Developing Digital Literacies. #2: yearn to be literate

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

2. Yearn to be literate.

A few years ago I was a rather jaded IT co-ordinator. I had fallen out of love with an area of the curriculum that I once thought could change the world. The reasons were many and varied: underfunding; cynicism amongst IT technicians; the monolithic nature of IT services within my city; a disillusionment amongst fellow teachers about the impact of IT; the lure of senior management.

And then I heard Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference.

He showed a simple visualisation of his contacts – there were about 6000 at the time and about a quarter were teachers. Yet nearly all links to the teachers looked different on the visualisation from everyone else because they did not contact him – they only listened.

The teachers were either too busy or too scared to talk. Too busy or too scared to do any kind of two-way communication. Too busy or too scared to be literate. His point was that just at the time when students were grappling with growing social media, teachers were shying away from it – choosing to be illiterate in an area where their influence could be really beneficial to society.

It was at that point that I started yearning to be digitally literate with ‘new stuff’ like Twitter. I got an account and started tweeting. I followed some key people from whom I heard about something called the Google Teacher Academy. I applied and, by the miracle of telekinesis, I got in. I carried on communicating, debating in education, growing my digital literacy. I started to blog. I made some videos.

This rubbed off onto my school. We now have a team of Year 6 who make videos each week. Children in Key Stage 2 create wikis and websites. Children set up email groups and email each other about things that interest them. And for those of you thinking standards, standards, standards – our children have ‘outstanding achievement’ in English and maths – so it’s not as if we drop the essentials just to do the fun stuff.

Nor can I say that it has been all ups. Sometimes I have lost my ‘yearning’. Like a few days ago when I posted this. Sometimes I question whether it is all worth it – let’s just teach spelling, punctuation, grammar, reading and maths I say to myself – after all, that’s all we are measured on. I suppose we all have our moments of doubt. But then I remember (or someone reminds me) that the children deserve more than that.

You have to believe that being digitally literate is important for yourself to make it appear anywhere on the priority list at school. I started to believe it was important and I believe this has impacted my school in the long run too.

My Silent Writing Collective

My family all busy writing
My family all busy writing

I was intrigued and excited to see Doug Belshaw’s Silent Writing Collective pop up on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know why the idea of sitting quietly for an hour with a laptop excites me, but it does. And it doesn’t take much Googling to discover that he’s not the only one to come up with the idea.

In fact I came up with the idea all by myself a few weeks before Doug Belshaw, but in a slightly different context. If you read my previous post you’ll have discerned that both my son and myself are rather poor at handwriting. Like me, he is in the category of handwriters who can write neatly and slowly or messily and fast. We’re both envious of those people who can write neatly and fast. Like my 8 year old daughter for example. She can do both.

So to stop both of us getting out of practice we started a ten minute diary writing session each evening with my entire family. All five of us sit down for ten minutes on a timer and write about our days. We then share our stories with each other.

While it might not sound like it, it’s been really fun, and something we all look forward to. We all have nice looking journals and decent pens to write with. And from the 4-year old (who mainly scribbles) to myself (who’s writing looks like scribbles), we have a great time

Why not have a go yourself? – start a journal; write a blog; or join one of the silent writing collectives that are out there.