Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

'It's Complicated': Children Learning about Other People's Lives through a Critical Digital Literacies Project

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

'It's Complicated': Children Learning about Other People's Lives through a Critical Digital Literacies Project

Article excerpt


Q: What was something you learned about your subject's work and life from making this video?

A: 'It's complicated. There's a lot of stuff when you get older.'--Elena

A: 'She really likes her friends.'--Javier

A: 'Knowing how hard it is to be Rosa 'cause she has to wake up really early in the morning and work really late.'--Alejandra

When we asked nine-year old students like Elena, Javier, and Alejandra what they had learned when they made videos about other people's lives, they offered us all sorts of answers. We asked such questions as part of a larger effort to understand the ways in which children engaged in and made meaning through a critical digital literacy project that foregrounded the school community as a source of curricular material and positioned children as designers of powerful texts. Working with classroom teachers, we as researchers asked students to create videos about 'A Day in the Life' of a worker, in conjunction with a school-wide celebration of Cesar Chavez Day, a US holiday honouring the eponymous labour union organiser. Students brainstormed interview questions, chose someone they knew who worked--a parent, teacher, relative, family friend--and generated a video script from their handwritten interview questions and answers. They used iMovie on iPads during school to create their videos, and we surveyed them before and after they made the videos as part of our larger data collection efforts.

We set out to measure the degree to which this project succeeded as an example of critical, digital literacy work with children. We were fundamentally interested in offering children the chance to use community members--teachers, teachers' aides, principals, parents, coaches, cousins--as sources of curricular knowledge. As we discuss in this paper, students made rich, varied digital texts out of the raw materials of other people's lives. Students conducted extensive one-on-one interviews in and out of school; wrote down long, complex answers; and translated those answers into digital video scripts in which they re-voiced people's lives. The digital video composition was part of a larger, ongoing study of ways to embed children's multimodal composing work into regular classroom curricula. The literacy demands of this project were high, and were heightened by the demands of the multimodal composing platform, which required children to sequence images, record their voices, make or choose images and video, couple narration with images as desired, and add titles and other artwork as desired.

In this paper we explain the larger project's theoretical underpinnings and the video unit itself, and then discuss our analysis of what children reported learning about other people's lives as they represented those lives to a wider school and community audience. We wanted to find space in this process for critical digital literacies. That is, we hoped that children would be able to name and rename their worlds, and to redesign their worlds, via their actions or their digital compositions.

Critical digital literacies

The underlying tenet of the larger research study from which these data are drawn is that literacy is not neutral, but is always political; asking students and teachers to engage in literacy practices thus means asking them to engage in ideologically laden acts. Given this understanding, and given our desire to help children make multimodal, digital compositions in the classroom, the theoretical and methodological route we have chosen to travel is one of critical digital literacies (Avila & Pandya, 2013; Merchant, 2007). Critical literacies themselves are a 'process of naming and renaming the world, seeing its patterns, designs and complexities, and developing the capacity to redesign and reshape it' (Luke, 2014, p. 29). This process of naming and renaming can look very different on the ground, in classrooms. Luke and Freebody (1999) break it down into a set of four roles enacted by the reader: text decoder, participant, user, and analyst (see also Stevens & Bean, 2007), while Janks, Dixon, Ferreira, Granville & Newfield (2013) use the terms writer/designer. …

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