Module 3 Reflection – for EDTC6433

Question for ISTE #3 – How can I model and facilitate digital literacy for my 6th grade ELA students?

“Digital Literacy” – What’s that?

There are several definitions and alternative labels for digital literacy floating around in the education technology conversation.  I am thankful to Karon Dragon and Wasnieswski Ewa of the University of Alberta, who have provided the following summary:

Ranieri,  Calvani  and  Fini  (2010)  would  define  digital  competence  as  “the  capability  to  explore and  face  new  technological  situations  in  a  flexible  way,  to  analyze,  select  and  critically  evaluate  data  and information,  to  exploit  technological  potentials  in  order  to  represent  and  solve  problems  and  build  shared and  collaborative  knowledge”  (pg.542).  Martin (2009)  defines  e-literacy  as  “awareness,  skills, understanding  and  reflective  evaluative  approaches  to  operate  in  an  information  rich  and  IT  supported environment” (p. 97).

Flexibility, source analysis and evaluation, information synthesis, problem solving.  Awareness, reflection, evaluation.  Fortunately, much of this is already reflected in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. Digital literacy is the term we’re using to adjust our notion of literacy according to how much more literature there is to be understood and sorted out.

With this definition in mind, he first step toward modeling and facilitating digital literacy should be to acknowledge the skills kids already have. As UCLA professor, Patricia Greenfield, has written,

The informal learning environments of television, video games, and the Internet are producing learners with a new profile of cognitive skills. This profile features widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills, such as iconic representation and spatial visualization.

In other words, the amount of time kids spend on their devices gives this generation a set of digital literacy skills unlike any we’ve ever seen.  Educators can leverage those skills by creating lessons, visuals, assessments and build on and reward those competencies.  To use just one example, iconic representation is useful for routines and other classroom communication.  If we leverage the fact that kids only need a symbol where we previously needed an explanation, we can reserve class time for the other skills involved in untangling a world wide web of ideas.

Untangling is a useful metaphor for what schools have always endeavored to help students do.  We set out the Odyssey, or Hamlet – or, if you teach 6th grade ELA – The Giver.  And we help kids pull out certain pieces to take a better look (analysis) and then arrange them in a meaningful order that will communicate some conclusion (synthesis).  The new literacy is the old literacy; there’s just a whole lot more text.  So we have to start setting out more texts at a time.  Which means that some of the time we used to spend close-reading novels will be spent close-reading the internet.

One difficulty will be keeping their attention.  This challenge of keeping kids on task is significantly altered when the ratio is 1-to-1, but it isn’t necessarily new or unique – or any more difficult!  Fortunately, it is easier than ever to track and respond to student tasks (programs like LanSchool let you monitor student screens).  Feedback is also faster and easier than ever before; using OneNote Class Notebook I can read work submissions in real time, and respond with feedback without shuffling through a pile of papers or a row of desks.

While technology has made broadened the realm of and demand for literacy, it has also provided some tools that promise to help us teach literacy more efficiently than we could before.


Dragon, K. and Ewa, W. (2012). “Relationships between Digital Literacy and Print literacy: Predictors of Successful On-line Search.” Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012. (PP. 1755-1758). University of Alberta, Canada.  Retrieved from

Greenfield, P. M. (2009).  Technology and Informal Education: What Is Taught, What Is Learned.  Science  Vol. 323, pp. 69-71. Retrieved from


Classroom Tips – for EDU 6136, Content Methods

Gather ’round, my friends.  I mean, if you want to.  Here are a few things I’ve been trying out in order to make my alignment between outcomes, activities, and assessments more prominent for my students.

TIPS Alignment

And here is a page from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, for those of you who may not have interest in the TIPS handout but will likely still benefit from the sage words of a cartoon cat:

walk-long-enough color

Observations of a Middle School Paraeducator

What I’ve learned so far about adolescent development hasn’t come from books or research.  I’ve spent the last ten years alongside adolescents in a variety of capacities – as a paraeducator, coach, and YoungLife leader.  Here are a few amateur observations I’ve made working at a public middle school over the last three years, and the ways in which these observations impact my interactions with students.  Since my job duties didn’t include classroom instruction, I’ve included my own philosophies of student support and a few comments on the instructional styles of certified teachers I’ve observed.

  1. Middle and high school students seem to be interminably hungry and tired. For many adolescents, school is just one piece of tackling a full schedule on an empty stomach.  They are easily, and understandably, distracted.  As a result, an adolescent’s attention must be earned through powerful, student-centered instructional techniques.  Teachers who keep this in mind implement creative pace-changing elements in their lesson plans, such as short bursts of physical activity or opportunities for students to turn and engage their seat partner.
  2. Many high school students seem to live for peer approval; middle school students seem more torn between pleasing their parents and pleasing their peers. I wonder if this indecision about whose approval they want leaves them with a sense of not living up to anyone’s  An important part of my approach to students is positivity; I want to make sure students know I’m happy to know them and happy to help.
  3. Gender has a peculiar, highly varied, and fairly significant impact on the social-emotional landscape of a middle school. Middle school students’ approach to members of the opposite gender range from indifference to obsession.  A comprehensively compassionate classroom culture requires an educator’s empathetic awareness of the interactions – or in many cases, separation – between boys and girls.
  4. In addition to the social and emotional impacts it can have, gender comes with some distinct biological and behavioral implications. There seems to be a belief among educators that boys are still in elementary school and girls are adults.  At times, I’ve been troubled by the ways some educators have incorporated these perceptions into their classroom management, particularly when it comes to discipline.  I’ve also seen a few teachers hold boys to lower standards of behavior and achievement than they do girls.  I look forward to learning more about the research related to gender in education and to hear from expert teachers on their instructional philosophies.