How teachers can bring digital technology into the literacy classroom

Teachers know that change is a constant in the classroom, and this has  never been truer than in today’s digital world. New technologies are not only changing the way children live, but also how they are taught, and teachers are embracing these opportunities.

According to Australian Literacy Educators’ Association President Beryl Exley, a shift towards digital literacy is one of the main changes teachers are seeing in the classroom; other changes include the teaching of visual literacy, media literacy, critical literacy and  functional grammar, rather than just traditional grammar.

She described these changes not as trends, but as substantial parts of the curriculum. According to Ms Exley, digital technologies  offer great opportunities for literacy educators when used alongside more traditional methods.

“The digital world is the reality, and it brings certain challenges, not to replace existing curriculum but to extend it,” she said.

The digital environment can make an impact on the way grammar itself is taught, due to the new platforms on which language is used.

Traditional versus functional grammar

Changes in literacy teaching are evident in the increased emphasis on functional grammar alongside traditional grammar.

The difference between the two is that while traditional grammar is based on normative rules and the standards of edited English, and is mainly limited to describing the linguistic elements of written or spoken texts, functional grammar considers how language varies within the context of culture – whether  in visual, audio, spatial or gestural modes.

It is not hard to see that this shift towards teaching functional grammar is, in part, due to the changing landscape in which text and language is available.

The new emphasis on functional grammar was highlighted in the release of the Australian Curriculum English (ACE) by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which drew upon the complementary methods of traditional Latin-based grammar and systemic functional linguistics (Parsing the Australian Curriculum English: Grammar, multimodality and cross-cultural texts by Beryl Exley and Kathy A Mills). The best of the past and the present, you could say.

A practical approach to bringing technology into the classroom

One way in which teachers have combined traditional and digital learning has been in developing a class blog about a certain subject. Ms Exley illustrated the role of  blogging in the modern classroom by citing a case study of primary school students using an online interactive blog to document their learning in science (The potentials of student initiated netspeak in a middle primary science-inspired multiliteracies project by Jay Ridgewell and Beryl Exley).

The study revealed that the blog extended the time and space available for student reflection outside the teacher-led class discussion. However, the project was not without its pitfalls:  Exley and her fellow researcher found that school-based blogs, “engaged students in ongoing dialogue about scientific content in different ways to programmed learning and real face-to-face class discussions”, but “…failed to develop important forms of scientific literacy, most notably evaluation”.

Crucially, traditional teaching and evaluation should underpin digital activities to ensure that other important elements of learning were not neglected in the contemporary classroom.

In another study, an eight-year-old boy engaged in travel blogging, an activity found to provide a pleasurable experience as well as pedagogic benefits (Children’s pedagogic rights in the web 2.0 era: A case study of a child’s open access interactive travel blog by Beryl Exley and Linda-Dianne Willis).

As students, even in their earliest years of education, become more comfortable in the digital sphere, literacy teachers have the opportunity to embrace newer technologies, while using existing methods to extend their learning experiences.

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