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Reading & Literacy

Editor’s Note: Learning to Read in a Digital Age

By The Editors — November 09, 2016 1 min read

There has never been a generation of young people more immersed in digital media than this one. From computers to smartphone apps to e-books, electronic media has permeated the lives of many of today’s students since babyhood.

A survey from Common Sense media, a research and advocacy group, finds, in fact, that 72 percent of children ages 8 and younger have used a mobile device to play a game, watch a video, or use an app—and that’s from a survey conducted three years ago. The proportion of children using mobile has undoubtedly grown since.

The ubiquitous use of digital technology raises important questions for educators, especially those charged with preparing students to be literate in modern society. Of course, students must know how to read and write text, whether on a computer screen or on paper. But do they also need to learn to be “digitally literate?” And what does that mean?

In this report, “The Changing Face of Literacy,” Education Week explores those questions and attempts to show how the digital revolution is transforming literacy instruction throughout K-12.

As it turns out, experts and educators define digital literacy in various ways. For many, though, the term encompasses a wide range of skills beyond reading and writing, including reading on an e-reader, assessing the credibility of a website, or creating and sharing YouTube videos. As Audrey Church, the president of the American Association of School Librarians, notes in this report, “children are digital natives, but they’re not digitally literate.”

A 3rd grade student reads online at Indian Run Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio. The school integrates tablets, laptops, and print books into reading time.

Experts do agree, however, that even the youngest children should be learning literacy with a mix of print and digital texts. The Common Core State Standards, now used by 39 states, also give teachers a gentle nudge toward teaching digital literacy. Yet, while some of those standards explicitly call for technology use, others still leave it to teachers to decide whether to incorporate electronic media.

Some teachers have stepped up to that challenge, including one high school teacher in Mineola, N.Y., who is using 21st century technology to teach “Macbeth,” a play written nearly 500 years ago by William Shakespeare.

“My sense is that we’re not going to lose Shakespeare,” remarked another educator, a literacy coach in Revere, Mass. “He’ll remain forever young because of technology.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 09, 2016 edition of Education Week as Editor’s Note

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