Christel Hansen

1. Introduction

The increased use of computers and technology has expanded our previous definition of literacy: the ability to read and write the written word is now within the context of a digital environment. The use of such computer technology with our digital savvy 21st century learners made teachers learn to incorporate digital literacy into their classrooms. Within the context of English Language Arts (ELA) in particular, computers can serve as a literary tool that can effectively help students achieve the six ELA strands in the Alberta curriculum (reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, representing), as well as the Information Communication Technology (ICT) outcomes.Teachers should "seek to integrate literacy, rather than integrate technology" (Warlick xiii). In other words, educators should use computers as a tool to
amalgamate contemporary digital literacy in the ELA classroom.

2. What is Digital Literacy?

According to Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan, digital literacy "represents a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment, with “digital” meaning information represented in numeric form and primarily for use by a computer." Within this context, the realm of literacy goes beyond reading text, for it also includes "the ability to read and interpret media (text, sound, images), to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments." Some hold a preconceived notion that deep thinking cannot be achieved through digital tools like computers. However, as demonstrated in the video below, using a computer to read, write, and create can allow people to be involved in a very active learning process.

2. Computers as a Literacy Tool

"If we accept that learning is a predominant part of today and tomorrow's work and lifestyle, then perhaps we should rethink literacy and
start to explicitly talk about literacy for learning, or learning literacy. If learning becomes the clear aim of literacy, and not focused so
exclusively on literacy skills to be taught and checked off, then literacy habits, practiced every day in every lesson, will become the
outcome of our classroom experiences, and we and our students will come to embrace a learning lifestyle" (David Warlick 160).

Using computers as a literacy tool in the ELA classroom can help students embrace this learning lifestyle developed through learning habits. Computers encompass a variety of programs that can develop a pedagogical framework to enhance student learning and experiences. Here are a few examples of how computers can be used to develop reading and writing skills.

2.1 Reading

E-Books for Children
Digital books are read on a screen and may contain audio. Children's e-books are often interactive, meaning that with the click of a mouse, words or sounds will be played. They may may also contain games that helps children build their vocabulary.
Students in Vancouver using reading software.
Students in Vancouver using reading software.

Reading Games
There are a variety of computer games and videos that can develop and enhance students' reading ability. One example is Brain Pop Jr.: Reading, a website that contains videos and games that can help students in K-3 learn to read - their phonics section is particularly useful.

Search Engines and Note Software
  • Google : Search engines, such as Google, enable individuals to search within plethora of information to solve his/her questions or problems (Warlick 35). Within the ELA classroom, students can use a search engine to deepen their understanding on particular ELA topics or for research for their papers.
  • Evernote: A "note" software that archives data. In the ELA classroom, students can access handouts or readings posted by the teacher - it can be accessed by any computer.

2.2 Writing

Word Processing Program
In the ELA classroom, computer programs allow students to create a variety of text on a keyboard. They are also able to edit
Writing on the computer can be a collaborative learning process.
Writing on the computer can be a collaborative learning process.
their work with a click of a mouse. One example is Microsoft Word: the most common writing document on computers.

Web Hosting Services
Essentially, a web hosting service enables users to create a website online. Several web hosting services allow the users to make the website private, or available to all users on the Internet. In the ELA classroom, web hosting services are great to use as collaborative learning tools.

  • Wikispaces: Where people create web pages that everyone can edit together. For the ELA classroom, the teacher creates a Wikispace and invites students to the page by e-mail. Students can create web pages (individually or in a group) that feature topics in literature, such as this "Language Arts Theory and Practice" Wiki.
  • Google Docs : Like Wikispaces, Google Docs is a collaborative web-based application that allows people to create and edit documents online. One way this interface can be used in ELA is for peer review. A student can upload his/her document and his/her peers can add feedback on the page.

There is an increasing popularity of creating class blogs in the classroom. Blogs are online journal reflections that can be shared online. One example is Edublogs. Edublogs say that blogs "increased ownership of learning, engaged students, and become a source of pride in the classroom." ELA teachers can create a class blog and have his/her students create reflective posts to share with the class online. An illustrative example of how to implement Edublogs in the ELA classroom will be described in section 4.4: Division IV (Grades 10-12).

3. "Gatekeeping as a Literacy Skill"

Digital literacy skills are more than simply reading and writing: people also have to learn "gatekeeping literary skills" in order to interpret the information displayed on a computer screen. Warlick says that educators have a responsibility of modeling and demonstrating "gatekeeping literacy skills" to students (50). What this means is that educators have to show students how to filter the digital content and information resources that found on the Internet - a type of literacy skill that is necessary if educators are incorporating computers in the ELA classroom. E-safety, critical thinking and evaluation, cultural and social understanding, and the ability to find and select information - as demonstrated in the figure below - is part of this "gatekeeping" process.
Digital literacy allows people to develop a variety of literacy skills.

Teaching Students to Evaluate Online Resources
Before students can use computers to take advantage of the abundance of resources that are on the Internet, ELA teachers have to be sure that students practice e-safety and know how to critically evaluate all content. Warlick (52) says that best way to teach students these concepts is to practice it as
a habit by asking the following questions:
  • Have you ever heard of this? Is the topic well known?
  • Does this make sense? What kind of audience is the site appealing to? Thinking critically, do you think it rings true?
  • Who is the source? Scan through the Web pages that mention the source you are looking at and examine the context.
  • Does the domain seem legitimate? Examine the URL link. Is it official, or is it a hoax?
    (ex. vs. http://293.929.384/languageartstheoryandpractice/)
  • Who owns the domain? Who is the owner of the website?
  • What else does the site offer? Does it seem legitimate based on the information considered?

