A Whole New Literacy': Teachers' Understanding of Students' Digital Learning at Home

By Honan, Eileen | Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, February 2012 | Go to article overview

A Whole New Literacy': Teachers' Understanding of Students' Digital Learning at Home


Honan, Eileen, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy


Obviously it's a whole new literacy, if that's the right word, that doesn't that obviously the kids that are engaged within that are entering a whole new--you know, something entirely different that's beyond my world

Introduction

There have been many different accounts of teachers' engagements with new technologies in their literacy classrooms, from both positive reports (Walsh, 2010) to those who claim that teachers have been slow to change their approaches (Labbo, 2006; Ladbrook, 2009). Rather than aligning with one or other side of a relatively spurious argument, I believe the issues related to teachers' uses of digital texts (1) in their literacy classrooms are complex, cannot be viewed in 'unidimensional terms' (Alvermann, 2010, p. 10), and are located within historical and contemporary discourses about the nature of schooling and the types of texts and literacy practices valued in classrooms (Honan, 2009).

My research in this area is motivated by two concerns: first, students are increasingly disengaged with traditional approaches to literacy education (Alvermann, 2008; Carrington, 2006). Viewing this disengagement through a non-deficit lens (Comber & Kamler, 2004) requires turning our collective professional gaze onto our pedagogical practices in our own classrooms (I include here my own preservice teacher education classroom) to interrogate the value and worth of the conventional approaches to literacy education.

Second, many teachers have taken up the use of new technologies as an integral part of their literacy work. As Hague and Williamson (2009, p. 3) argue, integrating new technologies into classrooms requires something 'more substantial than claiming that schools need to make use of ICT to sustain the engagement and motivation of learners. It recognises that accessing information and knowledge through diverse technological and media forms affects learning itself'. Unfortunately what is sometimes reported as exemplary practice by teachers who are using new technologies (see for example, Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu, 2008) resembles the 'old wine in new bottles' approaches to literacy education reported by a team of academics (including myself) in 1997 (Bigum et al., 1997). As Coiro and her colleagues point out, 'pioneering teachers who have been leading the way with respect to adopting the Internet in classrooms tend to focus on the technology aspects of use, rather than seeing the issue as an instructional issue for literacy' (Coiro et al., 2008, p. 9).

These concerns are not, however, embedded within discourses of blame and teacher deficit models. Pedagogical practices are difficult to change (consider that Dewey was writing about the need for a progressive pedagogy in the early 1900s), and teachers are often confronted with competing versions of the relative value and worth of particular literacy practices, texts, and pedagogies through, for example, professional development that focuses on functional grammar, media reports about poor NAPLAN (2) results, and a national English curriculum that prioritises knowledge of 'quality' literature as an essential requirement (3). Within this climate it seems to be not unusual that researchers claim that 'teachers seem hesitant in using popular culture and digital technologies in the classroom' (Ladbrook, 2009, p. 71). However, it is important that those of us who do believe that new technologies have a place in the classroom, also encourage an understanding of the new literacy practices and the new pedagogical approaches required to engage with 'innovative uses of computer technologies' (Labbo & Place, 2010, p. 17).

As Marsh (2008) and others (Alvermann, 2008; Dyson, 2003) have pointed out, teachers who are not mindful of the changes to literacy practices caused by digital technologies are also often 'limited by their apparent lack of attention to children's out-of-school practices in the curriculum' (Marsh, 2008, p. …

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