Reading for Technology Savvy Students: Utilizing Choice of Multi-Modal Texts to Engage Students in Content Literacy

By Sweeny, Sheelah M. | New England Reading Association Journal, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Reading for Technology Savvy Students: Utilizing Choice of Multi-Modal Texts to Engage Students in Content Literacy


Sweeny, Sheelah M., New England Reading Association Journal


How can fiction, nonfiction and online text be used as part of content area reading instruction? In what ways can the Internet be used as a supplementary tool during content area reading? How can students choose to use online texts when they read? As a classroom teacher, my use of the new literacies have enabled me to use multiple text modes to stimulate students' interest, connect their reading to content area instruction and provide choice in their reading options. In this article, methods of using different texts as part of content reading will be summarized and suggestions for extensions of new literacies will be introduced.

Tech Savvy Students, Student Engagement, and Reading Interest

Students in the intermediate and upper elementary grades are part of a group called tweens (Scherer, 2006), covering the span of 10-14 years of age. This group has unique needs, challenges, interests and learning styles. Contrary to popular belief about the alliteracy of these students, they are reading, but they read different texts than their parents did during their teenage years. Also known at Generation M or Gen M (Cole, Steptoe & Dale, 2006) in popular culture, tweens and teens spend up to 6 ½ hours with media each day, including print texts, movies, computers, TV, music players and video games. They read text in books, newspapers, magazines, online zines, gaming sites and research related sites (Roberts, Foehr & Rideout, 2005). Their use of text is varied and constantly evolving, as they are multi-taskers and digital natives (Prensky, 2001) who expect to be able to find information and to communicate using digital technologies.

Teachers and parents are concerned about students who are turned off to reading and school in general. As a third grade teacher I often told parents that the biggest change from second to third grade was the progression from learning to read to that of reading to learn. At the same time, my fourth grade colleagues were attempting to explain to parents that their children were experiencing the dreaded "fourth grade slump" in reading. And by fifth grade, many of my former students said they hated reading, insisting that they had not read an entire book since second grade. Students' attitudes toward reading are positive in first grade, but steadily decline during their elementary years (McKenna, Kear ocEllsworth, 1995).

What happens to once enthusiastic readers as they transition from the primary grades into the intermediate grades to make them dislike reading? Does the sheer volume of choices-the emerging importance of peer relationships and social pressures, organized activities before and after school and increased time viewing screens (TV, computer, video games and movies)-compete for their attention? Perhaps the reading itself demands more complexity and time commitment. It may be the instructional model being used, which often includes teacher lecture and a passive role for students, that causes these tweens to turn off to reading. Students may need more instruction in reading nonfiction texts, or those written with more sophisticated literary devices. As teachers rely more on content textbooks and planned units of study around teacher-selected fictional texts, the element of choice in student reading diminishes.

The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) (2005) identifies student engagement as the most important ingredient in academic success. Four elements are cited as necessary to engage students, including (a) student self-confidence; (b) teacher interest or concern for students as individuals; (c) relevant and interesting texts; and (d) choices of literary activities (NCREL, 2005). How does this level of engagement affect young readers in their tweens? What do students read between the ages of 10 and 14? Do these students have any passions or compelling interests?

In fourth grade, for example, I read Black Beauty and began a literary love affair with horses, reading fiction, nonfiction and how-to draw books. …

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