Academic journal article New Waves

Lights, Camera, iPads, Action! How a Fourth Grade Class Learned 21st Century Literacies through Various Arts Projects

Academic journal article New Waves

Lights, Camera, iPads, Action! How a Fourth Grade Class Learned 21st Century Literacies through Various Arts Projects

Article excerpt


The 21st century world is media saturated, technologically dependent, and globally connected. The multimedia age requires new skills for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating, and distributing messages within a digital, global, and democratic society. The acquisition and application of critical analysis and media production skills are part of what constitutes media literacy (NCSS, 2009; Rheingold, 2008). If we hope to make learning relevant and meaningful for students in the 21st century, classrooms need to reflect this digital world so as to better provide young people with the awareness and abilities to critically question and create new media and technology, and the digital, democratic experiences, necessary to become active participants in the shaping of democracy (Jenkins, 2006). A strong democracy depends on the ability of the citizen to critically read the word and the world (Friere & Macedo, 1987; O'Quinn, 2006). In order to read the world in today's society, students need to encounter new forms of text and learn in a world influenced by technology and new literacies. Based on the development of Web 2.0 tools, new literacies integrate information and communication technologies (for example, Twitter, Facebook Wikis, Second Life, Instagram). New literacies enable students to read and produce digital texts in which computer screens substitute the pages of a book.

While texts have changed, traditional print literacy remains ever as important as the new literacies. Early literacy programs should still maintain traditional print literacy as the primary focus of instruction (Hassett, 2006). Traditional print literacy is composed of book and print media. The International Reading Association contends that students should be able to comprehend and construct information using print and non-print materials (Donovan, 2013). This idea of using print and non-print materials also correlates with the K-5 Common Core standards.

Integrating the arts into classroom instruction can merge traditional and new literacies. The arts "allow language and thought to be expressed through a variety of representations" (Alter, Hays, & O'Hara, 2009, p. 22). These representations can take place in traditional print form or through new literacies. While arts integration has great potential in the elementary classroom, it becomes problematic when "the arts are not sufficiently connected to student learning or treated less seriously than other subjects" (LaJevic, 2013, p. 3).

Purpose of the Study

This study aimed to understand the possibilities of interdisciplinary teaching/ learning to connect the arts to other academic subjects in an elementary classroom with a high number of English Language Learners (ELLs). In the U.S., 20% of students in K-12 classrooms come from homes where English is not the native language (Crawford, 2000; Kelly-Jackson & Delacruz, 2014; Thomas & Collier, 2002). By the year 2030, this number will double (Gollnick & Chinn, 2009). Faltis (2013) highlighted the importance of a balanced interdisciplinary approach to arts integrated instruction, particularly with emergent bilingual youth. Not only does art integration support literacy instruction but it also helps students become culturally and linguistically responsive.

The two research questions that guided the study were: (1) What types of projects does a fourth grade create using traditional art forms and digital art forms within language arts instruction? and (2) What impacts do arts integrated projects have on students' literacy learning?

Conceptual Frameworks: Role of Arts Integration in Learning

Integrating the arts into instruction has long been advocated as an effective way to help students find relevance and provide a real context. Arts integration is generally defined as the linking of a content area and an art form for the purposes of reaching a deeper level of engagement, learning, and reflection than without the art form (Burnaford et al. …

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