4. Integration of Computers in the ELA Classroom

Computers can be used in a variety of ways in the ELA classroom to enhance student learning. Here are illustrative examples that show how they can be used in each school division.

4.1 Division I (Grades 1-3)

Illustrative Example
Computers can be used to access engaging vocabulary games and activities on Internet websites. One excellent resource for ELA in this division is Brain Pop Jr.Grade two students in particular can access this website on the computer to achieve GLO 4 (students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to enhance the clarity and artistry of communication) and SLO 4.2 (attend to conventions - identify nouns). The picture to the left is noun game, where they have to "catch" the proper nouns. The picture to the right is an example of a drawing activity in which students will draw the nouns that they see in their environment.

4.2 Division II (Grades 4-6)

Illustrative Example
Students can achieve GLO 2 (students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to comprehend and respond personally and critically to oral, print and other media texts) and SLO 2.2 (create original text) by creating their own online comic strip with Bitstrips. One idea is for students to create a wordless, comic strip narrative to share with a grade one class. Essentially, the students will create visual imagery with this computer-based activity and describe what they are trying to portray in their comic to the grade ones. An extension of this activity can be to ask the students to write a personal response about their experience in a class blog. It can include their reflections on how the presentation of pictures (poses, expressions, objects, etc.) and the written word can enhance or constrain communication of ideas and information in a narrative story.


4.3 Division III (Grades 7-9)

Illustrative Example
Students can achieve GLO 4 (students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to enhance the clarity and artistry of communication) and SLO 4.1 (enhance and improve) to create a new media poem. A new media poem, also called digital poetry, is a poem compilation of "text, image, and sound" (Keller 84). Students will use different media forms on the computer to enhance artistry by experimenting with figurative language, voice, sentence patterns, camera angle and music to create an impression or mood (ELA Program of Studies). To inspire the students, the teacher can show new media poems accompanied with music from UniVerse, or show "Forgetfulness", a poem by Billy Collins, animated by Julian Grey. Students can use a variety of computer programs, such as Garage Band, iMovie, and Power Point to experiment the use of music or visuals to accompany their poem. Web resources, like Google, can also be used to gather images. Using the computer to create a multimedia poem creates great opportunities for engagement and learning. Studying animation on the computer can provide the opportunity for students to analyze how reading poetry vs. experiencing poetry through visuals and sounds can affect meaning.

4.4 Division IV (Grades 10-12)

external image 200px-Life_of_Pi_cover.png
Illustrative Example
In this particular illustrative example, GLO 2 (students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to comprehend and respond personally and critically to oral, print and other media texts) and SLO 2.1.1 (analyze and interpret context) can be achieved by using computers. In ELA 20-1 for example, the teacher can start a novel study on Life of Pi, by Canadian author Yann Martel. Reflections, analysis, impressions can be developed on a class blog using Edublogs. Using the computer to create and share their reflections on the blog can foster a community of learners. One way computers can enhance this learning further for this particular novel is for the teacher to connect with a teacher from India through iERN-Canada (International Education and Resources Network). Students from the class in India can view the reflections made by the Canadian students and comment or answer any questions that they have about their culture. iERN is a great website that helps connects over 30,000 schools in more than 130 countries - it is where teachers and students can find a class from another country and work on collaborative projects online. This website provides an opportunity for students and teachers to have meaningful learning experiences.

5. Conclusion

Ultimately, computers are an important learning tool that should be integrated with ELA instruction across the school divisions. They contain programs that help enhance and develop literary skills, as well as creating a sense of community through online spaces (i.e.blogs). Computers can enhance how students learn in the ELA classroom and extend this learning for real-life application. It is an effective, engaging, and necessary tool for our 21st century digital learners.

6. References

Jones-Kavalier, Barbara R., & Flannigan, Suzanne L. “Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century.” EDUCAUSE Quarterly Magazine. 29.2. (2006): n.pag. Web. 26 Jan. 2012.

Keller, M.A. "Megan Sapnear's "Car Wash" as a New Media Sonnet." RAW (Reading and Writing) New Media. Ed. Cheryl E. Ball and James Kalmbach. Cresskill: Hampton Press Inc., 2010. 83-99. Print.

Pope, C., & Golub, J. “Preparing tomorrow's English language arts teachers today: Principles and practices for infusing technology.” Contemporary Issues in Technology
and Teacher Education 1.1 (2000): n.pag. Web. 24 January 2012.

Warlick, David F. Redefining Literacy 2.0. Columbus: Linworth Publishing Inc, 2009. Print

Young, C. A. & Bush, J. "Teaching the English language arts with technology: A critical approach and pedagogical framework." Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education. 4.1 (2004): n.pag. Web. 24 January 2012.

7. Additional Resources

Edublogs Tutorial

Evernote Tutorial

Example of How Evernote is Used in a School

Google Docs Tutorial

Internet Safety Games, a web page that provides links to six great games that teach children about Internet safety.

Internet Safety Video for children by Brain Pop Jr.

Prezi, a creative way of making presentations. It is a nice alternative to Power Point presentations.

SMART Notebook Tutorial, a brief run-down of the basics of this SMART Board software. More tutorials for this software and SMART Boards are available here.

Wikispace Tutorial

Wordle , a website that creates "word clouds" based on the text you enter. Bigger words are created on the basis of frequency of the word. One way this website can be used in the ELA classroom is as a form of pre-assessment before starting a unit - the larger words can show what is the most common knowledge.

Xtranormal, a movie-maker website. Students can use this website to tell a story using animations and audio.