Media Mentorship for the Digital Age

Marla Silberfein is a 4th grade teacher at Juniper Elementary. I am happy to welcome her to this blog.

 Guest post by

Marla Silberfein

As an educator teaching reading in the digital age, I am constantly balancing technology tools with old fashioned, physical books. In my 4th grade classroom I aim for a 50/50 approach to reading and assignments happening on iPads or with pencil and paper. In the early 80’s, when I was in elementary school, computers were just beginning to be available to us in schools. During high school I took a typing class on an electric typewriter and one computer course. My teacher training classes 20 years ago had no mention of technology pedagogy. Now, I work at a technology magnet, in a district where students in grades 3 – 12 are issued their own iPad. Before I began working at my school 4 years ago, I was learning tech skills and pedagogy on the fly.

 “Media mentors” is the name Chip Donohue, PhD, and newly retired director of the Technology in Early Childhood Center (TEC), coined for any adult who understands how digital devices are used to their full potential, appropriately, and intentionally to support learning.  It is important to realize media mentorship is not only for teachers, but I would say it is in its infancy; students, parents, teachers, and librarians all could use a media mentor lighting the path to quality technology use.

woman holding silver ipad
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on

A big concern I have as an educator and parent is how digital tools are being used; as a screen to watch or as access to information, resources, or being creative. Lucky for us, the TEC, has created a checklist of 5 questions to ask when searching for quality digital media experiences for our children. These questions help me, a newly declared media mentor in training, stay focused on appropriate and intentional use of technology to support our kids’ learning.

  1. How interactive is the digital media? Activity is important, this means our kids are not staring blankly at the screen. There is a time and place for entertainment, but I take my media mentorship seriously, and want our kids to be thinking, doing, or manipulating what they are viewing.
  2. Are the images, messages, and sounds that children are exposed to age-appropriate? At home, Mr. Media Mentor (my husband), has set restrictions on Netflix, our kid’s phones, and has blocked times they cannot get on the internet (I should learn how to do this, mentors need mentors too!). At school, the district, also has restrictions on what students can access. Just as with movies or television it is important to be mindful of the language, ads, violence, and scariness.
  3. Are the images and sounds culturally sensitive? Moving from Los Angeles, a mecca of various groups of people, to Central Oregon was a huge shift for me culturally speaking. Learning and teaching about multicultural views occurred more naturally because our classes were filled with children from families of different cultures. Here, it is so important to expose our kids to books, movies, shows, and apps that represent characters different from themselves to grow acceptance and understanding of differences.
  4. Is a young child watching or playing alone, with family members, or with peers? We can make watching a social experience by asking questions about the characters (who they are, why they act the way they do, which one the child relates to…etc.), or the storyline. These are similar to questions you ask about your child’s reading. Lately, I’ve been watching Friends and Seinfeld with my daughters. The conversations sparked from these shows range from making bets, to relationships, to work ethic. Watching together has allowed the opportunity to talk about real life issues in a relaxed way.
  5. How does the “when” and “where” affect the child? We have a charging station in our house, devices stay there until chores and homework are completed. They stay there overnight. One of my kids fights this routine weekly. I absolutely abhor policing this rule, but I do, it’s a pain. My counsellor told me, she used to tell parents over scheduling kids with after school activities is no good, now she thinks it is good because it keeps our kids off screens!

 For more on this topic, check out 5 things you should now about “screen time” and media use with young children here, and consider being a media mentor alongside me!

About Christie Boen

I have worked with Bend-La Pine Schools since 2007. I am an Instructional Technology Coach and District Librarian.