Digital Literacy in the Elementary Classroom

Ribble (2015) tells us that digital citizenship is “described as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.” (Kindle Locations 480-481).  Through much research, he has come up with what he considers as the nine important elements of digital citizenship. Digital citizenship is such an important part of our children’s future.  What we were taught in our childhood about respect and manners has been magnified in the digital setting to have some much more serious consequences.   In this paper, I will explore the nine elements and how I see them functioning in an elementary setting. I will also focus on the three that I feel like are the most important for that age group and why I believe they are the most important.

The first element that is identified is digital access.  Digital access is everyone having equal access to technology.  That is a very lofty ideal, but not as realistic, especially in high poverty areas.  Ross (2015) states that students without high speed connectivity will eventually fall behind.  Many of our parents choose to only have cell phones because they do not have the money to pay for internet service at their homes.  So, even if their children have access to devices, which most of our intermediate and high school students do, they are unable to use them at their homes to complete assignments.  Pasadena ISD has tried to address the problem by starting to put up towers that transmit free internet in the district.  The problem is that it is in a very limited area as of right now, so not very many families have access to it.  In the elementary setting, our students do not have access to devices outside of the school day.  The devices we have are the ones that we as a school have written grants for.  Our parents do have access to our school computer lab on the first Monday of every month at our Community Nights.  Parents are also encouraged to come to the school library if they are in need of internet during the school day.  I believe equal access would be a great goal, but as of now I don’t see that happening in the near future.  This is not as important to us at the elementary level because our students are not given the devices that the older students are.  The level of access that they have during the school day seems to be sufficient.

The second element is digital commerce.  This is the buying and selling of items on the internet.  Ideally, students would learn the ins and outs of internet spending, privacy, and security.  We have a unit in our math curriculum that deals with financial literacy and I feel that this is the best place to address this element, especially with the younger students.  Many of our students come in with the idea that internet shopping doesn’t cost money because they don’t see the actual exchange of money.  That could be said of the shopping in stores too.  I rarely have cash on me, and I remember my children telling me to use the card to get them toys when I told them we didn’t have the money.  This is a very complex subject for our age of students.  I think by teachers explaining the concepts to them with real world examples, the seeds are being planted for the later years when they will actually be doing the buying and selling online.  I feel like this is an important skill for our students, but a pretty abstract one also.

The third element that Ribble discusses is digital communication.  This is the sharing of information through technology.  Examples of this include texting, emailing, video conferencing and social media communications.  This is one of the most important elements for elementary aged students, as learning how to do this early will make it easier to continue the practices. This might be the single most important skill they can take in to their future.   Aho (2005) states that “If we give them real exposure to loads of communication media, students can become adept users of the next generation of tools.”  Children these days have very few personal role models, outside of their parents and teachers.  They watch people online do some things that are inappropriate and get a great deal of attention for it.  This is not setting our children up to learn how to behave in a way that is digitally responsible.  Teachers can model good public communication skills by engaging in social media use with their class.  Often, their parents themselves don’t always set the best example so we as educators have to try to be the one person in their lives that does what we ask them to do.  This means that we have to monitor our own social media posts, even if they can’t access them.  We need to practice what we preach, and think before we comment or email.  I like to do think alouds with my students and I feel this would be a great way for them to hear me reason out why I shouldn’t post or answer someone in certain way.  Of course, the situations would be made up by me, not real ones.  There is so much bad behavior out on the internet, and it’s getting over a million hits.  We have to try to balance what they are seeing with what we are telling them is the right thing to do.  This will be quite a task, but I feel like in the elementary setting, we can easily combine this kind of lesson into a writing assignment.

The fourth element discussed in the book is digital literacy.  This is learning about technology and how to use it.  I feel like this is just as much an important skill for elementary teachers than students.  Our students seem to have no trouble finding what tools are out there and using them for what they need.  Crowley (2014) states that teachers should be helping students begin to build habits that are healthy when it comes to technology.  My own children download apps all the time that they use for different purposes.  These kids are not afraid of technology.  Teachers need to work with the students on which tools to use and when they are appropriate.  The teachers, on the other hand, are in desperate need of professional development in the area of technology integration.  We are so pressed for time, and we need more training on how to use technology to replace some things, not in addition to them.  With proper training, teachers will be able to achieve the ultimate goal of making the technology disappear in the classroom.  I feel like this is a really important element, but more for the teachers than the students.  There does not seem to be enough hours in the day to research and discover all the technology that is out there on our own.  Our district really needs to strengthen their technology liaison job to be more of a coach to our teachers.

The fifth element is digital etiquette.  This is the standards of behavior digitally.  This is by far what I believe to be the biggest element that we need to focus on in the elementary setting.  This element is by far the most concrete for our elementary students.  They have been told to be nice their entire lives, so changing the focus to technology should be easier.  Knorr (2011) states that because people can hide behind the anonymity of the internet, children are not seeing what good things internet has to offer them.  This is why we need digital etiquette.  I feel like exposing the kids to this at an early age will help build the foundation that we can use in the future.  Sadly, many children these days have loved ones who have poor digital etiquette.  And we know that children do what they see.  Teachers need to be on the front lines of this issue, making sure that our students understand just how important this can be.  In elementary, cyberbullying should be discussed in every grade level, and students should brainstorm better solutions.  Students and teachers should role play situations in class.  Students should also be given examples of how poor digital etiquette has hurt someone by not allowing them to get a job, keep a job, or get in to a good school.  As long as the examples are developmentally appropriate, the students can begin at a very early age to make decisions about what kind of digital tattoo they want to leave behind.  If there were only time to focus on one element in elementary school, I feel like this should be the one.

