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    Here for You: The Gift of Shared Digital Literacy

    By Carolyn Fortuna
     | Jan 18, 2019

    As a literacy teacher for nearly 25 years, I’ve seen many trends ebb and flow, each one seeking to enhance lifelong learning. Cornell notes. Dialectical journals. Writer’s workshop. Visualization. One-page diagrams. Mind mapping. Freytag Pyramid. Transactional reader response. As Julie Coiro notes, literacy tools of all kinds motivate students, to “wonder, anticipate, explore, and think deeply about things that matter to them.” With each “new” movement, a kernel of what came before is carried along.

    Digital literacy practices in today’s classrooms and out-of-school learning centers incorporate some of the best literacy learning across domains, platforms, and practices, such as Microsoft and Google environments, blogs and websites, coding and filmmaking, digital storytelling, and portfolios.

    fortuna-1 copyAnd, yet, digital literacy is also a bit different than other types of literacy. It’s a very hands-on learning experience. Although it is possible to acquire the skills and strategies of digital competence through reading a how-to tech text, the likelihood of digital mastery increases with 1-to-1 instruction. This makes sense, as all learning is social.  Let’s look at some examples to get you thinking about the possibilities.

    Could Google Sites such as mine be useful for modeling how electronic portfolios can support learning?  Or maybe you’re interested in exploring how Padlet or Socrative can be used to develop quick formative assessments? Perhaps Piktochart (such as this project) or Canva more closely approximate commonly-accepted conventions of 21st-century text rather than markers and a paper poster board?

    Would Storybird increase student engagement in ways that worksheets can’t, as students learn how to identify narrative structure—such as in this poignant student-created children’s book about gender equality? Or are memes a better way to teach metaphorical language and symbolism than mining a text for an author’s meaning? You can see how I modeled memes in the mashup below for my Sports and Popular Culture course during a unit on race and class.

    fortuna-2It’s likely that the answer to at least some of these questions is yes. But I believe the most efficacious way to translate the ability to navigate each of the platforms is person to person. The digital educator is a facilitator, spreading expertise in what begins as small pockets of individual epiphanies into currents of students teaching each other.

    The domains of literacy merge and recede, too, so that digital literacy meets and extends other types of literacy learning. With the help of digital tools, informational literacy, media literacy, and traditional literacy speak to each other vividly. Indeed, a new-and-improved type of mastery learning, asynchronous digital literacy, invites in all kinds of learners to take advantage of tools that weren’t available to previous generations who relied on pen and paper, print textbooks, and the sole option of face-to-face instruction.

    fortuna-3Rather than seeing digital instruction as an additional expectation for educators, I’d like to suggest that expertise in digital tools and texts eases an educator’s multiple and frequently contradictory responsibilities. When the educator is a facilitator whose models can be hyperlinked, for example, all kinds of learners and learning experiences become possible. Students and educators are able to investigate (as shown in this mental illness WebQuest for a psychology and literature course), collaborate (students worked together in teams to analyze The Zoo Story),  and reflect (I created a teacher model for a film assignment on a “sense of place”). A more nuanced toolkit of literacy strategies has the capacity to stick with students after an individual lesson or even course ends, as digital literacy seeps from one classroom to everyday textuality.

    Think of all the ways that our students are composing today. As a social constructivist digital space, YouTube's Which University gives youth voice to compose and publish. The mash-ups so popular on social media connect cultural allusions to contemporary current events. In a 2013 article How Media Literacy Supports Civic Engagement in a Digital Age, researchers Hans Martens and Renee Hobbs discuss how media literacy supports civic engagement by explaining how civic engagement has been revived by the commenting feature of online magazine and newspapers. Each of these composition and publishing practices requires a facility with digital literacy that is acquired through what researchers Christine Greenhow and Kathy Lewin call social modeling.

    Digital literacy that emphasizes learners as coproducers of knowledge has a strong focus on students’ everyday use of and learning with Web 2.0 technologies in and outside of classrooms. Social digital learning imbues classrooms with challenges for students to interact, share information and resources, and think critically. With its inherent increased levels of peer support and communication about course content and assessment, digital learning is a win-win scenario, offering positive effects on the expression of self and voice across disciplines and intelligences.

    Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is the program chair of the Northeast Regional Media Literacy Conference and professional development coordinator for the Media Education Lab. You can follow her digital and media literacy work at

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Questioning, Digital Images, and Students’ Digital Literacy Learning

    By Vicky Zygouris-Coe
     | Jan 11, 2019

    questioning-digital-imagesTeaching students how to evaluate online sources (i.e., for usefulness, accuracy, and reliability) is what I refer to as “nonnegotiable” for developing students’ 21st-century literacy skills. Questioning the author’s purpose, making personal connections with the image, raising questions about how to use the information communicated in the image, negotiating meaning with others about the image, and questioning how relevant and adequate the information is to a topic under study are skills that can shape students’ online reading comprehension and digital literacy skills.

    Following are examples of digital images and a set of questions from a unit I recently developed on the topic of global crises. My goal with the unit was to search for digital learning experiences that would expand my students’ online reading comprehension and critical literacy skills. My search focused on credible, reliable, and complex digital images on a topic that is current and relevant.

    Accessing digital image collections

    The first collection of digital images on Refugee Camps in Europe is from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting—an innovative, award-winning, nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to supporting in-depth engagement with underreported global affairs. As part of this digital text, students read and analyzed how a journalist used images, language, and tone to represent multiage refugees’ experiences with seeking asylum in Europe.

    The second collection of digital images is from The International Rescue Committee—an international organization with the mission to help people whose lives are impacted by conflict and disaster to survive and recover. Many of the images are about the more than 50,000 refugees in Greece who are not legally allowed to travel from Greece to other European countries.

    The third collection is called Drawings by Refugee Children, an edited collection of children’s drawings about subjects such as the Syrian war and the deadly crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.

    Asking questions that inspire learning and digital composition

    Students can interact with these image collections in several ways. For this unit, I chose to focus on student engagement through a series of questions that prompt students to evaluate the sources I selected. You might also use the following questions to begin small-group or whole-class discussions, asking students to provide evidence from the image to support their assertions.

    • What is the image about?
    • Who is the author of this image?
    • When was the image published?
    • Where was the image published?
    • What do you see in the image?
    • What words would you choose to describe the image?
    • What is the tone of the image?
    • What three adjectives describe how the image makes you feel?
    • What questions do you have about this image?
    • What is the author trying to communicate through this image about the experiences of the refugees who are trying to relocate to Europe?
    • What additional images would you like to have about the topic?
    • What headline would you write about the topic using information from the image(s)?

    To further develop students’ digital literacy skills, you could encourage students to engage with a range of extension activities as they use technology to recompose what they are learning about the topic through their reading and discussions about the images.

    Reading digital texts and images requires much more than just reacting to what is visible. Through careful and deliberate selection of digital texts followed by scaffolded questioning about the digital images they encounter, your students will enjoy exploring new topics while also learning how to apply a range of digital literacy practices.

    Vicky Zygouris-Coe is a professor in reading education at the University of Central Florida, College of Community Innovation and Education.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Rethinking Source Evaluation for a Digital Age

    By Kristine E. Pytash and Beth Walsh-Moorman
     | Dec 14, 2018

     originalAttribute=A recent study by MIT scholars found that fake information is 70% more likely to be retweeted than facts. Online sources can offer half-truths, manipulate data, or advance a political or social agenda in ways that look completely impartial to the reader. Moreover, Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) studied 8,000 student responses that required evaluation of information from social media (including advertisements, photo sharing sites, and news stories) and found that students in middle school through college showed an alarming lack of critical thinking skills. In an executive summary of the report, SHEG stated, “Our digital natives may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are duped.”  

    SHEG has identified “lateral reading” as a way to teach the strategic thinking employed by fact-checkers. When given an online article for evaluation, McGraw and his colleagues found that “fact checkers do not spend time observing the source itself; rather, they read “laterally, hopping off an unfamiliar site almost immediately, opening new tabs.... They left a site in order to learn more about it” (see more in their 2017 American Educator article). In one study, fact-checkers were able to quickly note that an article about minimum wage was sponsored by a public relations firm for service  industries.

    So how can classroom teachers help students read laterally? We suggest that this skill can be easily embedded in classroom instruction. For instance, Katie, a high school teacher, includes lateral reading when teaching Nick Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (W.W. Norton). While she has students evaluate Carr’s argument, she added a formative step: At each new reading, students worked in groups to identify what sources Carr used in his argument. Then, the groups would break off and research those sources, often finding original texts and reading other references to them. Throughout the unit, students read and watched clips of 2001: A Space Odyssey, look at a 2001 Canadian study of  hyperlinks, and read reference materials about Descarte—all to determine how accurate Carr uses the work of others to back up his own claims.

    “The process of lateral reading made the reading process more of an active conversation with the author,” said Katie. For instance, one student found a source behind a pay wall and told the class, “(If) I can’t read his sources without paying for them, I wonder what the sources really said. What if they said more than what he quoted?”

