Expand our expectations

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Why we should use new literacies in our classroom...

As teachers, we need to expand our expectations of what it means to be literate. We also need to expand what we consider "texts" and think of others ways (mediums) we can use to teach our students. While I believe that it is very important for students to be able to read and write, I also believe that it is very important for students to be to use images, music, blogs and other multimodal texts to communicate their thought and ideas. Online literacies such as Facebook, MySpace, Glogster and Fanfiction have changed the way our students think, conceive and use language. "In order to bridge the social practices of youth from home to school, educators will need to more fully account for these multimodal forms of communication within classroom pedagogy" (Burke & Hammond, 6). Essentially, communication has moved from the page to the screen and we need to value and respect this transition.

We should use new literacies in our classrooms because as educators, it should be our priority to incorporate these new literacies or multimodal texts, to help aid the overall learning process. Too often, we bombard our students with tedious worksheets and monotonous key terms. Hammett states that "there are many different alternatives to having students read a text and then answer comprehension questions about it" (Burke & Hammett., 181). It is our job, as educators, to change this way of teaching and in today's technologically advanced society, students need to be educated on how to properly engage with online literacies and other multimodal texts. Students should be shown how to utilize, organize and be wary of online literacies. This in turn, will allow our students to become more competent, fluent individuals.

It is very clear that we live in a technological, visual, hi-tech world. Because of this, school curriculum needs to incorporate new forms of literacies or multimodal texts. With reference to McClay & Mackey, "[c]anadian provincial curricula for English Language Arts education require, explicitly or inexplicitly, some focus on digital literacy, learning with digital media, and representing learning in multimodal ways" (Burke et al., 114). As educators, we need to respect these new forms of literacies and their importance not only in the lives of our students, but in our curriculum. In saying this, these changes in instruction, curriculum and assessment do not always come straightforward and effortless. Frequently "[t]echnologies and identities created in collaborative communities, challenge schools, curriculum and teachers- the whole education system- to rethink traditional practices and to change mindsets" (Burke et al., 5). As educators, we are forced to thing about new ways of teaching, designing and assessing. During this redesigning process, quite often the roles of both the teacher and student become blurred and unclear.

We should also use new literacies in our classroom because, as McClay and Mackey states, "[c]lassrooms do not exist in a vacuum; teachers must take account of the priorities of the educational establishment, and they must also recognize the world of proliferating literacies in which their students live" (Burke et al., 115). From a teacher perspective, we need to engage in these new literacies. Firstly, we need to "personally" connect with these literacies to understand what they are and what they do. Secondly, our engagement of these new literacies will help us explain the discourses/interests of our students. Thirdly, an evaluation of the resources needed to accommodate these new literacies needs to be taken into consideration. These steps are critical when understanding new literacies and their implementation in our school system. As educators, we need to see technology has a broad spectrum. We need to be educated on why it is appealing to our students, how we can use it in our classrooms and what resources will be needed.

Digital storytelling: A brief rationale on why I chose this new literacy...

Personally, as a child (and even an adult), I love to read stories. After my involvements with online literacies, I now realize that "[r]eading books and reading screens are not the same experience, though they may share elements in common" (Burke et al., 51). I decided that I wanted to incorporate elements of the "old" with elements of the "new" and that I would design a lesson where my students could share a personal story to the class, while using an editing program such as imovie, Photostory or Windows Media Player.

Initially, I chose digital storytelling because I wanted their first interaction with an online literacy to be very personal, meaningful and motivating learning experience. I agree with Burke's idea that "[a]lthough technology has informed the communication and literate engagements of many of our students, we need to think about what it means in practice and how we engage and include new literacies as a part of our curriculum" (Burke, 51). Being a K-6 teacher, I thought that this would be a wonderful new literacy to incorporate into my elementary classroom, but could be modified to accommodate various grades and curriculum quite easily. After deciding upon digital storytelling, I quickly realized that this process would essentially involve brainstorming, cooperating, researching, editing, problem solving, analyzing, and synthesizing information; skills that are essential at all grade levels.

One of my important goals with incorporating digital storytelling in my classroom would be to change the role of a teacher to the role of a collaborator. It is important for students to know that we all learn from doing, experimenting and trial and error. The same way alliteration, personification and metaphor are all literacy devices; I want them to learn how to use technological devices to enhance their story. In saying this, I believe my students would be highly motivated to create a multimedia project rather then the traditional method. It is important for students to know that we all learn from doing, experimenting and trial and error. I chose this project because it will require students to plan, cooperate as a team, and solve problems when working through the production process.