The sixth element is digital law.  This is responsibility for what they do with regards to technology.  In the elementary setting, I can see the opportunity for a base to be built about what is right and wrong in using technology.  I feel like the older students will have more of a chance to put what they learned in elementary school into practice as their assignments have more of a chance to involve some law issues.  By discussing subjects such as sharing things that don’t belong to them, downloading content illegally, and other unlawful issues, students can begin to add these ideas to their existing moral code.  Our parents raised us to know right from wrong.  Kids need someone to teach them the difference when it comes to the digital world.  Many of the ideas around digital law are going to be a little hard for the elementary students to understand.  Using many examples and real world experiences should help them get the concepts a little easier.

The seventh element is digital rights and responsibilities.  This is the freedom that we all have in regards to technology.  In the elementary setting, I feel like this is an important issue, but not in the same way as for the older kids.  Students should be taught from a very early age to respect the work of others.  If only teaching them to link a picture that they used to the site they got it from, we are giving them a foundation for the more intense practices later in their schooling.  When our students create something in the elementary classroom, we need to be sure to check in with them often and make sure they aren’t using something that doesn’t belong to them.  A lesson on Creative Commons would be so appropriate for our older elementary students.  By showing in our own presentations, how we give credit to others and we protect our own works, the students will begin to see the importance of digital rights and responsibilities.  But we cannot simply do it without pointing it out to make them aware of what we are doing.

The eighth element that Ribble discusses is digital health and wellness.  This is about being physically and psychologically aware of our technology use and its effects.  Marcinek (2013) states that we must teach our students about health and wellness offline before letting them jump online.  That entails going over the dangers and benefits of technology use before even putting a device in their hands.  By making sure that our students have the appropriate environment to work with technology in, we are encouraging them to be aware of this concept.  In the elementary setting, this means making sure that our students are working in a way that is good for them physically.  Being hunched over at a table that is too low or straining to work at a table that is too high are not ideal situations.  Discussing screen time limitations with our students is also a good idea.  They need to understand that there is such a thing as too much technology, and everyone should give themselves a break sometimes.  Students need to be aware that technology addiction is a real struggle, and the older elementary students can be given some real world examples of people who have suffered the consequences of the addiction.  In this day and age, we are all tethered to our phone.  It is important that we try to show our students what we are suggesting, and put down our technology in favor of a good book, for example.

The final element is digital security.  This is another element that I feel is a very important one to emphasize in the elementary classroom.  Hertz (2015) states that “with children spending time online at younger and younger ages, it is vital that we explicitly teach young children how to protect themselves online.”  Students need to be taught, from the instant that they begin interacting with technology some basic safety rules, such as you never share your entire name, location, or passwords.  This will not be something that they will think of on their own.  They assume everyone is nice and good.  Even kids who have a pretty good grasp on the concept of “stranger danger” don’t automatically make the transfer to the digital world.  Having discussions and lessons on digital safety are very important at this age.  By making these practices automatic, hopefully they can become lifelong practices.  There are a wealth of activities and lessons available through Common Sense media to address digital safety, and many of the other elements.  Sometimes, we find that our parents need a little bit of guidance in this area also.  Many of them grew up when the digital boom was taking place, and they may have fallen through the cracks when digital citizenship was just being explored.  I find that sharing articles and websites with my parents is a great way to get them on board in a non- threatening way.

Although I feel like all nine elements are important, in the elementary level I would focus on safety, etiquette, and communication.  I think that these three elements are the easiest for the youngest of students to understand, as they are usually pretty black and white concepts.  By teaching the young kids about these elements, and giving them a good foundation in what is acceptable and what is not, I think we are setting them up to be successful digital citizens in their future.


There is so much I want to continue to learn about digital citizenship.  I plan on rereading the book when my courses are finished and I have more time to explore the web addresses, and the search terms.  I hope to share what I have learned with my school and district through my “Appy Hour” and some video presentations.

When preparing my digital citizenship presentation, I experienced the problem of editing myself down to keep my video at a length that is watchable.  The information just wanted to pour out and I can see doing a video on each individual element.  There is so much to learn about digital citizenship, I feel my video really just skimmed the surface of what there is to know.  I had some trouble with my volume, as I was recording the audio straight into office mix to put it into my PowerPoint.  I then went back and put a very soft background of music in Movie Maker to help with the volume problems.  I like to use PowerPoint and Office Mix because I find that making PowerPoint slides is so user friendly.  But let’s face it.  PowerPoints by themselves can be pretty boring.  With Office Mix, I can overlay the sound and export it to a video right from PowerPoint.



Aho, K. (2005, May 01). Teaching Digital Communication to All Students — THE Journal. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from

Crowley, B. (2014, October 29). What Digital Literacy Looks Like in a Classroom. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from

Hertz, M. (2015, October 21). How to Teach Internet Safety to Younger Elementary Students. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from

Knorr, C. (2011, May 05). 7 Rules to Teach Kids Online Etiquette. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from

Marcinek, A. (2013, November 26). The Path to Digital Citizenship. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from

Ribble, Mike.  (2015).  Digital Citizenship in Schools.  [Kindle DX version].  Retrieved from

Ross, T. F. (2015, March 13). When Students Can’t Go Online. Retrieved August 13, 2016, from

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