All the Literacies

Literacy is one of those terms with academic cache like critical thinking or problem-solving. It has a nice intellectual ring to it, a sense of student accomplishment. Every academic standard, unit and lesson plan, school mission, and vision is stuffed with such language to create a franchise: digital literacy, information literacy, news literacy, media literacy…

But what does it mean for students to be digitally literate? Or informationally literate?  What do the teaching of these skills, habits of mind, and knowledge look like in the classroom?

Digital Citizenship

Most school districts require teaching this topic to students, but too often, it’s scattershot, a compliance box to be checked, or outsourced to a digital program with no oversight. Here in New York City, we’ve taken the opportunity to redo our Digital Citizenship Curriculum to align with our Empire State Information Fluency Continuum (ESIFC). In other words, instead of updating lesson plans and links, we selected the already-developed robust curriculum from Common Sense Media. We paired it with lesson plans and assessments from the ESIFC. This process makes the connection between digital and information literacy explicit. All literacies overlap and complement one another; the key is showing educators the completed puzzle on how to teach them to students.

Instructional Alignment 

One of the 12th-grade lessons from Common Sense Media is on the consequences of hate speech. The lesson focuses on the tension between free speech versus hate speech and the role and responsibilities of social media companies and schools have to address it. I suggest extensions from our ESIFC Continuum to develop students’ skills with developing an argument and evaluating bias:

Common Sense Media Lesson ESIFC Instructional Extension to Digital Citizenship
The Consequences of Online Hate Speech


Discussion Extension: Have students use the Developing a Line of Argument Organizer to construct their hate speech position.

Lesson Extension: The Impact of Bias on Information. Students study how bias influences a source’s point of view.

The discussion activity comes from the Common Sense Media lesson, so I advise pairing an ESIFC Assessment with it; the lesson on bias is an opportunity for educators to extend student analysis of hate speech by examining bias and point of view.  

Another example is from the 4th-grade lesson titled “Be a Super Digital Citizen.” In it, students create a digital superhero to model good online behavior. I suggest the following instructional pairings with the ESIFC:

Common Sense Media Lesson ESIFC Instructional Extension to Digital Citizenship
Be a Super Digital Citizen  Activity Extension for Slide 10: What Makes a Story Special. Students fill out the Organizer to further develop their digital superhero character and story.

Lesson Extension to Slide 11: Interpreting Visual Information. Students analyze comic strips, advertisements, posters, etc. to learn how to interpret and evaluate visual information.

Lesson Extension: Netiquette Etiquette: Students will discuss and develop a netiquette checklist of good online behaviors.

So, not only do students develop opportunities to hone critical visual analysis skills, but they examine story elements and create a netiquette checklist.

Alignments beyond Standards

Many alignments list the standards of various curricula. Standards tell educators what to teach, but not how. Direct alignments with existing lesson plans give educators ideas on integrating multiple literacies clearly and logically.


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.