When deciding upon digital storytelling, I assumed that some of my students will probably know how to use the appropriate technology needed to create a digital story. My experience with editing programs, such as Photostory or Windows Media Player, has proven they are relatively straightforward and easy to learn. Often, these editing programs have tutorials that help teach students how to bring images, music, and voice into the computer and how to sequence them according to their storyline. Relying upon my student's prior knowledge and online tutorials, I am confident that we will have no major issues while creating their digital story.

Although, I consider myself to be a digi-teacher, I believe it is very important for all educators, not to be intimidated if students learn faster then we do. It is important for both students and teachers to take risks and constantly undertake new things and I am aware that using this new "digital literacy" will often be complicated and often frustrating. It will definitely be a learning curve and it is probably best if I accept the fact that there will be troubles and tribulations and these will in turn build our technological background.

To me, digital storytelling can encompass many things. I have decided that our classroom project would be a personal digital story. This could include a childhood experience, a family history story...etc. In saying this, the opportunities when using a digital story in other areas of the curriculum are limitless. They can be used when learning about any concept, unit or idea from any area of the curriculum, from math to music. Also, a digital story can be made as a class project or as an individual project. One of the great things about online literacies is that they are very accommodating and diverse. This is important because McClay and Mackey state that "[a]s new media and new formats proliferate, we must find ways to explore them with our students or risk our classrooms becoming uninteresting to out children's present lives and irrelevant to their futures" (Burke et al, 115). Having various forms of media in our classroom with keep student's attention and keep them interested and involved.

When deciding to incorporate digital literacies in my classroom, I through it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to share a story of my own with the class. Also, taking into consideration the ESL (English second language) students that may be in my class and children from various cultures and backgrounds; I thought that they would enjoy sharing their personal stories. This can be a wonderful opportunity for students to open up with each other and this will no doubt help build a considerate, caring classroom. I envision this project to be very meaningful; encompassing their various discourses and what they deem important in their lives.

The writing of the digital story is also a very important piece of the puzzle. They would undergo the writing process by writing various drafts of their work and editing work of their peers. Obviously, developing and sharing a personal story involves many risks for students. I would allow them ample opportunities to brainstorm, work in groups and collaborate. I would also show them samples of digital stories online and give them a rubric in advance explaining what I expect.

Another benefit of digital storytelling would be the "class presentation." I think that presenting the projects to the class would also be very significant. I would plan a concluding activity that would involve sharing the stories with our class and even involving parents to join us. A great side benefit of involving parents is that the students will take their work very seriously and strive to do their very best. Then, the student's stories could also be burnt on DVD's to allow the students to keep a copy of their digital story.

In conclusion, allowing students to engage in digital storytelling enables them to develop and share a clear, structured, effective story while demonstrating how technology can be helpful in allowing students to find voice, confidence, and structure in their writing. I chose this new literacy because I thought it would be meaningful and authentic. I envision it not being an extremely difficult task... but it would certainly have it challenges.

Digital Storytelling: A Multiliteracies Pedagogy Framework

Situated Practice:

The New London Group states that situated practice is "the part of pedagogy that is constituted by immersion in meaningful practices within a community of learners who are capable of playing multiple and different roles based on their backgrounds and experiences" (NLG, 33). I believe that digital storytelling would be a meaningful project because students would base their story on personal interests/discourses. As mentioned before, many of our students are experts on online technologies. Therefore, developing a digital story would allow students to use their prior knowledge and backgrounds of new technologies to facilitate the learning process. Also, I hope that my students would gain new skills and knowledge from this experience and find this task meaningful.

Situated practice also involves "experts that are people who have mastered certain practice" (NLG, 33). Essentially, I would be that expert. However, one of my goals of this digital storytelling projects would be to change the role of a teacher to the role of a collaborator. I would join students as they discussed their project, encouraging them to discover and expand knowledge, while providing constructive feedback. This project would incorporate various role reversals in regards to knowledge and use of multimodal text. Basically, students would assume the role as teacher and vice versa. Bearne furthers this idea by stating that "[s]ince children and young people bring sometimes extensive experience of multimodal texts into the classroom, teaching approaches will increase need to reflect the kinds of texts with which students are familiar." (Burke et al., 31) Consequently, my teaching approach would change and I would become an educator, guider, collaborator and learner.

The situated practice would follow Burke's idea that "[t]extual representations are no longer restricted to fixed typographic representations on the printed page. They are also embracing expanded notions of text, notions that are varied in form and representation, and share many different perspectives and viewpoints on the part of the user" (Burke et al, 40). I suspect that their digital stories will be both individual and unique. They will dictate what they feel is important in their lives. It is very important that we expand upon this idea by incorporating new literacies and multimodal texts into the classroom regularly; students learn and discover when they are intrinsically motivated and encouraged.

