Education Week - November 9, 2016 - 8
How Should Elementary
Schools Teach Reading in
An Age of Computers?
> By Liana Heitin
ith the many enhancements to
mobile devices, multimedia websites, e-books, interactive graphics, and social media, there's no
question that the nature of reading has changed during the past decade.
But has the way reading is taught in elementary
schools changed as well? And what should teachers be
doing to get students ready for the realities of modern
For now, there's no consensus on exactly how digital skills should be incorporated into literacy instruction. Practitioners have few guidelines, and many
are simply adapting their lessons as they see fit. But
many literacy experts do agree on at least one thing:
that all students should be learning with a mix of
print and digital texts-even the very youngest.
"Just like we teach nonfiction and fiction at a very
young age, I think we can talk to preschoolers and kindergartners about different kinds of texts-this is one
where we turn the pages, and this is one where we click
on the different pages," said Kristen Hawley Turner, an
associate professor of English education and contemporary literacies at Fordham University.
Exposing students to both print and digital reading
early on in school is a way of reflecting what authentic
reading looks like, many said.
"It is the way people read, write, communicate,
and learn in the world, so kids should be learning
it from the beginning," said Bridget Dalton, an associate professor of literacy studies at the University
of Colorado at Boulder. "You don't wait till they're
proficient in one to do the other. It's a simultaneous
But unfortunately, experts said, the transition to that
way of instruction has been slow going in many places.
The word "reading" in elementary classrooms often still
refers mainly to print.
According to survey data from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only about 1 in 10
4th graders use computers to access reading-related
websites on a daily basis or nearly every day at school.
About 30 percent of students in 4th grade classrooms
| Education Week * November 9, 2016
never, or hardly ever, use computers to access such
reading material in school.
"Think about what happens in the real world, and
school is not there, regrettably," Turner said.
Brenda LeClerc, an elementary reading specialist in
Lincoln, R.I., who attended a digital-literacy institute at
the University of Rhode Island this past summer, said
students in her classes have generally read "really only
print-based materials." She is working to expand her
own digital skills because "everything outside of school
is not print-based for the most part," she said. "I feel
like I need to be more comfortable with it."
Print Skills Plus
Adding digital reading to the already-tough task of
teaching elementary students foundational print skills
can be daunting, though.
Even students born in a digital age need to learn a host
of new skills, including how to operate the devices, navigate online tools, manage distractions, and maintain
their own safety and privacy.
"It's challenging. As teachers, we're just realizing how
much our own reading and writing lives have changed,"
said Franki Sibberson, a 3rd grade teacher in Dublin,
Ohio, and the vice president of the National Council of
Teachers of English.
One of the best ways to teach technical skills is
through modeling, many said. Teachers can show students how to use technology by using it themselves and
talking out the process.
"This week, we might be reading a paper book [for
a read aloud], and next week, I might read something off my Kindle," said Kristin Ziemke, a 1st
grade teacher at the Academy of St. Benedict the African in Chicago, who also consults with other urban
schools as a learning-innovation specialist. "I want
them to see what it looks like to turn the page, to
Students, especially the youngest ones, don't each
need their own device to do that, either. "One device and
the projector changes everything for kids and for teachers," she said.