Guide to Teaching Digital Literacy in Primary School
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Guide to Teaching Digital Literacy in Primary School


Introduction to teaching digital literacy


We are all aware that our children live in a digital world that is very different to the one in which the previous generation grew up. There is no denying that teaching digital literacy at an early age is crucial for our children as they grow into adulthood, to enable them to thrive in the digital age. In addition, there's no getting away from the fact that technological innovation is fast-moving, and therefore there will always be a need to change and adapt the way we teach these skills. 

However, teaching digital literacy in primary school is a subject that sometimes strikes dread into the hearts of many a teacher. There are many barriers to teaching this topic, and a lot of added pressure for teachers who are already at breaking point. 

For example, as a teacher, do you feel your own digital skills are lacking, and you're not on top of the latest tech trends? Perhaps you're confused by how digital literacy aligns with the curriculum? Maybe you find government guidelines apply too much pressure? Or what if your PPA and lesson planning time is already choc-a-bloc, and you can't find time to implement engaging digital literacy lessons for your class? Whatever the reason you may feel daunted, there is always a glimmer of light at the end of the digital literacy tunnel - it just takes a bit of thought (and a little less worry).

So we know you have a lot on your plate when it comes to supporting children's digital skills, but what do you need to know about teaching digital literacy that can make your jobs that little bit easier? Let’s dive in to answer this question, allay your fears, and aid you in 

developing a game plan that will help you nurture and grow digital citizens of the future. 

Our Complete Online Safety Guides for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 provides a great overview of the online tools, apps and games your pupils are (or soon will be) accessing, and some of the issues to look out for. 

Find out how the role of teachers has changed post-pandemic, when edtech resources have become more valuable than ever.

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Digital literacy buzzwords: some key definitions


Digital literacy, media literacy, digital citizenship… What's it all about and what's the difference between all these buzzwords we hear so much about? Here's a quick guide to what each of these key phrases mean and how they are relevant to your primary school teaching:


What is digital literacy?


The word 'literacy' is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as simply 'the ability to read and write'. The term 'digital literacy' is fundamentally about being able to read and write too, but refers specifically to online content, rather than traditional offline methods. But by adding a 'digital' element to learning to read and write, the door is opened wide to a whole load of other skills associated with the online world, and 'literacy' suddenly means much, much more. 

According to Cornell University, digital literacy is defined as 'the ability to find, evaluate, utilise, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet' - much more than just reading and writing. There are four elements of digital literacy:

Comprehension - understanding digital content.

Interdependence - how one form of media connects with another and how content is delivered through different sources.

Social factors - how these affect the way in which we receive and perceive information. 

Curation - finding, organising and saving digital information.  

This involves a wide range of skills: navigating hyperlinks, comments sections, share buttons and other interactive tools; creating website pages, social media posts, emails, videos, podcasts and more; the ability to use search engines to find information and gauge its validity; to use, share and communicate information for a variety of different purposes; the list goes on. The cognitive power and technical skills needed to be literate online, are a world away from traditional literacy teaching. It's no wonder we can sometimes feel a little overwhelmed.


Media literacy vs digital literacy?


Although media literacy and digital literacy are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two. In short, the term 'media literacy' is used to describe all different types of mass communication - both online and offline - and how they affect our perception of the world around us. Media has always been used to influence opinion and our view of reality in some way, so the teaching of media literacy involves learning to analyse and understand messages with a critical eye. Digital literacy is sometimes considered a subset of media literacy, focusing specifically on how to use technology and navigate online media tools to create and consume information. 

This guide about the government's media literacy strategy provides more information about the need for media literacy to take a greater profile in education.

Read more about the importance of teaching media literacy.


What is digital citizenship?


According to the Council of Europe, 'digital citizenship' is the 'ability to engage positively, critically and competently in the digital environment, drawing on the skills of effective communication and creation, to practice forms of social participation that are respectful of human rights and dignity through the responsible use of technology'. 

So in simple terms, it's all about being a safe, responsible and respectful member of society online (as well as offline). And this is where digital literacy education in schools comes in. Just as we are teaching children the skills they need to thrive in and contribute to society as a whole, so teaching digital literacy at school helps them become safe and kind digital citizens too. 

Read our guide to digital citizenship for more information, and take a look at these top tips on nurturing digital citizens.

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Why is teaching digital literacy important?


