Blending the literacies – digital, critical, news literacies and online safety

Alongside the many benefits experienced in recent times, the online world continues to present a bewildering array of challenges to schools, families and individuals.

While technology, tools and platforms may change, fundamental human rights – which include children’s rights – should not. It’s great news and a welcome positive development that on 4 February 2021 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted General Comment No 25 which sets out how the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applies in the digital environment. You can read more in this [email protected] blog from Professor Sonia Livingstone, and at the CLC we’ll be taking a keen interest in the implications this has, attending a celebratory conference later this month. We’ve previously mentioned the work of Baroness Beeban Kidron and the young people involved in the charitable 5Rights Foundation and you can read its recent statement here.   

This long overdue development sets the context for the interconnected array of activity in the fields of digital literacy, online safety, critical literacy (including news literacy). And that encompasses the formal teaching, informal learning, awareness raising, supporting families and young people locally, nationally and globally, to which all educators, including the team here, contribute as they can.

This week we’re delighted to have been able to participate and contribute to two national conferences. In one we’re speaking on the topic of the digital divide, which we’ve maintained is one of this period’s crucial conundrums, with ongoing severe impact on many children and their families. 

Two activities

In the other, we’re speaking around the interconnected topics of critical literacy, online safety and wider digital literacy. To emphasise that there are possibilities for classroom activity that draw on children’s and young people’s own experience, voice and creative imaginations, as well as their digital skills and knowledge, we’re briefly revisiting a couple of practical suggestions for teachers. These come as students return to school and the focus is on establishing what learning has been taking place, what individuals have experienced and what their needs for the future may be, including mental health and wellbeing. One suggestion might be longer term, the other might be a specific lesson or linked sequence of activity.

Idea number 1: a news literacy and current affairs focus (whatever the age)

Alongside the very specific focus on the detail of literacy, maths and other core subjects that is rightly being planned across all schools for the months to come, make time for students (in the recovery curriculum) to continue to build on the digital skills that many of them have had some chance to develop in recent months. 

Some in fortunate circumstances have also had time for extended periods of reading and writing, perhaps inspired by gaming experience, comics and many other individual motivations. Address the ongoing need for them to continue to process what they’ve experienced, to understand the news that will continue to bombard all of us over the coming months, and to be supported in engaging with this confidently and critically, rather than under a shadow of fear and misinformation. This can offer opportunities for social re-engagement with friends and peers, re-learning how to speak and listen to peers, family members, school staff and others (whether in person or online). 

Yes, with our focus at the CLC we would recommend that this incorporates a digital and blended element, such as through blogging or collaborative editorial work to combine a variety of viewpoints and ideas, to check sources and reliability. Or it might be interviewing and recording sound, or taking photos and publishing in a variety of formats for a range of audiences. 

The model behind our successful News Project, developed by Frances Bodger at the Institute of Education, UCL and Nic Smallshaw, head of education at First News, highlights four interrelated roles of a critically literate newspaper reader*, and all of this could be included in some form of classroom activity – find some pointers from this illustrated below.

A critically literate newspaper reader (and at the CLC we are including digital news reader or recipient) is:

  1. Part of a news reading community
    • I choose to read, discuss and share news every week
    • I discuss news stories to help me understand them
    • I have ideas on what I read and can justify my opinions
  2. A news decoder
    • I understand the structures, formats, terminology and traditions of news reports, newspapers and online news sources
  3. A news comprehender
    • I use my reading and comprehension skills to understand and think about news stories
    • I regularly read the news and build up my knowledge and understanding of topics in the news
  4. A news analyst
    • I know that journalists report news and I question their agenda
    • I question sources of news and recognise reliable and unreliable sources

*adapted from the Four Interrelated Roles of the Critical Reader (Janks, H (2014), based on earlier work Freebody and Luke (2007)

And if this currently seems like a tall order for very busy teachers, we once again recommend the excellent NewsWise resources and the News Literacy Network partner resources. For instance, at the moment the Economist Education Foundation is producing on a two weekly cycle highly topical packs of resources that teachers could draw upon in any way they might wish. Aimed at the 9-14 age range some of the topics could inspire simpler activity for younger age ranges.

Idea number 2: Seeing is believing, right? 

Remind students about keeping a sceptical and discerning approach to what they see online in terms of images and video, drawing on their own experiences in media viewing, perhaps including social media apps eg seeing photos that have been manipulated in various ways, for various reasons and motivations. Reinforce and explore what might be acceptable/unacceptable for them to do, perhaps through scenario-based discussion.

Recent news since Christmas has regularly featured what technology can now do, including deep fake technology applied to famous individuals. At the moment this is not so widespread that we need to feed a fear that any video can turn out to be fabricated.

If you have access to educational apps such as the Duck Duck Moose Chatterpix, photos can be made to speak.

Relevant news references since Christmas include:

  • Channel 4’s Alternative Queen’s message caused controversy (eg Guardian article and BBC article), but Channel 4 reported it had a specific point to make
  • Tik Tok Tom Cruise videos (eg Guardian article and BBC business section article )
  • myAncestry genealogy app that can ‘bring to life’ old photos of long-gone family members (think almost Harry Potter ‘Daily Prophet’). This, too, has caused controversy (see BBC article, Guardian article, and, on the service’s website,  Abraham Lincoln is brought to life to do a commercial in their publicity on YouTube) and in some cases upset. Potentially this would be a rich source for discussion, taking in PSHE/Citizenship/Online Safety/SEAL themes. 
  • Unilever’s recent announcement about Dove advertising and its ban on editing photos

And ever-useful reference point is the Education for a connected world framework version 2 2020

Please bear in mind that, as with all activity around online safety, teachers should be aware and prepared for potential disclosures from students so would be advised to consider this when planning.

If you like these classroom ideas, why not book for our upcoming virtual events, including our Humanities conference, Tues 27 April and Summer primary computing conference, Tues 8 June?

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Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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