Chances are your children have no problem using the family
computer and are likely better than you are at navigating the iPad
and smartphone. While technology is prevalent in both the home and
school life of today's kids, they need more than quick fingers.
The Common Core Curriculum Standards identify digital literacy
and research as important components of a strong curriculum so
Chicago area schools are exploring a variety of approaches when it
comes to teaching digital literacy.
Because many students have access to technology at home, the
focus in the classroom has shifted. "Kids come to us as great
digital consumers. They are very savvy with the technology, but I
wouldn't say that they are digitally literate," says Elissabeth
Legendre, the middle school Latin teacher at The Latin School in
For many schools, teaching digital literacy is a thread woven
throughout the curriculum and it starts early, even as young as 2
at the Little GEMS International Preschool in Chicago. "Starting at
this age and using technology in an active manner allows kids
become aware of how it can be used. They see it a lot and are
making those connections with their home life, their parents and
with the world. By making those connections early on and as they
approach kindergarten they have that foundation of exposure and
exploration," says Diane Schael, head of school.
The early start marks a shift in thinking.
"It used to be that digital literacy was thought of as a middle
school issue, but we've shifted our thinking to be more proactive,"
says Barry Wadsworth, lower school head of the Avery Coonley
"We like to put questions of technology on parents' radars
early. We empower parents to take a stance that acknowledges that
tech is here and beneficial in many ways, but families need to be
thinking about what is appropriate for them," he says.
Similarly, the Cove School sends home Family Tip Sheets as part
of its Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum to encourage
"As a school, it is our responsibly to provide students with the
knowledge and skills to navigate digital technology safely,
responsibly and with purpose," says Mark Fjor, technology
Learning digital literacy includes learning effective online
research skills. "One of the most important priorities in teaching
digital literacy is an understanding of the tools used to access
content while online as well as strategies for how to find relevant
information. Generating questions and identifying keywords for
searching are important skills," says Fjor.
Once students are good searchers, teachers address evaluating
the validity of a source online and how to wade through the sheer
abundance of information online.
"One of the big priorities is teaching students how to determine
what sources to trust," says Laura Storino, business teacher at
Queen of Peace High School in Burbank.
Wasdworth says students will benefit most from "an integrated
program where kids use tools of tech in sophisticated ways as they
move through the program and you're teaching critical thinking.
(With such an effort), then a school is already teaching kids to
evaluate bias and perspective and other critical evaluations."
Case studies are a valuable tool for teaching the importance of
responsible online behavior. High school students at Queen of Peace
examine how people have been held accountable for their online
behavior, from a person who lost her job because her inappropriate
Halloween costume appeared online to a former student athlete whose
name coaches would Google when watching her compete. At Cove,
students analyze scenarios presented in videos and then propose
Digital literacy also means helping students understand how
technology works best for their learning style. "The iPad gives
kids a lot of choice. They can read a physical book or ebook, they
can write homework in pen or type it. When showing me what they've
learned, they can make a video, talk about it or make a slide
show," Legendre says.
"I tell my students that we are all learning about this new tool
at the same time. I encourage them to come and show me. I am the
master of the content, but I am not the master of the iPad."
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