Technology has brought the world closer together and changed the way we communicate in work and at home. But technological innovations are happening all the time, so it's an ever-changing beast. Therefore, it's crucial we not only equip our children with the skills they need to navigate and be safe in this changing digital world, but that we prepare them with the skills they will need to thrive in 21st Century careers.

Learn more about setting up a Digital Leaders programme in your school.

Find out why digital literacy is just as essential as analogue literacy.


Online safety


One of the key aims of teaching digital literacy to primary school children is to ensure we arm them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves, and others, safe online. The internet is a wonderful place full of information and opportunity, but it has many risks too. Children (and parents) are under increasing pressure to download the latest social media platforms, games and apps in order to keep up with their friends. But it's important that children know the dangers and where to go for help, and that parents understand the risks and can have open discussions with their children about how to be responsible, while having fun at the same time. Teaching children about the importance of wellbeing online is a crucial part of this.

This guide to teaching internet safety explains more about why it is more important now than ever. 

Read more about what schools need to teach online safety properly.

Find out how schools can help teach social media responsibility to children and why social media shouldn't be taboo in schools.


Essential digital literacy skills 


Teaching digital literacy covers a broad range of topics, but there are some key skills you need to focus on. The UK Government's essential digital skills framework outlines 5 key categories of essential skills that adults need, to safely 'benefit from, participate in and contribute to the digital world'. These include:

The need for all these core skills has been accelerating for decades, but the pandemic has been a catalyst for digital transformation that is unprecedented. And the children in your class have already seen this first hand - months of lockdown learning and communicating with friends online instead of face to face, have already increased their knowledge of the online world, and there's no holding them back now.

As well as skills that children can be taught in school, they also need to learn 'soft skills' in order to become respectful digital citizens - these include things like communication, empathy, and self-discipline. 

This article about the skills children need to thrive online is a great place to start if you want to find out more about soft skills.

Read this interesting interview with Natterhub founder Caroline Allams, about teaching lifelong learning skills

Find out more about the value of learning through play in a digital world. 


Future careers


It's worth remembering that what we see as 'digital skills' will simply be 'skills' for our children, and an integral part of their everyday learning. There is a world of career opportunities out there for them once they reach adulthood - and almost all of them will require digital skills in some form. Here are just some of the top skills that future employers will look for: 

Teaching digital literacy in primary school helps make our future workforce employable by giving them a strong foundation on which they can build their skills for future jobs like these. 

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How does digital literacy fit into the curriculum?


Digital literacy doesn't exist as a subject in its own right, so teaching digital literacy is the responsibility of all subjects, and the school community as a whole. The best way to teach it is to think about how it could be used to support each subject - for example, using blogging to demonstrate a writing technique in English, or encouraging children to do Internet research for their science project. In doing so, digital literacy becomes an important resource that supports general learning, helps shape and influence the way in which children learn, and fosters a level of engagement which may not be seen in more traditional forms of teaching. 

But there are some subjects which open the door to more specific digital education, and so have mandatory elements which teachers are expected to cover in their lessons - namely RSHE, computing and citizenship. 

Read more about the pros and cons of using digital technology in the classroom.


Digital literacy in the RSHE curriculum


RSHE is the teaching of Relationships, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education in schools. In 2020, Relationships Education became compulsory in all primary schools in England. Government requirements for this are split into five broad categories: 

The curriculum is based on building foundations for healthy and respectful relationships with families and friends, and ensuring wellbeing is at the forefront. Digital literacy is intrinsically tied to RSHE because in the digital age, relationships online are just as important as those offline. 

Discover some great PSHE project ideas here to help you plan your digital literacy lessons.

Find out more about how Natterhub's RSHE lessons can support your digital literacy teaching. 

Read more about the importance of addressing pupil wellbeing through RSHE.


Digital Literacy in the computing curriculum


The National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE) describes digital literacy in the curriculum as 'the skills and knowledge required to be an effective, safe, and discerning user of a range of computer systems'. In a recent report, they state that although teaching digital literacy has been part of the compulsory computing curriculum for some time, the current curriculum makes it a priority. So the computing curriculum is not simply about technical computing skills, understanding how to use systems, programming and algorithms, but helps children learn how to be responsible digital citizens at the same time. 

