Literacy in Early Childhood: Multimodal Play and Text Production

Literacy in Early Childhood: Multimodal Play and Text Production

Sally Brown (Georgia Southern University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0000-2.ch001
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This chapter is based on a year-long ethnographic research study in a Title I urban classroom with 24 seven- and eight-year-olds. Using this work, the author shares ways of teaching literacy to young readers using technology and building on student interests. In particular, students' stories constructed through Lego play and digital photography are showcased. Three major themes are identified and discussed: (1) digital play as an essential tool for story, (2) multimodal storytelling as a path for learning and new language, a (3) apprenticeships for multimodal text productions. The chapter concludes with practical suggestions for educators about ways to capitalize on students' funds of knowledge as well as their passion for digital tools in the 21st century classroom.
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The world is changing and becoming technological-based in a global sense. Many opportunities for communication and learning rely on the use of digital tools. During early childhood, children are continually being exposed to more and more digital tools as they interact informally at home with peers and formally in school contexts. These digital experiences tend to involve tools like smartphones, tablets, and computers which children use to engage with social media, apps, video games, text messaging, e-books, etc. Words alone no longer are the main means by which people communicate. Instead, multimedia affordances provide multimodal formats for meaning making. For example, the use of images, sound, and animation are central in the 21st century. Given the current context, early experiences of children are being re-shaped as they engage with technology even as young as a few months of age (Guernsey, 2014; Sefton-Green, Marsh, Erstad, & Flewitt, 2016).

As educators, it makes sense to build upon early home experiences as children engage in formal reading and writing events in classrooms. Consideration should also be given to the assets children bring with them in terms of cultures, languages, and histories of working with digital tools (Dyson, 2003; Souto‐Manning, 2016). Educators must consider how existing classroom resources are made available to students for constructing and creating meaning while building on their strengths. It is through the formation of interactional spaces for literacy learning that students are able to be in the moment of creating, composing, doing, and becoming authors (Kuby & Rucker, 2016).

In this case, play with physical materials like Legos are mixed with paper-based experiences and digital tools to compose stories. Play in the 21st century must include not only interactions with physical materials but also digital platforms. Knowledge evolves as children experiment with digital tools and all of the affordances they offer. Play allows for a flexible approach to thinking of materials and resources in new ways (Stephen & Edwards, 2018), and as society moves forward in the digital age, young learners include technology in their play. For example, creativity is fostered through choices in the selection of clip art, digital photography, or background images and colors (Marsh, Plowman, Yamada-Rice, Bishop, & Scott, 2016).

This requires deep thinking about the social nature of learning and consideration of how cultures, backgrounds, and experiences contribute to the rich interplay that happens during classroom learning events. It also necessitates the rethinking of play concepts and ways to begin designing alternative learning opportunities where young students experiment with different modes and practice combining them for meaning-making purposes (Wohlwend, 2011). Initially, this may only be evident to the student but through conversations and questioning, teachers can begin to see how play is unfolding in ways that showcase traditional literacies. The journey of a diverse group of second graders (ages seven and eight) is detailed in the chapter.

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