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Bringing Digital Literacy to the Classroom

By Diane Barone
 | Nov 01, 2016

barone 110116Digital literacy is grounded in the understanding that being literate today is no longer limited to reading and writing with print-based materials. To be literate, a person needs to read and write with paper and on the screen and be accomplished in downloading, chatting, blogging, Skyping, and more.

These digital practices shift how children encounter and understand what being literate means, for the multimodal and interactive nature of digital practices allows children to move away from being recipients of traditional narratives to being creators and interpreters of images as well as text.

Being digitally literate begins with very young children, often soon after birth. The Technology and Play Report funded by the Economic and Social Research Council documented how young children routinely engage with tablets and other smart technology in their homes. The report described that 65% of 3- to 5-year-olds live in homes with tablets available for their use and 73% have access to smart technology through multiple devices. Further, 72% of the top-selling apps are aimed at preschool youngsters. As a result, the nature of play for young children has changed to online and offline digital and nondigital activities.

For example, children might play with toys or enter a digital space where they play a game in a virtual world with other children not personally known to them. On average, children under the age of 5 are involved with digital platforms for an hour and a half each day. And parents reported that children from 0 to 2 years old spent more time on digital devices each day than 3- to 5-year-olds.

Within the report, the authors noted what young children (up to age 5) can do without any assistance when using a tablet or smart technology. They can swipe the screen or turn a page with an e-book, trace shapes, drag items, open and use apps, take photos, and a few of these youngsters can shop and purchase apps all on their own. All of this data suggests that parents and young children are active users of technology and digital literacy practices.

Now think about the shift from home to school. In some schools, it is still rare to see children move easily from print-based to digital practices. So in practice, the use of school-based digital literacy may sometimes only occur in a computer lab or during a center where children can engage with computers or tablets. There are many reasons for this minimal use of digital engagement in classrooms with some being time constraints, a teacher’s lack of knowledge about digital practices, or a lack of resources.

While there can be multiple reasons for the limited use of digital practices in schools, there are simple ways to incorporate these experiences for children’s benefit. Following are some ways to bring ongoing digital literacy practices to classrooms to support current literacy expectations.

Teachers can use free apps that share children’s e-books. Through their use, children move between digital and print-based reading material and become comfortable with both. E-books allow readers to engage with text in ways they can manipulate by scanning forward and back and listening to prerecorded readings of text.

Teachers can add to e-books by including apps that engage students in creating digital material. Free apps like Popplet help children organize ideas so they can share presentations about content. They just use their already developed knowledge about dragging and dropping information into a template that they can customize to share information with others within and outside of their school.

Another easy-to-use app is Padlet, in which children can respond to a teacher’s question or participate in the interpretation of their reading. Each child adds to the digital conversation, and the entire conversation can be shared with students, parents, and other classrooms. Teachers can also use this app to create charts for students to guide and support student learning. For example, a teacher can create a chart to help children understand their developing knowledge about the water cycle. Each day, children revisit the chart to revise previous information or to add new information.

And perhaps the easiest way to bring digital literacy to a classroom is through the use of digital storytelling. In our literacy center at the University of Nevada, struggling readers create digital stories using a variety of apps and also construct PowerPoint presentations. They create oral stories by relying on the Toontastic app, where they select images and characters and then narrate and record their story orally. Students also bring their own ideas to PowerPoint presentations complete with videos, illustrations, and their own voice recording of the slide shows. All of these digital literacy tools allow struggling readers to not only create and develop their own ideas but also support sharing stories with other readers and audiences.

Digital literacy is present in children’s lives from birth, and children quickly become competent users and creators of digital products. Bringing digital literacy to schools can be accomplished through exploration of e-books, apps and, in particular, the creation of digital stories. It may take some problem solving to incorporate digital literacy practices, but students and teachers deserve opportunities to explore the possibilities.

diane-baroneDiane Barone is a foundation professor of literacy studies and the director for professional specialized studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is the immediate past president of the ILA Board of Directors.


1 comment

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  1. Rachael Hyaduck | Nov 01, 2016
    This is a really great post! I am currently a student who is studying to become a future educator and in one of my courses, we have talked about different types of literacy.   Digital literacy is something that I have been fascinated in learning more about and learning ways to incorporate media into the classroom.  This post provides readers with so many resources and resources is something that I have been looking for when it comes to promoting digital literacy.  I cannot wait to look into the resources that you listed and find ways to utilize them in my future classroom! Great post! 

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