Promoting Healthy Tech Use in the Middle School Library

The “elevator pitch” I often use for my job is that I act as a bridge between youth technology and the school library. I integrate myself into class projects, ensuring smoother tech components, and teach a digital skills class covering topics such as device 101, email etiquette, and responsible research.

During the pandemic and remote learning years, this “bridge” work ranged from directing students to the correct Zoom link to join class, to assisting students in accessing our digital Sora collections when our physical library was not accessible. Fortunately, it seems that with each passing year, we are re-entering a more normal version of school. However, while challenges with technology have changed, they haven’t disappeared, and in many cases, educators find it more important than ever to integrate healthy and responsible technology use into our learning environments.

At the start of this school year, I organized several faculty development sessions to create a culture of responsible technology use. The goal was to begin the year with high expectations for how and when students would use technology, standardize tech expectations across grades and classes, and incorporate a new 5th-8th grade digital citizenship curriculum into our advising program.

While the rest of this post summarizes faculty development specifically created for teachers, the ultimate aim was to better serve our students. Therefore, I believe this work undeniably falls under the umbrella of media mentorship – a term familiar to all librarians working with youth patrons.

Tools for responsible technology use:

One increasing challenge in the middle school classroom, especially since the transition to remote learning, has been student distraction with technology. To assist teachers in keeping students on task while on tech, I led a session on successfully using screen monitoring tools for the devices in our 1-to-1 program.

screenshot from faculty development session - slide describes why it is important to monitor our student's tech use

This session included information about our enhanced filtering system for approved school websites and a group discussion on the “why:” rather than spying on our students, monitoring their tech use helps them retain focus, creates accountability for academic integrity, and reassures families that we are providing a successful learning environment in all of our classrooms.

Standardized tech norms:

Our middle school has always had a document of technology norms introduced to students upon receiving their school-issued device. After returning from remote learning, teachers realized how important it was that these norms reflect expectations for behavior that was becoming more apparent. This year, we spent one faculty session looking at the newest version of our technology norms document, crowdsourcing new ideas, answering questions, and clarifying language. As a team, we also developed logical consequences for students who might have challenges meeting our expectations with technology. In order to emphasize the weight of this document as part of our whole middle school culture, advisors introduced it to students in an advising block, rather than in my tech-specific class.

Digital citizenship curriculum:

Until this year, most digital citizenship lessons in the middle school had been siloed in my digital skills class or were one-off lessons in response to a specific incident. With an increased prevalence among middle schoolers of cyberbullying, social media linked to anxiety, and the spread of misinformation online, our administration supported a more intentional conversation around digital citizenship. Tasked with this effort, I helped our school set up a partnership with The Social Institute – an organization that provides a scaffolded interactive digital citizenship curriculum to schools. Using their curriculum, this school year every middle schooler is engaging in two age-appropriate digital citizenship units with project-based learning components. The lessons are led by all middle school advisors – ensuring that these conversations are seen as an important part of our school’s mission.

Aligned messaging for students and families:

By thoughtfully reviewing procedures, documentation, and expectations with our middle school faculty, we were able to start the school year off on a more stable footing. We also gave more teachers the agency and tools to act as tech experts. While in the past, it usually landed on me to discuss all things tech with students, we have been able to shift the responsibility of using and discussing technology with students to many more members of our faculty.

screenshot from faculty development session - slide describes how parents and guardians can partner with the school in helping their students come to school prepared with their technology

We also shared information in aligned conversations with parents and guardians through back-to-school tech events, documentation specifically for families, and email correspondence about our digital citizenship lessons.

These efforts have ultimately allowed us to present a unified and consistent message throughout our middle school community and create partnerships at home. As a result, it has already been a much stronger and more positive year with technology.

I’ve written in previous ALSC blog posts that I’m fortunate to work in an educational institution that values both the library and how students use technology. I hope the development outlined here empowers you all to become technology leaders in your respective library programs.

This blog post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency

Identifies the digital media needs of children and their caregivers through formal and informal customer service interactions and applies strategies to support those needs.  (II. Reference and User Services)

This blog post helps further the following 2023-2026 ALSC Strategic Initiative:

Identifying and implementing strong communication practices across the association

Manuela Aronofsky is a 2022-2024 Children & Technology committee co-chair. She is also the Middle School Technology Integrator and digital essentials teacher at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her MLIS from Pratt Institute in December 2019. Contact info and more can be found at manuelaaronofsky.com.

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