Sometimes called “affordances,” the digital world offers advantages to students. Teachers’ repertoires today likely include Twitter, Glogster, Kahoot, Prezi, a comic creator, Ted Talks, LiveBinders, podcasts, Animoto, Quizlet, a class wiki, white board illustrating, screencasting, and blog posting. These and other platforms infuse ways for students to become better readers of their worlds through nuanced textual interactions, inquiry, analytical thinking, and composing.
Online tools transform students into text detectives who have fun while hunting for clues. Start with quickly paced e-learning modules that point to key evidence; primary sources offer a wealth of possibilities. A Civil War era journal entry, sheet music from the Roaring 20’s, an eggless-butterless-milkless World War II cake recipe, or civil rights protest photo can spur conversations and engagement— and each can be accessed digitally. Alternatively, daily digital newspapers and blogs allow students to explore local and global perspectives, and e-readers and audiobooks bring professional narration to combined reading/ listening experiences. It’s fascinating how digital book chats, Amazon student book reviews, or one book/ one school programs can foster a school community through common literary experiences.
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E-learning centers immerse students in appropriately challenging investigations. Online design tasks might include image-based visualizations that spur language acquisition. Vocabulary games, multi-level/ tiered questioning, close reading wikis, or online discussion boards introduce new concepts. Moreover, social justice simulations can unveil lives that have been affected by race, class, language, gender, or religious difference. Further, a curation tool like Storify can help students to develop critical perspectives and to become more curious about others who don’t fit their own community’s definition of “Normal.”
Do science/ English collaborations seem a bit avant-garde? Scientific texts can fulfill various English and literature standards through readings available at National Geographic, NOAA, NSF, NASA, Sierra Club, and Nature Conservancy websites. Follow up with a computer lab gallery walk, cartoon slideshow, Ted Talk about study skills, sports podcast to spur argumentation, or celebrity media evaluation. Add in online guided questions, dictionaries, and translation tools to help struggling readers. Visual texts are important in our symbol-based society, so digital classic works of art, stylized comics, minimalist advertisements, and short films can be “read” as balanced, integrated elements.
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Infuse background and context into writing-to-learn activities then let students blog! Because blogging is a reflection of identity, student bloggers gain insights into the human side of composing; they discern the complex interplay of words and ideas for an audience, making sense through print, sound, images, and videos. Digital photography can also bring personalization and purpose to the writing process. And don’t forget how fan fiction creates an outlet for imaginative mediation of the demands of audience and genre.
Ultimately, it is the richness of the digital world that resonates with students, for, as W. Somerset Maugham said, “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.”
Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading. She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.