Click Restraint and Click Paralysis

When working with students on search there are two things I see pretty regularly:

  1. Students start opening links seemingly at random
  2. Students scroll up and down on results, unable to decide what to click on

Neither, obviously, is a great strategy. Students end up deep in a source before thinking carefully about the results of their search, or end up searching and searching, perhaps hoping that the “just right” link will open of its own volition. 

We want students to click mindfully, but they’ve rarely been given the tools and the time they need to learn how to make sense of their search results. Luckily, I have a History teacher colleague who has noticed (and is frustrated by!) the same thing, so we developed a plan to help students slow down and think about their searches. 

We started by giving students printouts of two different Google search results, asking them to notice the difference in results when using search terms. We then looked at the “anatomy” of a result – what can you tell about a source before clicking through. What words are in bold in the results? Is there a date (and does it matter)? What does it mean when a result includes “cited by #”? What is the title of the source (oddly enough, the last thing they noticed)?

Next, we showed them some strategies for more effective Google searching. Students were still finalizing their area of focus, so their searches were pretty general. Our main goal was to have students pay attention to their results and think about what they might want to click on and why. Inspired by something I’d seen from Tasha Bergson-Michelson, I created this grid for students to use as they tried different search strategies and evaluated their results (you can use this link to make a copy if you’d like). Many thanks to Tasha for sharing this, and for knowing what I was talking about when I emailed to ask her to share it!

After giving students some time to practice, and debriefing their experiences, we moved onto databases. Many of our students had not spent significant time searching in Gale, so we wanted to orient them to how to refine their results. Knowing that we couldn’t teach them everything about databases without overwhelming them we decided to focus on the different “categories” of sources, and using the Subjects filter to refine results. I tried to adapt the grid we’d used for Google, but I feel like it still needs some work – or students need more orientation to the databases. Or both. It’s probably both. In any event, you can make yourself a copy here, and please let me know if you have ideas for how to improve it. 

This is part of a larger project, for which students will be asked to create something that tells “the story” of their search. We wanted to take the pressure of a paper or presentation away, and ask students to really focus on articulating how they’re searching and why. It’s our first time doing this, so definitely still working out the kinks, but I feel very lucky to have the time and space to dig into these skills with students. Would love to hear how other folks are teaching click restraint, and overcoming click paralysis!

6 thoughts on “Click Restraint and Click Paralysis

  1. Sara,
    Thanks for this work in process — I’m always looking for ways to get the students to slow down in their searching to actually notice just the items you’ve highlighted. I particularly like the checkbox of source types. Oh, don’t they need practice identifying source types!? But isn’t everything on my computer just “online”? LOL I’m looking forward to trying this with my 8th graders.

  2. Sara, the idea of the story of their search is an amazing final assessment! So excited to hear how it goes (I’m already going through my faculty in my head wondering who might be convinced to try it.)

    Do you know yet if/how they are being asked to express their learning about the topic content as a part of this story? That is, is their story entirely about search (which I never mind 😉 ) or are they also expressing disciplinary content? Asking for a classroom-teacher friend.

    100% jazzed about the new aspects of the organizers which are (unsurprisingly) now so. much. better.

    • For this assignment we’re putting the focus entirely on search/note-taking, but I can easily see adapting it to include disciplinary content. This works feels like a perfect lead-in to some annotated bibliography work.

      • We do a lot of annotated bibliographies but I struggled to claw out enough time to teach actual search skills. Adding this kind of self-assessment of the search process to the annotation would be so helpful – thanks for the post!

  3. Sara,
    Thank you, ONCE AGAIN, for this lesson framework! I, literally, just came back from a day 1 research lesson with an 8th grade class where we talked about assessing the credibility of rumors and gossip before launching into some database searching. We’ll be building on their gossip framework in our day 2 lessons just before we start looking at websites! I have 2 days before those lessons so we might be analyzing search results now, too! LOL!!! Thank you!!!

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