    Using lateral reading as part of argument evaluation shifted the burden from the teacher to the students. Importantly, lateral reading can be used for any informational text. Elementary students can do their own research about before Nikola Tesla before reading Elizabeth Rusch’s Electrical Wizard (Candlewick). By middle school, teachers can ask students to evaluate an editorial about a recent event by first reading coverage of that event and then researching the news organization itself. In high school, authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Sebastian Junger can be excerpted or read in full before lateral reading.

    The social aspect of the lesson strengthens the students’ ability to question the texts they read. Students’ lateral reading results can be summarized and shared through a Padlet or class blog. After the reading, students can use Poll Anywhere to rate the argument. Class discussions can focus on how sources were manipulated. Katie chose to have her students write a traditional essay, however, students can use Piktochart or other infographic apps to address the question, how effective was this argument?

    Preparing students for an information- and misinformation-rich society is a challenge that will take time. Strategies such as lateral reading will not stop the spread of falsehoods, but they could make our students more aware.

    Kristine E. Pytash is an associate professor in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at Kent State University where she co-directs the Integrated Language Arts program.

    Beth Walsh-Moorman is an assistant professor of literacy at Lake Erie College in Painesville, OH. Her research interests include adolescent and new literacy practices, multimodal composition and disciplinary literacy. Beth spent 20 years as a high school English teacher and is editor of the Ohio Journal of English Language Arts.

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    Show Your Students Why Sourcing Matters

    By Eva Wennås Brante and Carita Kiili
     | Dec 07, 2018

    Many students struggle with sourcing, specifically, how to use source information to evaluate online sources or how to cite ones’ sources in the essay. Some students may not know how to source while others have knowledge about sourcing, but they don’t typically choose to apply that knowledge in practice This might be because they do not understand the value of sourcing.

    When investigating how children respond to information differently from adults and how they select whom to trust, researchers Paul Harris and Kathleen Corriveau found that, even for children, the source of information matters. For example, when two caregivers presented different statements, the children turned to the more familiar caregiver for confirmation. Children seemed to be nonselective in what they learn from others, but not in whom they learn from. This kind of spontaneous attention to sources of information may serve as a starting point for educators when explaining to students why sourcing matters. So, let’s do that!

    We will begin by sharing two examples that teachers could use to discuss the value of sourcing with their students. The first example from everyday life takes advantages of students’ spontaneous attention to sources and can also be used with younger students. The second example illustrates how information about the source may affect one's interpretation of a text's reliability. It also shows why one should pay attention to different aspects of the source during online inquiry.

    When students have understood the value of source information, they may be better motivated to cite their sources when reporting the results of their online research in a way that serves their readers. To provide informative in-texts citations, students need some guidelines. Our third example introduces two dimensions that students can keep in mind when formulating in-text citations.

    Example no. 1: Sourcing in everyday life

    Draw students’ attention to the value of citations by showing them a short message without a source (signature) and then, the same message with different signatures, following the stickers below (created with digital Superstickies).


    • After showing the first note, without the source, begin the conversation by asking students, “Would you like to know who has written the note? Why?”
    • After revealing the three other notes and calling attention to the different signatures (or sources) of each, ask students, “How do you interpret and react to the notes with different sources (signatures)?"

    Example no. 2: Sourcing when evaluating the reliability of a website

    Discuss the value of sourcing by asking students to evaluate the reliability of a fictitious website after showing them one piece of source information at the time, as listed below.

    • How reliable do you find the Web text that concerns health effects of chocolate when you know that:
      • An expert working at the health institute has been interviewed for the text?
      • The text has been published recently?
      • The text has been written by a web designer?
      • The text is published in the website of a chocolate manufacturer?
    • How did your interpretations on reliability change after each new piece of information about the source?
    • Do you think that one piece of information about the source is enough to make a proper conclusion about the reliability of the text? Why do you think so?

    Example no. 3: How to cite your Web sources in an essay?

    When older students are asked to formulate in-text citations in their essays, it is important that their citations are both accurate and provides rich information about the source. An accurate citation provides precise information about the Web page that students had actually read (e.g., it is published by The Washington Post). A citation that provides rich information includes two or more pieces of information that helps a reader to understand the nature of the source. 

    These two important dimensions can be introduced to students by using examples from the figure below. In the examples, source information is underlined.


    After explaining the dimensions, encourage your students to apply these principles in their essays.

    Eva Wennås Brante is a senior lecturer at the University of Malmö, Sweden.

