Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Reading Digital Texts

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Reading Digital Texts

Article excerpt

The current emphasis on the teaching and integration of technology in the primary classroom lacks specific direction for teaching the reading of digital texts. This paper reports on the findings of a research project that investigated the way students read and navigate digital texts. The researchers looked particularly at the students' 'reading practices' and whether the explicit teaching of the metalanguage of visual grammar allowed students to discuss and understand digital texts.

Introduction

The current emphasis on the teaching and integration of technology in the primary classroom lacks specific direction for teaching about and with digital texts although several researchers (Unsworth, 2001; Kress, 2003; Unsworth, Thomas, & Bush, 2004; Simpson, 2004; Walsh, 2006) are investigating aspects of this area. In light of the findings from the National Literacy Inquiry and its report, Teaching Reading (DEST, 2005), it is essential that further research develop evidence for the ways in which students read and learn from digital texts and how this evidence may inform both new theory and pedagogy. This paper describes a small study that aimed to investigate the way students read and navigate digital texts and whether the explicit teaching of visual grammar, with a shared metalanguage, allows students and teachers to discuss and understand digital texts.

Current research

The environment of students today is filled with digital texts. The textual shift that has occurred entails more than just distinguishing the difference between reading print-based texts and reading digital texts. Students are comfortable with the range of technology that allows them to surf the internet, send a text message or photo to a friend, or play a digital game while listening to music. They are able to multitask between a variety of digital media, simultaneously processing the various modes of print, image, movement, graphics, animation, sound and music. Such a shift in communication has many researchers contending that there needs to be a pedagogical shift so that the classroom is able to incorporate these new modes of communication (e.g. Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2001; Kress et al., 2001; Kress, 2003; Unsworth, 2001, 2003; Lankshear, Snyder, & Green, 2000; Lankshear & Noble, 2003; Lemke, 2002; Gee, 2003).

Research is at the early stages of determining the exact features that are needed for reading digital texts and how the reading process is similar to or different from reading conventional texts (Walsh, 2006). During the 1990s there was a strong move to determine the differences between reading images and reading print, and to establish image-text relations, along with attempts to develop a 'visual grammar' (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996). There have been more recent attempts to refine this visual grammar so it applies to digital or multimodal texts (Unsworth, 2001; Callow & Zammitt, 2002; Simpson, 2004; Noad, 2005).

Kress (2003) has shown that the difference between reading words and images is in the 'logic of the words' compared with the 'logic of the image'. For example, he shows that the logic of words is linear and sequential whereas the logic of an image is non-linear and non-sequential. In an analysis of the similarities and differences between reading print and multimodal texts, Walsh (2006) has demonstrated how the similarities are linked to aspects of meaning-making, whatever the type of text or purpose of the reader. She shows that the differences are in the processing of the different modes and in the affordances of these modes. In multimodal texts, compared with print-based texts, the reader will use various senses (sight, hearing, tactile, kinaesthetic) to respond to other modes. This processing may be influenced by the synchronous effects of images, colour, line, angle, position or the arrangement of these with movement, animation or sound effects. We need to theorise the interactions that occur as readers process these modes, separately or simultaneously, in a digital text. …

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