The curriculum recognises that ICT capability is not the whole box and dice but one of seven important general capabilities that prepare students for a successful life in the digital age. So, what are some intelligent ways that ICTs are being used in English classrooms across the country?
Peter Gazzola, dean of eLearning at St Andrew’s Anglican College, Queensland, comments that online discussion boards have been “terrific for allowing reluctant writers and readers to engage in amazing debates they would not have had in normal classrooms ... students debate with other students and post questions which they follow up with the teacher in class”.
Garry Chapman, middle years’ curriculum coordinator at Ivanhoe Grammar School, Melbourne, explains that blogging can increase engagement and comprehension. In one instance, the blogging of a teacher and his class about an Australian novel resulted in an author making contact with the teacher and visiting the school. Critically, the class’s engagement and interest in reading improved.
In my own teaching, I’ve witnessed the power of digital technologies to improve key skills. Student comprehension of Shakespearean texts vastly improved when students were given the task of making short films that incorporated the Bard’s purple prose.
When engaging in studies of poetry, finding and explaining figurative language use in pop music chosen by students enhanced the appreciation and understanding of more classic texts. Moreover, the option of representing understandings in multi-modal forms like hyperlinked PowerPoints and Prezis has led not only to more engagement, but also to greater recall of technical English terms.
These examples highlight how ICTs enhance the study of traditional texts and traditional skills but can English studies be enhanced by the study of new digital texts?
The curriculum recognises a host of new text types, including websites, film clips, animations, blogs, wikis, computer games, eBooks, tween-mags, mockumentaries, mash ups, social networking and interactive narrative texts. Many text types here would be unfamiliar to English teachers and it is too convenient to dismiss these as ‘English Lite’. However uncomfortable as we might be about these texts, they’re not unsophisticated and they’re not impossible to teach.
Consider a website, for instance. Rather than being ‘lite’ it’s actually a very sophisticated text composed of many genres (recounts, advertising, autobiography, information report, instruction, persuasion) and many modes (visual, written and audio).
To study a text like a website, English teachers should proceed in the same manner they study a traditional text — by exploring the text’s main ideas, its structures and features and context of production and reception.
Once the new text is deconstructed, it becomes much easier to compare with other similar texts and students may then build their own versions. As new text types emerge, English teachers will need to learn about them alongside their students. But with a strong analytical method, we shall overcome.
As a teacher interested in new text types and ICTs, I have developed a curriculum design acronym (PREACCHR) useful for designing rich ICT based tasks in English.
PREACCHR stands for: Project work (create an ongoing, personalised task that can be displayed); Range (include a range of tasks for a range of learning styles); Engagement (make it fun, make it connect with students’ worlds); Authentic (ensure it’s real and relevant; assessable by others); Choice (enable students to choose passions/interests); Collaborate (allow students to work together and develop positive relationships); Higher order thinking (ensure the project deals with challenging ideas and concepts); Rigorous (construct challenging tasks with academic integrity).
The pedagogy of PREACCHR is based on the key principles of effective middle years’ teaching, but in my experience it works in secondary settings.
I’ve also found Dr Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model for ICT integration useful for ensuring tasks involving ICT are progressive, sophisticated and student centred. SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition and each SAMR level represents progress in the use of ICT to foster learning.
So, where to from here? The Australian Curriculum, English asks us to embed ICT capability thoughtfully and authentically in our teaching and learning programs and consider a greater focus on new multimodal texts. But, to do ICTs and English really well, it’s also helpful to call on other general capabilities like critical and creative thinking — desperately needed by digital natives.
For example, English teachers are more likely to encounter instances of low critical literacy — students being duped by masses of misleading information — than poor ICT literacy or device competence.
So, we need to put in some work here. And although the critical and creative thinking capability is not as elegantly packaged as ICTs, and doesn’t have any slick slogans or PD junkets, it does have us — our lessons, our tasks, our stories and discussions.