Overt Instruction:

New London Group describes overt instruction as "active interventions on the part of the teacher and other experts that scaffold learning activities... [to] allow the learner to gain explicit information... when it can most usefully organize and guide practice" (NLG, 33). Understandably, this task would obviously be more challenging then the traditional manner of simply writing a story. I would have the responsibility of choosing the editing program, teaching the software to my students and making sure we have the resources in our school to accommodate our project.

As mentioned before, I would be working as a collaborator to help scaffold learning. We will rely upon our prior knowledge and problem solving skills (as a class) while working through the process together. With new literacies, learning has to be viewed as "participatory and collaborative" (Burke et al., 178). My goal as a facilitator would be to simply build upon what my students already know and help them with what they do not know.

The New London Group also states that a goal of overt instruction is to enable the learner to gain "conscious awareness of and control over what is being learned," and meeting this goal requires an interaction between students and teacher that allows learners "to accomplish a task more complex than they could accomplish on their own" (NLG, 33). I believe that this "interaction" is a very important part of the process. My goal is not to confuse my students by setting them up for failure. I am aware that often challenging projects can lead to anxiety and apprehension. Furthermore, I want this project to be fulfilling and enjoyable. The process of developing a digital story would still be structured, organized and guided. At the start of this project they will be responsible for developing, drafting and revising their story. They will be encouraged to produce multiple drafts of their personal story and will receive both peer and instructor feedback. Overt instruction would also be used to teach them how to search for graphics, clip art, various fonts and sound. I would scaffold their learning and pose questions to help guide and direct them during this process. My goal is to challenge (and scaffold) my students to success while allow them to feel a sense achievement and accomplishment. They would be given clear guidelines during the process, while allowing them to express who they are and the talents they bring to the class.

Critical Framing:

The New London Group implies that critical framing encourages learners to evaluate what they have learned, to constructively critique that learning, and to creatively extend and apply it to new contexts (NLG, 34). I believe that making a digital story would require students to use higher-level thinking and problem solving skills. A goal of this lesson would be to encourage students to discover, develop, apply, and expand their creativity. For example, they would need to make important decisions such as number of images, voice, sound, time restrictions... etc. Burke states that "new literacies require new skills of the learner, largely because of the constant change brought about by technology" (Burke et al., 40). I believe that digital storytelling will definitely allow students to learn new skills that will be relevant to their world.

It is very important that my students evaluate what they have learned. I want them to view their digital story critically, and reflect upon what they learned during the process and what they learned about others. I think that teaching students to evaluate, create, and present information in multimedia form better prepares them to be effective communicators. My goal as a facilitator would be to help students communicate their digital story effectively, with a specific purpose and audience in mind. My students would have to plan, cooperate with a team, and solve problems while working through the production process. As students complete their digital stories, they would be engaged in critical framing. They would be consistently required to define problems and make critical decisions. The entire process of making a digital story would offer students numerous opportunities to create and frame their knowledge. As a collaborator, I would challenge my students to "think outside of the box" and develop new, creative ways of expression.

Transformed Practice:

The New London Group describes how transformed practice is designed to help students simultaneously apply and revise what they have learned and then to put this understanding to work in reaching their own goals and fulfilling their own values (NLG, 35). To accommodate this, my students would be given ample opportunity to apply and revise what they have learned during the process. We would take time to reflect upon what we have learned and the significance of this in their lives. I believe this lesson would be very fulfilling because it would not only integrate elements of their personal identity, discourses and/or interests, but it would allow them to engage in a literacy that they feel is significant.

The NLG also acknowledges that transformed practice requires juxtaposing and integrating "discourses or social identities or 'interests' that have historically been at odds" (NLG, 36). As they reflect on the experience, students should gain a deeper understanding of themselves as learners, their discourses and their preferred learning strategies. In saying this, it is important that we, as educators, gain a deeper understanding of the value of new literacies and our preferred teaching strategies. Burke states that "we need to think about what new literacies actually mean and how defining and assessing them according to past understandings neglects the nature, practicality and implementation of such real literate experiences for the children in our schools" (Burke et al., 51).

