Digital Play and Legos as Rehearsal for Writing

Digital Play and Legos as Rehearsal for Writing

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3212-5.ch006
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Do you consider digital play as learning? This chapter showcases the role of play in learning within a school classroom where there is not often time for such activities. Since students already bring a wealth of media rich information with them to school, it is necessary to capitalize on these experiences as means for extending language and literacy development. In this case, students design their own stories by initially building scenes using Lego pieces. Each sequence is photographed digitally and later imported into a computer for composing purposes. The students bring together images with words to construct multimodal stories. Part of the process involves digital play where learners experiment with technology as a way to understand the affordances of particular tools. For example, students played with the cropping tool to recognize how best to manipulate their photo. Results show the development of digital expertise and students actively becoming agentive learners.
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This is where they sleep. Look it, I made a wedding dress. [Smiled and showed design to another student - Juana.] I can make you one. A girl? Okay. Okay, which one, okay, use a white body. Oh my gosh. Here. They're gonna have a wedding. [Part of her story line]. They plan, they plan to have the wedding vows for them. Now they having the wedding. No, they, no they're having the wedding on the forest, then they got lost in the forest. Yes. [Responded to a peer’s question.] No. They can't find it. A girl. I need a good hair, not a bad hair. This color hair.

Multimodal Lego compositions are the focus of this chapter. Students spent one year learning about story elements and using Lego blocks as a semiotic means for crafting their own stories. Once events were built, (individually and collaboratively) students used digital photography to document their work and inserted it into a software program. The results were brilliantly designed texts which are shared below.


Play And Technology As Forms Of Literacy

In today’s world children find themselves immersed in popular media texts, products, and associated websites that incorporate such widespread transmedia such as Disney’s Brave or Star Wars. Children dress in clothing covered with their favorite characters, watch television shows and movies, play spin off video games, visit websites or virtual worlds, and engage with toys like Princess Merida or Luke Skywalker. These become the passions and interests of children, and they form a significant amount of knowledge about these texts (Marsh, 2013; 2014; Vasquez & Felderman, 2013; Wohlwend, 2013).

Students bring this media rich information with them to school, and it has the potential to serve as a resource for literacy learning. It is unfortunate that these resources are devalued by many educators and play simply cannot be justified due to state mandates and scripted curricula. This is particularly true for students of color and emergent bilinguals who often bring their resources in languages other than English (Frede & García, 2010; Souto-Manning & Martell, 2016). Yet, these knowledge-based assets, communicative competencies, and digital practices offer pathways for developing story dialogue, contemplating settings, and organizing sophisticated plots. Providing students the time and space to use these popular culture resources allows for the redesign of media-based themes and innovative alternatives (Dyson, 2003a).

Many educators support the need to update or rewrite the “basics” given the contemporary childhood experiences that include a vast array of digital technologies and cultural resources (Dyson, 2013; Wohlwend, 2013). The ease of use and access to Google as a search engine enables even very young children to make meaning in new ways that many times includes collaboration and interactions with others in the Internet community; therefore, normalizing multimodality is a major step in this process that includes diverse ways of encoding information (Dyson, 2013). Combining Lego blocks and digital tools are just one example of how multiple resources extend opportunities to tell stories that reflect individual or the shared experiences of a group of children (Gauntlett, 2015).

In school, a crucial part of literacy learning involves using, “familiar frames of reference (i.e., family practices) to make sense of new content, discursive forms, and symbolic tools” (Dyson, 2003b, p. 15). By drawing upon social practices such as video game playing like Minecraft and navigating websites such as the movie Brave (, students expand their knowledge of other content and practices while offering opportunities for language development. As a result there are intertextual references within the texts that students produce (Bloome & Egan-Robertson, 2004). In other words, the redesigned texts created are linked to students’ personal histories, knowledge, and experiences. Table 1 highlights some of the semiotic resources students drew from as multimodal text makers. Their texts are a remix of their lives that include both the official world of school and the unofficial home space or the present building on the past (Dyson, 2003b).

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