New Literacies in 21st Century Classrooms

New Literacies in 21st Century Classrooms

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3212-5.ch002
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Understanding 21st century communication requires an acknowledgement of the increasing role technology plays in the everyday lives of children. At home, children routinely engage in techno-literate environments where they use multiple modes for playing and learning. In order to build a bridge between theory and practice, it is helpful to draw upon the field of multiliteracies, New Literacy Studies, and social semiotics. Applying these theories to the language and literacy practices of elementary students provides insight into text making and the design process or fit between modes and affordances. This chapter helps the reader gain the necessary background for grasping the complexities involved in producing coherent and cohesive texts.
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Well, I use me mom phone, like when in the car. She let me play games like Minecraft and this one where you kill aliens. I do not remember the name it has. I get to do stuff like that … Yea, I have computer at home. But I don’t uses it. It does not have Internet so it no good. I do not like it. You know you need Internet. It costs money … it too much mom say. I wish I had it. I could look up stuffs like mermaids cuz you knows that I love reading about them. (Rosabelle)

This chapter provides an overview of the ways in which children engage with technology at home and school in an ever-changing world. Critical issues are brought to the surface to forefront the topics that must be considered to ensure fairness and equity for all students including the digital divide and meeting the needs of emergent bilinguals. These learning issues are debated while thinking through the multiple theories used to inform the research and interpret findings.


Communicating In The 21St Century

Children everywhere are growing up in a technology rich environment where they see, hear, touch, and interact with digital media on a regular basis. Daily life for many young people involves television, smartphones, digital tablets, and social media (Guernsey, 2014); multimodality is embedded within these practices to include gesture, touch, and the viewing of images (Walsh & Simpson, 2014). There is little doubt about the transition from print to screen and how even very young students are using digital devices to go online (Sefton-Green, Marsh, Erstad, & Flewitt, 2016). According to the Scholastic Kids and Family Report (2015), approximately 44% of children ages six through eleven spend time browsing the Internet at home for fun and over 95% play games on electronic devices including smartphones and other handheld digital devices. Over 61% of these students read e-books at home or school with the average young person spending about seven hours per day engaged with media seven days a week (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). This even includes five-year-old children who frequently visit virtual worlds like Club Penguin and use these environments as online social networking sites where they engage in digital forms of reading and writing (Marsh, 2014).

Childhood Experiences

This ever changing nature of childhood gives rise to questions about whether or not large amounts of screen-based activities are healthy, but it is in fact reality for most children (NAEYC, 2012). Davidson, Danby, Given, and Thorpe (2014) studied preschoolers who watched YouTube videos via a digital device and found that even though the technology afforded viewing of interesting material, the children still wanted to talk about the videos in very traditional ways. Given this, there has a been a call for educators to teach students to be multiliterate meaning the ability to read and write digital texts, maneuver websites, conduct searches, and locate information (Guernsey, 2014). To do this, educators and policy makers must consider the rise of nonlinguistic forms of literacy, what types of literacy should be valued in schools, digital equity, and environments that promote a more collaborative approach to learning. One must also recognize the importance of foundational literacy practices and approach changes with a vision that includes the traditional and the new (digital).

For example, in one study a group of boys designed a video sequel to Star Wars where technology was used as a tool for the multimodal construction of meaning and the boys became text designers to demonstrate their knowledge of good versus evil (Hesterman, 2011). The project began with the boys role-playing outside with paper light sabers which served as an exploratory time for story development (traditional practice). Later, the children researched Star Wars’ weapons and developed paper and pencil games. Eventually, cardboard models of the spaceships were created. Finally, digital components converged with the traditional components as the boys made video productions for their stories. Communication took both verbal and nonverbal forms and required engagement with spoken, written, and visual texts. In simple terms, the students became better communicators and technology users through this experience.

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