After the project is complete, I think it is very important for both students and teachers to return to their situated practice. I would want my students to reflect on what they have learnt and what they have gained from this process. Also I would personally question what I learned from this experience and I what skills I have learnt. My students and I should be able to reflect on this project and see how it has helped develop multimedia literacy and technology skills. Students and educators should be able to see how technology can be a wonderful resource in the classroom and that its benefits are endless. In conclusion, this project should also develop literacy skills, problem solving abilities and compassion. I agree with Hammett when she states that, "[t]hese opportunities for social interaction, whether collaboration, mutual support, or sharing and cultural dialog are strong arguments for new literacies and technologies in schools" (Burke et al., 181).

How I would assess digital storytelling...

Most educators are aware that assessment takes on many forms, but are not aware of what these forms consist of. Hagood suggests that "teachers and researchers need to work collaboratively to design, conduct research on, and report about assessment that account for new forms of literacies on multiple dimensions, linking what we want students to learn with showing how they learned it" (Hagood, 46). I believe that we have to move away from assessment practices that focus solely on the traditional literacies. Still, we focus on standardized testing to assess the level of our student's achievement in school; these tests rely almost exclusively on paper and pencil assessments. Using new forms of online literacies provides teachers (and parents) with a broader view of students' abilities, therefore they need to be assess differently and distinctively.

It is important that educators have a broader appreciation of different forms of texts. Assessment will need to take a multi-directional form with the teachers acting as facilitators in the learning process. It is also equally important to not just look at the texts that are being produced, but at the processes by which they are being produced. A digital story would require students to use higher-level thinking and problem solving skills that are not easily assessed by traditional forms of evaluations. Therefore, assessing the process would include: how well they followed instructions, how they cooperated with their peers, use of various online technologies, time management, enthusiasm and effort. While, assessing the product would include elements such as: content, sentence structure, grammar, voice and subject matter.

Digital storytelling would most likely be an entirely new concept for my students. To help alleviate stress and anxiety, I would create some sort of rubric/guideline for them to follow. I would present my students with the rubric before the project begins so that they fully understand what will be assessed. Throughout the process, I would allow for opportunities for self-assessment and peer assessment of the digital stories.

Implications of using this new online literacy...

Burke and Hammett state that "[a]dding new literacies and associate forms of representation to current curriculum is undeniable challenging (Burke et al, 7). Firstly, experienced teacher usually hold a great deal of expertise in tradition forms or literature, and little knowledge of newer online literacies. Therefore, more training will definitely be needed for educators to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge which will allow educators to successfully and properly instruct students. Obviously, technology can be very daunting for those who are uninformed in this area but technology is certainly the way of the future. I strongly agree with Hammett's belief that "teacher education has the responsibility of ensuring that early career teachers enter school able to engage in new literacies, along with their students, and understand what learning goals and curricular outcomes might be achieved with digital technologies" (Burke et al., 178). I agree with this idea, but question if using these new multimodal texts will really benefit students if they continue to be tested on whether they demonstrate a proficiency to read and write based on traditional, standardized tests.

Secondly, creating a digital story may involve issues such as licensing, censorship, and copywrite infringement. These issues can easily occur and if we do not educate our students on how to be knowledgeable online. We must teach our students how read online texts and to be critical. It is our obligation, as educators, to prepare our students with the skills needed to become knowledgeable, intelligent and smart online users. I agree with Hammett's idea that "[a] multi literate person can interpret, use, and produce electronic, live and paper texts that employ linguistic, visual, auditory, gestural, and special semiotic systems for social, cultural, political, civic, and economic purposes in socially and culturally diverse contexts"(Burke et al., 186).We need to ensure our students are multiliterate.

In Conclusion:

I agree with Bearne's idea that it is time to "rethink literacy" and that we need to recognize the new forms of text that children use everyday (Burke et al., 20). Today's students are vastly different, in regards to ability and skill, than previous years. Therefore, appropriate instructional and assessment methodologies must be developed to account for these changes and more accurately reflect the diverse nature of today's learner. As with the traditional literacies of reading and writing, students will also have differing abilities when it comes to using technology. I will be conscious, when implementing this lesson, that assessment should examine what my students learned throughout the process as opposed to assessing only the final product.

Instructional and assessment changes must occur within our district and our classroom. In order for this to occur, educators must view these changes as beneficiary, educative and necessary. I hope that incorporating a new literacy, such as digital storytelling, will enable my students to participate in an activity that is collaborative, educating and authentic. I want them to engage in the process and feel proud of their accomplishments.


  • Burke, A., Hammett, R. (eds). (2009). Assessing New Literacies: Perspectives from the Classroom. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
  • Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (eds). (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. London: Routledge.
  • Hagood, M.C. (2009). Mapping a Rhizome of 21st Century Language Arts: Travel Plans for Research and Practice. Language Arts, 87 (1), 39-48.