Schools teaching tech-savvy kids digital literacy

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 Chicago.

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 School.

“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 family conversation.

“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 coordinator.

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 solutions.

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.”

Part of Making the Grade, a special advertising education guide.

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