The computing curriculum for primary schools covers a wide range of skills, including core digital literacy skills such as:


Digital literacy in the citizenship curriculum


The citizenship programme for primary schools outlined by government, is non-statutory which means there is no obligation to follow it, however there is guidance should a school wish to include it as part of their wider curriculum. It covers topics such as:

Digital literacy is relevant to all these objectives as it prepares children to become safe, confident and respectful citizens in a digital society. After all, the relationship we have with the online world is often just an extension of our real life, and the boundaries are very much blurred.


UKCIS Education for a Connected World


Developed by the UK Council for Internet Safety (UKCIS), the Education for a Connected World framework is an important document for those teaching digital literacy. It supports one of the key aims of the government's Internet Safety Strategy, to support children online and help teachers develop strategies for understanding and managing the risks.  

The framework covers 8 strands:

Although not compulsory, the framework supports a whole-school approach to online safety. In particular, its aim is to support the teaching of digital literacy within PSHE, Relationships and Sex Education, Health Education and Computing, and it can help teachers understand where children should be at each stage of their digital learning journey. 

Find out more about Education for a Connected World and how it can support your teaching of digital literacy.

Read about how the Online Safety Bill provides statutory guidance from Government on the accountability of online media corporations and their obligation to keep children safe online.

Explore how Natterhub aligns to new legislation, and how our digital literacy lessons support the curriculum

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Planning digital literacy lessons


Lesson planning is a fundamental part of professional practise, but all too often it can overwhelm already over-stretched teachers. Sometimes, there is a huge expectation on teachers to create detailed lesson plans (that sometimes even need to be submitted to school leaders) almost as part of a tick-box 'paper trail' of admin, which can detract from its real purpose of supporting effective teaching and learning. The only requirement from Ofsted is that 'teachers plan effectively, using clear objectives that children understand'.

We’ve seen how digital literacy sweeps through the curriculum, and how statutory curriculum pressures and government guidelines can add to a busy workload. Time is valuable and we don't want this precious resource to be wasted, so finding ways of making lesson planning easier and less time-consuming, is the dream for many teachers.

There are simple things you can do to make the most of your limited planning time. For example, here are just a few ideas:

Investing in tools to help you create plans can take the pain out of lesson planning and can really help when teaching something like digital literacy, which has such a broad reach across the curriculum.

Platforms such as Natterhub do the hard work for you, with an in-built Planning Tool to help you integrate digital literacy lessons into the curriculum, with the click of a button.

Explore these teacher resources to help you plan how you will approach teaching digital literacy in your classroom.

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Assessing pupil progress


From statutory curriculum tests and teacher assessments to monitoring progress and creating statements for school reports, assessing pupil progress is another pain point for teachers that can consume a great deal of time. You've delivered your lesson plan, but what went well? What could have been done better? Did any children exceed expectations? Did anyone struggle and need extra support? There's a lot to think about, but pupil assessment is crucial to support effective teaching and ensure your pupils stay on track with their learning.

When teaching digital literacy, it can be difficult to assess how well pupils are doing, especially where there are no specific curriculum targets to measure against. Some children will be more au fait with technology than others, one child may have had more exposure to the internet, social media, apps and games than the next, so levels of understanding can differ dramatically. The key is finding a way of recording progress that suits you best, that you can easily update and refer to when the time comes to write those reports. There are plenty of online tools out there to help.

Natterhub's Assessment Tool can help you track progress of digital literacy in line with the national curriculum as well as RSHE and Education for a Connected World targets.

Find out how Knowledge Polls can help you identify digital literacy and online safety knowledge gaps in your class.

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Online Safety Training for Teachers


If as a teacher, you feel you lack the necessary skills or confidence to teach digital literacy, then there are training programmes, specifically designed for educators, that can help. The digital world moves at such a pace, that not only is it a good idea to learn the basics, but to ensure you're invested in an ongoing programme of personal development that can help you keep abreast of the way in which digital literacy is taught.

Take a look at online safety training courses for teachers and digital leaders here.

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In summary, teaching digital literacy is no mean feat. But it's an important one. And our handy guide is here to help. We've covered the basics of teaching digital literacy in primary school in an easily digestible way, but there is always more to learn! So be sure to follow the links and delve deeper into the world of teaching digital literacy, and learn more about nurturing the digital citizens of the future. 

Find out more about how Natterhub can help support your school with online safety and digital literacy here. 

Why not book a FREE demo to see Natterhub's online safety platform in action, or contact us for a chat about how we can help.

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Teaching Digital Literacy