The Necessity of Teaching Non-Digital Literacy Skills

In a recent meeting with the summer reading task force at a local middle school we talked about the topic of how to get students to read during the summer. Plans centered on using resources at the local public library, but then it was discovered that the local library will be CLOSED all summer for an extensive renovation. The next closest branch is six miles away. How would students be able to use the resources from the public library if they did not have parents home during the day to drive them there? Solution: Use the city bus system. But would students know how to use the bus schedule and navigate the bus routes? This led to a discussion of other things students might not be able to do that we, as adults who have grown up in the non-digital age, take for granted.

How about the TV guide? Students are adept at using the onscreen version, but what about the print version of the magazine or daily newspaper? A quick survey of students in the library confirmed our worry that students did have trouble finding the shows they wanted to watch when using a print version of the television programming guide. The television shows are in grid format, which should allow for easy location of station and time so students can find their desired program, but students had trouble looking following the grid system manually.

What about a phone book? Students were equally mystified about using the phone book for purposes other than looking up a phone number in the white pages. The yellow pages and reference pages showing zip codes and area codes for different areas were sections of the book students seemed to have trouble navigating. Another skill that has become outdated in the digital world.

Map reading? Forget it. A teacher reported that a majority of students in a recent class could not easily locate their town on a state map. The students were confused when asked to provide directions using a map and had difficulty computing mileage and travel time from the printed document. A popular question from students was asking why they had to learn to read a map when there was an app on the phone to find locations. A skill adults take for granted (reading a map) seemed to be a skill the students saw as archaic and useless.

We are concerned about digital literacy and using digital devices responsibly, but students are way ahead of most adults. Whereas many of us are digital immigrants, these students have grown up with digital devices in their hands since birth and see no use to learn the “old-fashioned” ways of using documents like maps, phone books, and printed bus schedules.

Why teach students to read paper documents when using a digital device will provide the same information? One driving reason is standardized tests.  Reading charts and graphs is a constant on standardized tests of all kinds. Providing students with the opportunity to practice this skill leads to a better score on the sacred test but also provides students with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at being able to master a set of skills that once presented a stumbling block. Another reason for teaching these skills is that digital devices may not always be accessible. There are areas in every region where cellular service is non-existent. What then? Being prepared for this horrific situation might prove very important to avoid becoming even more lost. Lastly, not every student is financially able to have the latest digital device to provide the data that can be accessed using non-digital methods. Being sensitive to the needs of all students can present the impetus to include instruction on how to use non-digital methods of fact-finding as part of classroom and library instruction.

So what to do about the library being closed this summer? The students are learning how to use the bus schedule – both the printed form and the available app. Parents are also being provided with training on how to safely use the bus system in order to provide a way for students to be able to access programs provided by the library. And now the task force is looking at what other skills students may be missing that can prove necessary. Digital literacy is still a focus of instruction, but non-digital literacy must also be included for a well-rounded education.

Author: Kelly Chaney

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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