So much of the beginning of the year and the first days of school is relationship building. It’s really about trying to build a classroom community, which means doing activities where the students have opportunities to interact with each other and with me in meaningful ways so we can get to know each other. I think it’s really important to build relationships as well as classroom routines and expectations.
The beginning of the year is very specific and explicit: "These are the expectations, this is why we're doing it, this is your responsibility because of this expectation, and this is my responsibility." Routines and expectations are important because they help students feel comfortable because they know what to do. Just like teachers, many students have anxiety at the beginning of the school year. By showing them from the beginning that this is what I expect and this is how they're going to do it, students understand that this is what our classroom is like. I feel like that helps set the tone for our classroom community.
When I first started teaching 18 years ago, I could introduce digital citizenship to my students on my own time line, since primary graders weren't as immersed in the digital world as they are now. Today, our digital citizenship work starts on the first day of school. We want to nurture students who think critically, behave safely and ethically, and participate responsibility in the digital world.
To do that, we must give students opportunities to use technology and teach them to be creators of content, not just consumers.
So what does this look like at the beginning of the year? It means that students understand the acceptable use policy (AUP). Every student (and his or her parent) has to sign an AUP before using any technology or digital device, regardless of grade or age. For first-graders, promising to only use programs and apps that the teacher has asked them to use is as important as an eighth-grader acknowledging that he or she is responsible for his or her conduct on all online sites.
We'll also have a conversation about why it's important to be careful with the devices, and we'll talk about the students' own experiences with electronic devices -- they tend to have experiences that involve using their parents' phones or tablets, and when they use their parents' devices, they tend not to be very careful. We'll talk about why at school we have to be more careful with our devices and how our class shares the devices with other classrooms. I will show them how to hold it, and they'll practice. It can be reassuring to students to actually know what those expectations are; students aren't guessing what the teachers want for them if the expectation has been set up at the beginning.
A core part of digital citizenship is knowing what it means to be a creator. As a first-grader, I can use an iPod and take photos or make drawings online and I have created something, and if I share it with people, it falls under copyright and I can have a Creative Commons license for it.
It's an interesting entry point into conversations with kids about who owns what in terms of, "If I take a picture of you, do I own it or do you?"
It’s a little deep for first-graders, but we start the conversation about what the picture really means and who owns it.
My school uses FreshGrade, an app that allows us to capture and assess student learning. We expect our students to be active participants, identifying which artifacts are used as evidence of learning. Often this means taking photos of their work. Each classroom has five iPod touches that students use to take photos and upload the photos to FreshGrade. That gives us opportunities to talk about actual digital citizenship with respect and responsibility. Many students' work will be on the same iPod, so it's learning not to erase other people's work and not to assume it's your work if you don't recognize it. There are all sorts of interesting dynamics for what it means to be a classroom community sharing the same tech tools.
Being digitally literate is really important for all people -- students and adults -- and because as adults we didn't necessarily grow up with the same access to technology that students have, I think we often forget that students need explicit training in how to use it. People say, "The child's a digital native," but that has nothing to do with whether or not they know how to use technology well; that just means they've grown up with it. Just because I grew up speaking English doesn't know I mean everything about English; we still go to English class for 13 years of our lives.
Digital citizenship is a vital component of a caring, respectful classroom community, and it can't stop after the first week. Reinforcing key ideas, providing opportunities for students to be ethical online, and supporting students as content creators is vital.
Tips for teachers looking to strengthen digital citizenship in their classrooms:
1. Everyone should be teaching digital citizenship regardless of whether they and their students have access to technology in the classroom, because the kids go home and use technology. It's still important to start having that conversation regardless, especially as the kids get older.
2. I use resources from Common Sense’s Parent Concerns and Family Tip Sheets, and I have found Talking Safety Online and the K–5 Digital Life Sheet to be particularly useful in answering parent questions. Parents also really appreciate the Parent Concerns, which address issues they're worried about, such as screen time and cyberbullying.
3. Common Sense Education's digital citizenship lessons, available as digital downloads, iBooks Textbooks, and Nearpod lessons, can be a big help. If you're teaching primary grades and really don't have access to technology, I think you still can do the standalone digital citizenship lessons. You might have to modify them, but having conversations about how to be safe in general is really important, and you can expand that to say, "When you get online, you also need to be safe." You're able to bring the extra digital layer into conversations you're probably already having with students.