Social Media & English Learners' Academic Literacy Development

By Shin, Dong-shin | Multicultural Education, Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

Social Media & English Learners' Academic Literacy Development


Shin, Dong-shin, Multicultural Education


Introduction

Social media are becoming a critical part of communication in everyday lives and are a common form of communication for many students in and outside of school. Accordingly, English learner (EL) students are using social media-based communication to gather information, maintain friendships, and express multiple identities. Considering that social media have been a driving factor in students' literacy practices, it is critical that teachers incorporate this type of social writing into their curriculum and instruction to engage students and to better support their language and literacy learning and development.

Research has shown that social media involve changes in modes, authorship, styles, genres, social relationships, and time and space of literacy practices (Elola & Oskoz, 2017; Lam, 2013; Shin, 2014; Toohey et al., 2015). This kind of textual practice has been shown to support second language (L2) development, giving expression to a wider variety of rhetorical goals and expanding audiences (Gee & Hayes, 2011). However, while most of these studies have examined L2 learners' out-of-school literacy practices, there are few studies about multilingual learners'/L2 learners' uses of social media in school settings.

This study explores how a sixth-grade teacher used social media in her English and Language Arts (ELA) lessons in a U.S. elementary classroom. Specifically, it examines the kinds of affordances available in social media-based writing, and how students process those affordances in writing genre texts.

What kinds of affordances are available when students write through social media? How do those affordances shape students' learning of academic writing?

Theoretical Framework

The conceptual framework that I draw on for this study is a sociocultural perspective on language and literacy learning. Within this theoretical perspective, I argue that language learning is a social practice of meaning-making processes that draw on the semiotic/meaning-making resources available in the context of communication (Bakhtin, 1981; Halliday, 1985; Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1998). These semiotic resources are cultural artifacts that are sociohistorically created by members of a social group.

Learning how to use cultural semiotic artifacts comes about by participating in socialization practices that involve cultural artifacts as the tools that mediate social interactions. Developing expertise in uses of cultural meaning-making resources is based on socialization processes of learning the cultural and social norms of a discourse community (Kress, 2003). Thus, in computer-mediated language learning, learners engage in expressing themselves and understanding others within the cultural, social, and historical contexts of the discourse community.

Within this view of context-dependent language learning, digital literacy practices are shaped by the dynamics between social materials (e.g., Web 2.0 tools, institutional curricular conditions, and logistics) and human behaviors. Learners appropriate digital literacy activities for their linguistic and social purposes, which allows researchers and teachers to avoid static, essentialized views of learning and its contexts.

Exploring how learners jointly construct learning activities, one can see their identities/subjectivities in relation to co-constructed norms, rules, and goals. Moreover, this approach to studying computer-mediated language learning and teaching can also address the kinds of experiences language learners will face in a linguistically, culturally, and socially new environment, and how they will carry their life interests and stories over to online language learning spaces.

As such, language learning is not the acquisition of discrete linguistic features, but rather of the norms, values, beliefs, and hierarchies of a social group in order to become competent members of that social group. Learners dialogically engage with discourses surrounding the learning practice-social voices that are both synchronic and diachronic (Bakhtin, 1981). …

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