How are digital tools shaping family literacy?

Last week in my adolescent literacy development seminar, we discussed issues and literature related to family literacies. Toward the end of class, our professor, Doug Hartman, cited a landmark study by Victoria Purcell-Gates ( at UBC in Language and Literacy Education where I completed my M.A.) that focused on three kinds of texts in the home: trade books, coupons and the TV guide (citation below). Once, not that long ago, Doug recounted that he asked Dr. Purcell-Gates what the most significant texts in the home might be today and how those texts might shape family literacies differently. Though Dr. Purcell-Gates didn’t apparently have an immediate reply to the question, my colleagues and I took it up ourselves. With Doug’s prompting, we also expanded our discussions to consider how digital tools are shaping family literacies. Though speculative and grounded in personal experiences, these are my thoughts.

The single most significant and immediately obvious contribution that digital tools make to my family’s literacy practices is access to ideas. When my 5-year-old wanted to know how many venomous snakes there are in the world, we Googled her question. Turns out, there are over 600 (thank you, Wikipedia). We found facts, images and videos that captivated her imagination for weeks. When she wanted to know what a mummy was, we did the same thing. We discovered plenty of information about Ancient Egyptian burial, but we also learned about the excavation of mummies in China. It’s stunning to think that in seconds, my daughter can explore answers to every question she can imagine.

It seems that my daughter’s reading comprehension should never be limited by her background knowledge; she has immediate access to answers, and she knows it. “If you don’t know something, Mom, you should just go to the Internet,” she informed me, yesterday.  The Internet certainly has a prominent place in our family literacy practices. As we use it, I’m increasingly aware that my husband and I are scaffolding basic new literacies skills like questioning, locating and evaluating what we find too.  I wonder how other families use the Internet with their young children?

I also wonder how my daughter’s iPod Touch is shaping her notions of text. Certainly, we have shelves of storybooks in our home  as did the participants in Purcell-Gates’ study. We cherish our books but we also read digital stories with interactive characters that ask my daughter questions and with  images that leap off the page.  With a tap, she can also navigate to her music collection, or play the drums, or win points in a math game, or draw a picture or pretend to be a Jedi in a light-sabre duel with her dad. I wonder what the synergy of literacy, numeracy, art and entertainment in this tiny box will mean for her developing notions of literacy. Will these activities all seem different or more similar to her because they all live in her hand-held device?

Purcell-Gates, V. (1996). Stories, coupons, and the TV guide: Relationships between home literacy experiences and emergent literacy knowledge. Reading Research Quarterly, 31(4), 406-428. doi:10.1598/RRQ.31.4.4

As teachers learn to develop TPACK, what do their learning progressions look like?

Mishra & Koehler, from http://tpack.org
Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Question: As teachers learn to develop TPCK and a TPCK mindset, what does their learning progression look like?

Answer: It depends. For the past year, I’ve had the privilege to work with a team of colleagues from MSU that has been exploring this question. Our work has grown out of a professional development session that, originally, was conceptualized as a day-long commitment. Through the efforts of several colleagues, including the colleagues at the elementary school where we’ve been conducting our research, the program grew into a year-long investigation of TPCK learning progressions. Our intervention? A summer-long partnership between an MSU “tech expert” and teachers who, in exchange for their time, received help with the development of a technology-oriented project that they could implement in their classrooms in the 2010-2011 school year.

Based on our early analyses of thirteen teachers’ learning trajectories from June to December, 2010, we’ve identified five trends. The majority of teachers (8 of 13) seemed to follow a climb>plateau pattern. Their self-reported knowledge and expertise around technology integration in their curriculum and teaching grew significantly between June and September when they were receiving the most one-on-one support from their MSU partners. Once school began, teachers tended to report a plateau in their knowledge and expertise of technology integration.

We also identified four atypical trajectories.

We identified the first atypical trajectory as flat>high-high-high. These teachers started at a high level of knowledge and expertise and stayed there. The intervention did not seem to change their assessments of their skills.

The second atypical trajectory was also flat. However, this teacher stayed low-low-low over the three points of data collection.

A third atypical trajectory was a climb>fall trajectory. This teacher reported improved knowledge and expertise of technology integration between points one and two of our data collection, but returned to his initial level of knowledge by the third point of data collection.

A fourth atypical trajectory was a climb>climb>climb trajectory. This teacher seemingly underestimated her abilities at the start but reported steady improvement in her ability to integrate technology in her curriculum over the three points of data collection in the study.

We’re currently in the process of preparing the article for publication.

TPCK model, Mishra, P. and Koehler, M. http://tpack.org

How should we be assessing online learning in K-12?

Question: How should we be assessing online learning in K-12?
Answer: I’m currently teaching an online Master’s course called “Teaching K-12 online”. It’s a bit like a play within a play and it’s pushing me to think about best practices. This week, I’m grading students’ plans to create an online course module and when it comes to thinking about assessment, several students have expressed concern that kids could “use Internet resources” to answer questions.
Here’s one response from me to a student who expressed this type of worry:
Re: access to other materials during assessment…I’m starting to think that this could be viewed as a really good thing. What if we started assessing students’ ability to find answers with sources cited? What if the assessment were based on the student’s ability to summarize and synthesize what they learned? What if instead of “one” answer, students had to come up with three possible answers and a rationale for which answer they think is best? For ninth graders, this kind of thinking is hard, hard, hard…but to me, this is exactly the kind of thinking kids need to learn to do.

Does online reading comprehension require more “cognitive energy” than offline reading comprehension?

Question: Does online reading comprehension require more “cognitive energy” (Duke, Schmar-Dobler & Zhang, 2006) than offline reading comprehension?

Answer: Maybe.

Helpful resources

Brand-Grewel, S. Wopereis, I., Walraven, A. (2009). A descriptive model of information problem solving while using Internet. Computers & Education, 53, 1207-1217. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.06.004

Duke, N. K., Schmar-Dobler, E., & Zhang, S. (2006). Comprehension and technology. In M. C. McKenna, L. D. Labbo, R. D. Kieffer & D. Reinking (Eds.), International handbook of literacy and technology (Vol. 2, pp. 317-326). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Small, G. W., Moody, T. D., Siddarth, P., & Bookheimer, S. Y. (2009). Your brain on Google: Patterns of cerebral activation during Internet searching. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 17(2), 116-126.