Saturday, April 16, 2016

Every Teacher, Every Classroom, Every Day

Dear Teachers,

I have previously written about my passion for every teacher in every classroom every day to address digital citizenship. I still believe the words I wrote, and still have the very optimistic hope that it will happen. I've also written about the importance of digital literacy, and how teachers simply can't in good conscience continue to say "I'm just not good with computers."

I want to see every teacher addressing the skills of digital literacy and digital citizenship every day. It's my new obsession. I'm not kidding: I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how we can make sure that students are learning the skills they need to separate the wheat from the chaff on the Internet, understand what it means when they click that clickbait, what they need to do to create a positive online presence, and how to search for information more efficiently. The world wide web is a vast and complicated world, and students are having to figure it out for themselves. We wouldn't want students learning about sex from their 11-year-old friends, and we shouldn't be allowing them to navigate the digital waters completely without our help either.

I don't believe anyone learns skills when they are presented in isolation. So it's a challenging task to figure out where exactly in a curriculum a student will learn keyboarding skills, or shortcut keys, or how to select the appropriate printer or download a document or create a screenshot or any of the hundreds of other things that my digitally literate friends know how to do. Some students learn these things along the way; maybe they have digitally literate parents and lots of opportunities to learn these skills at home as well as at school. Some kids have teachers who know the skills and pass on what they know to their students. Some students learn them just because they are persistent or observant and are willing to learn from watching others or from their own mistakes.

But what about kids who don't have as much access to computers in their homes or classrooms? What about students whose parents don't know the tricks of technology literacy or the elements of digital citizenship? What about students who go for a year or more with a teacher who doesn't possess the digital skills herself, or who doesn't try to stretch the students to discover the skills on their own?

Those are the ones I worry about.

These are not just "nice things to know." One of my Internet heroes, Angela Maiers, wrote recently that digital literacy is about power and privilege. She wrote, "Fluency in any language, digital or otherwise, comes from immersion and access to those grounded and fluent in the language. It must be taught explicitly and directly." Hear that? Teachers need to be "grounded and fluent" not only in their subject areas, but also in the language and skills of digital literacy and digital citizenship. And just as a student wouldn't become fluent in Spanish from watching the occasional video, students are not going to become fully digitally literate if teachers merely throw in an isolated lesson from time to time. The skills need to be woven into everything that happens in a classroom.

If technology comes easily to you, maybe you are already passing along to your students the skills you've picked up along the way. If technology is something you struggle with, you can still help your students by starting to learn new digital skills NOW. Model for your students that you are doing something that is challenging for you, and you're nervous about using a new skill or unsure of what to do next. Ask your peers or your students for suggestions on skills that would make a task easier. Start taking notes if you need to about the new skills you're acquiring and then pass them along, both to your colleagues and to your students. You may be rolling your eyes at me (especially at this test-drenched time of year) and thinking, "Yeah right. Just what I need: one more thing to think about and try to do."

But if done the way I dream about, it won't really seem like one more extra. I have this crazy idea that digital literacy and digital citizenship can be embedded into any curriculum, so that teachers will be reminded to mention them at points of need, not as isolated skills lessons or "one more thing to check off the list." I think it's important for students to be able to identify the digital skills they use, just as we might ask them to identify a math problem-solving skill or an element of figurative language in a text. My goal is to submit this idea to the Google for Education Certified Innovator program. The deadline for applying this quarter is May 10. If you have any ideas or suggestions that I can include in my proposal, I would surely love to hear them.



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