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Focusing on Digital Literacy

When we were growing up, literacy was about gaining meaning from a printed text. We primarily read fiction books, textbooks, articles and passages. Today, literacy is much, much more. Yes, we read printed texts, but we also navigate digital texts, multi-modal texts, graphic images and more. Think about your daily reading life. Chances are, you read printed text, read emails, browse your social media feeds, scan websites and read online. With these newer platforms for literacy, we not only encounter texts, but images, graphics, media and more, typically all wrapped up into the same reading selection. This requires a great deal of reading, thinking, synthesizing and evaluating as we interpret these images and underlying messages. Digital reading is not simply reading a printed text online, but navigating and critically thinking about the information we encounter, along with the trustworthiness of the information presented. 

Recently, a group of teachers in the upstate New York area met to discuss the challenges they face in ELA instruction and digital literacy was an important topic: keyboarding skills, mouse skills, navigating digital text, interpreting multi-modal text, annotation and more. While the conversation started in response to ‘the test’ moving online, it gave us the impetus to think about how to authentically embed digital literacy skills into our literacy instruction. Here were some important ideas that came out of that discussion, along with resources to help you on your own digital journey:

Students need access to devices and schools need a solid infra-structure in place for technology. We cannot use technology in substantive ways to impact teaching and learning if devices are scarce in the classroom. Ideally, we would have 1:1 classrooms, but if not, we need easy access to carts of devices to use in daily instruction. How? Positive Learning offers promising ideas for funding technology programs in schools. The USDOE offers its own guidelines on funding digital learning and DreamBox learning offers useful links for external funding opportunities.
Digital literacy skills are more than simply reading text online, but also include navigating online texts, hyperlinks, images and advertising. The International LiteracyAssociation offers an important distinction between digital literacy skills and digital literacy. We are not just teaching the mechanics of reading, writing and learning online, but why and when we use them to impact our learning. Common Sense media offers new ways to organize and manage our digital classrooms to ensure meaningful and relevant teaching and Teaching Channel provides a useful video series to support our work.

Digital literacy cannot be an add-on to the curriculum, but must be thoughtfully woven into teaching and learning to change the trajectory of students’ reading, writing and learning lives. Katherine Hale delivers a powerful message in her ISTE speech on making sure technology does not simply repeat students stories, but changes them. Adding apps that simply ask students to practice skills in a game-like format does not change who they are as readers, writers and learners. We must strategically choose the digital tools we use to ensure they are changing the trajectory of students learning. Common Sense Media provides a comprehensive list of digital tools, along with educators’ reviews on them, for use in the classroom. 

Technology should connect us together as learning, just as it does for adults, to make learning more relevant and connected to the real world. Technology and digital tools break down classroom walls and enable connections both near and far that would not be previously possible. They provide real world reasons for reading and writing with others and give students a true, authentic audience to share their learning with.  Sites such as Bookopolis or Biblionausiam offer students opportunities to showcase and share their reading with others. Kidblog and WriteAbout offer the same for writing. These kinds of tools give students real reasons for learning and promote social interaction, the very elements that guide our adult participation with technology as well.

Our literacy group will continue the conversation and work to embed digital literacy skills into our curriculum. Have a resource that will help us on our journey? Please share!



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