Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Creating Digital Authors: Given Access to the Technology, Encouragement, and Assistance, Even Elementary School Students Can Become Engaged and Enthusiastic Digital Authors

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Creating Digital Authors: Given Access to the Technology, Encouragement, and Assistance, Even Elementary School Students Can Become Engaged and Enthusiastic Digital Authors

Article excerpt

As you enter the elementary classroom, students are posting online sticky notes, searching for video clips, creating graphic organizers, and recording their voices. Some talk with peers, read snippets of their writing to their table groups, provide technical assistance to one another, and navigate back and forth between various programs and web sites.

This scenario above is from a summer writing camp in North Carolina in 2013, where students had an opportunity to use digital tools. Changing times demand that we equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to be successful. This requires knowing how to use new technologies and adopting a broader conceptualization of literacy that encompasses digital as well as written forms of texts. "New literacies" is a term many scholars use to refer to new ways of reading and writing made available by technology as well as the competencies associated with them, such as design, navigation, and collaboration (Leu et al., 2004).

Despite changes in technology and literacy, most schools continue to "privilege traditional texts, beliefs, and forms of reading and writing" (Lapp, Moss, & Rowsell, 2012, p. 367), and technology integration is largely lacking (Pallak & Walls, 2009). Even when access is not an issue, many teachers feel ill-equipped to incorporate new literacies into their instruction (Kajder, 2005) or do not feel they have instructional time due to testing constraints (Hutchinson & Reinking, 2011).

Studies documenting how adolescents use digital tools outside school highlight their complex and rich lives when engaged in social networking and collaboration (Lam, 2012; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). Little is known, however, about how elementary students use new literacies. Knowing that students of all ages must be able use digital tools as part of the writing process, we designed a two-week digital writing camp.

We found that students were engaged, motivated, and crafty 21st-century authors.

Digital writing camp

The digital writing camp was designed for students entering grades 3-12, but we'll focus on what we learned from elementary students. The goal was for students to complete a digital text by the end of the two weeks, which was then shared with their families and published on the camp's web site.

A typical day started with a visit from a published author, which included a playwright, e-book author, and a journalist. Afterward, two classroom teachers worked with the 20 elementary students. They provided a brief lesson on technological tools and resources for writing; then students explored and constructed their own texts. All students created a VoiceThread (an online slide show narrated with voice recordings), choosing their own genres and topics. They also used kidblog.org to collaborate and share ideas, popplet.com for creating concept maps, linoit.com for online sticky notes, and Microsoft Word to draft their texts. They found information, pictures, and video clips online and used digital cameras to take pictures or brought in flash drives with pictures from home.

Throughout camp, we observed and recorded field notes, audio/video-recorded interactions, and conducted informal interviews with students. From this, we learned:

* Students had limited access to technology at home and school;

* Students learned to use technology through experimentation and collaboration;

* Students were highly motivated to construct digital texts and learn new technologies; and

* Technology had a positive effect on students' writing process and final products.

Limited technology access

Most students lived in homes with digital devices, but their access often was limited because the technology did not belong to the students themselves. For example, Lucas (all names are pseudonyms) explained, "I only get to play on the computer when my parents don't need it for work, or my brother doesn't need it for homework; so not too much. …

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