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What Do Mechanics, Detectives, and Activists Have in Common? Digital Safety!

By Aimee Morewood and Elizabeth Huff
 | Jul 24, 2019

Last fall, Liz, a preservice teacher, approached me about possibly working together to complete some of the required contract hours at her professional development school (PDS). Contract hours consisted of developing a unique plan of learning opportunities that also benefited the PDS where she spent three consecutive years.

Of course, when she came and asked me to be a part of this project I was more than happy to oblige—now we just needed to figure out the project! 

After a few conversations we started to consider how ILA’s
Standards for the Preparation of Literacy Professionals 2017, specifically Standards 2 and 5—Curriculum and Instruction and Learners and the Literacy Environment, respectively—would impact our work. This focus stemmed from past conversations between us about effective elementary literacy practices. For Liz to better understand the standards, she first reviewed the standards for pre-K and primary-level classroom teachers. Then, she explored this work at her PDS to learn how practicing teachers were enacting these standards.

Liz spoke with individual teachers and grade-level teams to gain a better sense of what these two standards looked like in the classrooms of a rural elementary school. While she found a variety of examples for the two standards, Standard 5 kept rising to the top of the conversations. More specifically, Liz found herself talking about and looking for evidence of Component 3: “Candidates incorporate safe, appropriate, and effective ways to use digital technologies in literacy and language learning experiences.”

As Liz spoke with teachers about the digital technologies and the literacy learning practices they used in their schools, teachers began to discuss the need for incorporating basic technology skills into their daily instruction. For example, the media specialist discussed how she noticed that students were unaware of simple computer skills, such as restarting a computer to update the applications. She discussed with Liz how she now has students practice turning their computers off at the end of each class so that they get into the habit of doing this with the technology they use independently. There are many technological maintenance methods that we do on a normal basis and may spend little time thinking about, therefore, we may forget to explicitly direct students on how to complete these tasks. In fact, we might be missing out on teaching some of the most basic technology information because we make assumptions that students know what to do and why.

As Liz thought more about basic digital skills, she considered what else might be assumed by teachers about students’ understanding of safe digital literacy practices. She recognized that students need opportunities to engage with digital tools to better understand how these tools function. After speaking with practicing teachers and thinking through these assumptions, Liz articulated three ways to include safe digital practices in elementary classrooms and schools.

  • Computer mechanics: This activity allows early-grade students to sleuth through basic tools and functions of a computer. Students are given the opportunity to learn about the tools of a computer and how to properly maintain technology through a scavenger hunt approach. For example, they can be asked to copy, cut, and paste part of a document as part of the technology scavenger hunt.
  • Cyber detectives: As we all know, we must move students beyond the “Sign here for safety” contract/ideas of cyber safety and toward a deeper understanding of safe digital practices. Students in the upper elementary grades can participate in Cybersmart Detectives, a teacher-led interactive class activity that reinforces messages about personal safety and protective measures for dealing with strangers online.
  • Real-world activists: Teachers can use real-world scenarios that involve different types of technology and social media to discuss online safety. Student debates can be structured to position students to take on and defend different perspectives within these real situations so that they can then better understand the variables at play and how to avoid undesirable situations online. Students can then organize a schoolwide event to advocate for safe digital practices across the school community.

As you can see, our intention is to provide ways to teach students about safe digital practices from early elementary school through high school. These suggestions align well with Standard 5, Component 3. Of course, these skills and activities should be implemented using a developmentally appropriate lens to ensure relevance and understanding. This will support student learning and will help to keep our students safe as they engage with different technology and platforms both in and out of school.

Aimee Morewood is an associate professor at West Virginia University. She is the outreach coordinator for the fully online Master of Arts Literacy Education/Reading Specialist Certification program. 

Liz Huff is a recent graduate of West Virginia University's Five-Year Teacher Education program. She is currently a third-grade teacher in Virginia. 

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