    Carita Kiili is a postdoctoral fellows at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Integrating Technology and Multiple Texts to Promote Differentiation in Literacy Instruction Across the Discipline

    By Sohee Park and Bong Gee Jang
     | Nov 30, 2018
    Differentiation for Disciplines

    It goes without saying that literacy (i.e., reading, listening, writing, and speaking) is the core set of skills necessary for learning fundamental subjects in the 21st century. Given its importance in learning, educators have coined terms such as content literacy, content area literacy, and disciplinary literacy to better support students’ learning in and across disciplines. More recently, Bong Gee Jang, Dawnelle Henretty, and Heather Waymouth suggested using the term “literacy across the disciplines” in order to encompass “both general and discipline-specific literacy practices within and across academic domains.” In the article, they also emphasized the need for differentiated literacy instruction across the disciplines and proposed a pentagonal pyramid model.

    Specifically, this model incorporates three for factors representing student characteristics for differentiation (i.e., literacy levels, cultural and linguistic diversity, and motivation) and two by factors that can be used as tools of differentiation (i.e., technology and multiple texts). In this post, we will introduce an example of integrating technology and multiple texts for differentiated literacy instruction in the science class of a middle school teacher, Ms. Smith.

    Ms. Smith’s science unit about air pollution

    Ms. Smith is planning to teach a unit on air pollution to eighth-grade students. Having recently read articles about air pollution coming from local factories and wildfires in Los Angeles, she decides to center her pollution unit on a question relevant to her students’ lives: “What are the issues about local air pollution and what should be done to improve local air quality?”

    Differentiation for diverse culture, language, and literacy proficiency through multiple texts and technology

    In Ms. Smith’s eighth-grade science class, about half of the students are English language learners or have below grade-level proficiency in reading. To ensure all students have adequate prior knowledge about local air pollution, she creates a list of the following resources:

    To improve students’ understanding of the materials regardless of their language proficiencies, she carefully creates heterogeneous groups and asks them to complete the same tasks after reading different texts, such as the following:

    • Group A: resources no. 1 and no. 2  
    • Group B: resources no. 3 an no. 4
    • Group C: resources no. 5 and no. 6

    Each group watches and reads the assigned resources and organizes the available information about focal topics (i.e., air pollution status, causes of air pollution, impact of air pollution, current solutions for air pollution, and further actions to be taken) from the resources into tables, concept maps, and/or diagrams using online infographic tools such as Infogram and Venngage. Students who are proficient in languages other than English can also obtain information from resources through help from peers, the 40 different language supports embedded in the websites (resource no. 6), or Google Translate.

    Once each group completes the tasks, the students report what they found to other students. As a wrap-up activity, Ms. Smith cocreates a map about the current air quality and causes of air pollution in the Greater Los Angeles area using Google Maps’ Create Map function. Overall, this activity contributes to promoting students’ active engagement with a variety of literacy levels in her class because the use of their local knowledge, culture, and experience is valued and shared in this activity with multiple texts and technology tools.

    Differentiation for students’ motivation through technology

    As the final product of the inquiry-based project, Ms. Smith provides students with two options. The first is to write a letter/email to a state representative or to the editor of a local newspaper in order to draw his or her attention to this issue and to ask him or her to take action. The other option is to create a video showing and describing the status of air pollution, its direct and indirect impacts on the students and their family and community, and the possible efforts to improve air quality.

    After completing the final product, each student will be required to send the letter/email or publish the video on YouTube and share the link via social media (e.g., Instagram and Snapchat) that they have access to actual audiences. By providing options on the genre (i.e., persuasive vs. informative), platform (i.e., print-based vs. digital), and modality (i.e., monomodal vs. multimodal), students can make choices based on their abilities and preferences, and the realization that they are capable of doing the work can motivate them. Letting students have real and authentic audiences is another way of motivating them because it allows them to receive feedback and reactions from real people.

    We hope this example from Ms. Smith’s class helps educators better understand the pentagonal pyramid model of differentiated literacy instruction across the disciplines and gives them ideas for its application in their teaching.

    Sohee Park recently finished her doctoral study in education at the University of Delaware. She is currently participating in several research projects on digital/multimodal literacies, writing instruction, and struggling readers.

    Bong Gee Jang is an assistant professor in the Department of Reading and Language Arts at Syracuse University. His main areas of research include literacy motivation and engagement in digital settings and disciplinary/content literacy. His research has appeared in referred journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, Educational Psychology Review, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and The Reading Teacher. Jang teaches courses related to disciplinary literacy and language arts for both preservice and inservice teachers. He also teaches introductory and advanced quantitative method courses to graduate students.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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