Today’s students are surrounded by technology; an ever-evolving new frontier that is part of their daily lives now and will continue to be during college and their careers. Because of this, students must develop digital literacy skills. Digital literacy is the knowledge and skills used across devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop PCs, and the ability to find meaning from the information delivered through these different platforms. Many students already have a keen understanding of technology—and many adults must learn to keep up. Knowing how to use smartphones and understanding the information they provide are two different things; every day, educators are exploring how to use technology in the classroom to engage our students.
But parents also have a unique opportunity to build digital literacy skills that are important in the classroom without ever being in those four walls. From critical thinking, reading, and writing, to exploration, research, and discovery, there are many skills kids can build while using smartphones, tablets, or computers. Every day offers an opportunity to build skills. From the car, the breakfast table, the mall, walking down the street, on a bus, or plane, parents and their kids can explore new information, hone reading and thinking skills, evaluate what they find, and talk about their findings. By using smartphones, tablets, and laptops, parents guide and support the development of lifelong literacy for their kids through the technology that is so natural for them. While parents can help instruct students on digital literacy, there is also the opportunity to use these shared activities and experiences as family bonding as well.
Like their children, parents can also discover different online apps, sites, databases, and digital texts to enhance and complement their kids’ critical thinking, writing, listening, research, and reading, virtually anywhere. To begin, parents can build on what is happening in classes and talk with kids about topics which interest them about their school work and the world around them.
Embrace Digital Features
While some of us may love to feel a book in our hands, e-readers often have features that can help your child build their reading and comprehension skills.
Dictionary/Thesaurus: Do make use of the tools many e-readers provide to aid reading and allow reader(s) to remain inside the text, rather than leave it to outside references. Many e-readers allow for kids to touch a word, have it defined and even hear the word pronounced.
Bookmarking, highlighting, annotating: These features allow readers of different levels to make quick notes, reminders, highlight specific sections, and bookmark a page for easy reference. These digital tools help expert readers and train younger readers on aids that help sustain and memorialize ideas, queries, and key points. For older students, these tools help them to bookmark and notate structure, style, and research for less frustrating reference later.
Practice Critical Reading Skills
Reading to your kids is an important and formative skill that will last and become a part of your child’s skill set. Digital platforms allow for flexibility and larger variety to texts simply because readers allow for more content.
Scanning and close reading are critical for kids’ reading development. Scanning is reading to target and/or determine resource value, accuracy, and merit of assignment. This mode of reading is quick; practiced by most of us initially. Close reading is reading for understanding. This kind of reading focuses on deep, analytical reading skills that kids learn in PreK-12 and which kids must have mastered for college and career success. Close reading develops and matures kids’ abilities to identify, summarize, infer, distinguish cause/effect, motivation, evaluate, analyze, construct outside possibilities, and more.
For younger children, read in “chunks,” stopping to ask questions about a particular event, a character, choices, challenges, or actions, for example. Don’t be concerned if your child cannot answer exactly or even correctly; the aim is to begin the process of interaction with the text, to hear words, and see expressions—both in illustrations, on your face, and in your voice.
For older kids, reverse the strategy above.Listen to your child read to you, again stopping periodically to ask questions. Your questions however, should be aimed for your clarification. In other words, because you are the listener, you can ask for clarification or engage in “what ifs” or “hmmm, I wonder why” inquiries. This approach engages kids on a different level where they drive the information and analysis for and with you.
Help Identify Sources
As you and your kids begin exploring online sites for general information and school assignments, ask the following questions:
1. What type of site is it? Sites are identified by different types of addresses:
- Ending in .edu are educational and produced by K-12 schools, colleges, or universities.
- Ending in .gov are sites created by state and the federal government for public information.
- Ending in .org sites are usually produced by professional and institutional organizations reporting their research studies and reports, although anyone can purchase a .org web address.
- Ending in .com are usually commercial sites produced by individuals, businesses, and news organizations. These sites are sometimes for profit. It is important to note that most news organizations have .com endings.
2. Who is the author of the article or site information? How do you know if the site is credible?
- Are her or his credentials listed on the site?
- Is there information about the author or producer of the material in the “about” section?
- Check out the Harvard Guide to Using Sources.
3. How current is the information contained on the site?
- Check dates for news articles and other updated content.
- Check the copyright at the bottom of the page for the last time the content was updated.
4. Is the information supported by other resources?
- Regardless of the type of site, encourage your kids to look for a variety of different sources when doing research.
- Avoid basing research on a single resource and only one opinion. Use several references as a rule.
- If the site’s author makes claims based only on her or his opinion without references, encourage your kids to be suspicious.
- Simply put: Do not trust information online that cannot be verified.
5. How could you use the information/resources at school?
- Encourage your kid to think about how the information from these sites could be used in their real life or in the classroom.
Be Aware of Internet Safety
Online security is another important part of digital literacy. There are sites where your kids’ email addresses and other personal information may be hacked and taken from them before they realize it. The US government has more information about online safety and identifying fraud here.
Keep a Record of Trusted Sites
After answering the questions above, you and your kids can keep a list of reliable sites you discover together. To begin, trusted online sites such as the Smithsonian Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NASA, the National Park Service, and Vicki Blackwell, whose site offers an array of virtual field trips to exotic locations around the globe. All these sites and others help kids experience a new world of learning and understanding literally at their fingertips.
As you explore these online resources, ask your kids:
- What ideas, concepts, or facts did you find and learn that you didn’t known before?
- How do you think this site will be helpful to you in school?
- What other topics and sites do you want to explore/research online?
Encourage your kids to rely on the new online sites they discover not only to complete school assignments in all their subject areas, but to explore the many topics that interest them and fuel their imagination. For example: What do the rings of Saturn really look like; Who built the pyramids in ancient Egypt; Where is the highest mountain and deepest part of the ocean on Earth; How fast do the sun’s rays travel to Earth, and Who was the first woman ever elected to Congress? The answers are there online; make it an adventure for you and your kids to find them!
Continue these conversations and online explorations with your kids on a regular basis. This experience of working together can transform the smartphone, tablet, or computer from a device for personal entertainment and social networking into a tool for exploration, growth, and understanding. As you and your kids continue to absorb new information and think about what it means and how best to use it, you and your kids are constructing digital literacy skills—critical skills that will help them through all levels of school and as they move through life.
Jocelyn Chadwick is a Parent Toolkit expert and the Vice President of the National Council of Techers of English. John Grassie is an author and education researcher and lecturer.
Additional Digital Online Literacy Resources
Harvard Guide to Using Sources
Six Questions That Will Tell You What Media to Trust
Educational Apps History
Project Gutenberg Free downloads of literary masterpieces
Borrow, Read, Build A Collection of Literature
Library of Congress Digital Collections
Math Planet- High School Math Resource
Inclusion in this list does not reflect an endorsement by NBC News.