’s husband.)
I was immediately captivated and I wanted to know more. There was also a little spousal argument about whether the sea star is called starfish (my husband’s term) or sea star (mine) 😉 That night, on National Geographic’s website, I found the following:
Marine scientists have undertaken the difficult task of replacing the beloved starfish’s common name with sea star because, well, the starfish is not a fish. It’s an echinoderm, closely related to sea urchins and sand dollars.
Okay. I learned something new, right? But I wanted to know more. I searched again and found this time-lapse video of a sea star eating a clam. It’s 30 seconds.
Cool, huh? Now I knew a little bit more. The sea star wraps itself around its prey to eat it. Now I wanted to know even more—particularly about how the sea star eats its prey so I found the diagram below. What do you notice?
(Sorry – this diagram is by Pearson; couldn’t find the original source; it’s all over the internet at different sites.)
Okay. My understanding expanded. The sea star has a stomach in the center of its body (now the video makes more sense) and the sea star has tubular feet that help it grasp prey like the clam. I wanted to know more so I went back to National Geographic’s site and read this:
Most sea stars also have the remarkable ability to consume prey outside their bodies. Using tiny, suction-cupped tube feet, they pry open clams or oysters, and their sack-like cardiac stomach emerges from their mouth and oozes inside the shell. The stomach then envelops the prey to digest it, and finally withdraws back into the body.
With each source I consulted, my understanding of the sea star developed depth.
I wanted to know more of course.
Then I came upon these photos (UC Santa Cruz). Take a moment to look closely.
These were taken over the course of three days (photo credit on the site to Kit Harma). This is sea star wasting syndrome that is devastating populations of sea stars on the west coast. With my understanding of the sea star–its physical features and how it eats–I had an even better understanding of how this is a horrific problem.
I kept reading because I wanted to know more and in the following days, my husband and I would check on our sea star several times–hoping that it still looked healthy and understanding so much more about what we were seeing.
My point is—What if I had stopped after reading the first source? I wouldn’t know that much. How did my learning grow because I read another source and then another? My understanding was transformed.
How can we make this happen for our students? How can we nurture this type of informed thinking on a regular basis? Given how much misinformation is out there, this is an imperative, huh?That’s what I explored with several colleagues and wrote about in my new book Nurturing Informed Thinking: Reading, Talking and Writing Across Content-Area Sources published by Heinemann. As we explored teaching with more than one source, the students’ excitement got us hooked on doing this. It’s hard to go back to using just one source after we observed this.
In this book, I write about so much of what I learned (selecting sets of sources, making it all manageable and so forth) plus I include nine sample lesson ideas in Chapter 3.
Here’s a lesson idea for now. Use these sources on the sea star with your students to reveal the power of consulting more than one source. As they consult each source, pose questions like, “What did you just add to your learning?” Close with a question like, “Why consult more than one source?”
Hope this helps.