At ISTE 2016 I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel, sponsored by Samsung Education, with other educators and industry experts, spending an hour talking about literacy in the age of technology. It was an engaging discussion that looked at how one district in Tennessee leveraged technology to improve reading in the middle grades and also how literacy instruction is being impacted by the use of technology. My role in the discussion was that of a former District Technology Leader and what I’ve seen when implementing district technology programs centered around literacy.
For me this discussion really hit home. As a Father of a 2 daughters I see on an almost daily basis how computers, tablets and apps are impacting their literacy skills. For my 7 yr old she uses her tablet to find books she wants to read and also is able to practice her skills through read aloud and other features in the books. For my 3 year old she is able to use her manipulatives and other apps to practice her letters and letter sounds. It’s truly incredible to watch both of them using the technology and its power to learn.
As I’ve reflected on this panel a lot there are some important themes to remember when it comes to literacy and technology that we need to remember.
We Are All Teachers Of Literacy-Something that gets lost on many teachers is that, in addition to our role as content experts, we are also teachers of literacy. In the lower grades this idea is more embraced because of the single teacher model. But as students progress through the middle grades and into High School the idea of every teacher being a literacy teacher gets lost.
Each content area has it’s own special language that kids need to understand. For example in my science classroom we had our -ologies, chemistry terms and others that I needed to make sure my students understood. In addition there was reading in the content area that is also important. So regardless if we teach World History or Advanced Calculus or Biology we are all teachers of literacy.
Be A Skeptic When It Comes To Technology And Literacy-As we talked about in our panel there is a lot of technology out there that can be used to improve literacy with students. Look at my girls. They, like many other kids are using it. But we have to be careful. In my time as a District Technology Leader I saw plenty of schools waste many dollars on software that promised to improve how kids read or recalled what they read when really the technology was a babysitter.
We’ve probably all heard of someone looking for the “next big thing” when it comes to technology and literacy. We need to be careful and we need to be skeptical. Ask yourself, is what the technology trying to do really going to improve how kids read and comprehend what they read? Or will the technology just get in the way? Don’t just use technology to help kids read because it’s new or flashy. Focus on the technology that can actually help them improve.
Literacy Is More Than Just Reading-Another important theme from our panel discussion was, that while the literacy skills of reading, decoding and comprehension are all important, literacy is more than that. We’ve entered an age where the definition of what actually makes a person literate is shifting and evolving. The introduction of technology into learning is changing the ways that students communicate information. These “technoliteracy” skills that students need employ to communicate, no matter the technology. Blogging. Vlogging. Podcasting. Snapchating. As long as students have this comprehensive set of literacy skills it won’t matter the technology or app they use. They will be able to communicate their learning most effectively.
In this age of anytime access to technology and information kids need the other literacy skills too. Those of content curation, information evaluation, and the use of various, appropriate technologies to communicate information. For example my good friend Shaelynn Farnsworth teaches how students can use something simple like infographics to improve specific literacy skills and to convey a tremendous amount of information in an engaging way. In order to make literacy more whole we have to look beyond just the skills of reading and look at literacy as multimodal, especially in this age of technology.
So perhaps it’s the definition of literacy that needs updating or maybe it’s just our perception of it that needs changing. Either way we have to look at literacy differently. Literacy is an entire set of skills that enable all of us to engage with information differently. Literacy today is taking on a whole new meaning and many years from now it will mean something entirely different. Therefore, we have to look at literacy through a new lens and expand on our definition of what makes kids and all of us literate and examine how technology supports our ability to do so.