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Digital Literacy in the English Classroom: Engagement

May 20, 2014 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy

Focusing on digital literacy has become less of an option and more of an obligation for language teachers. Some of us enjoy going digital, others might be just getting familiar with the idea, and there are some teachers who simply want to find the easiest practices to take advantage of digital apps and webtools.

Jack's Endless Summer p21
Illustration from Jack's Endless Summer, written by Martyn Hobbs, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. © Helbling Languages

Renee Hobbs defines the following digital literacy and media competencies in the Digital and Media Literacy White Paper

"Make responsible choices and access information by locating and sharing materials and comprehending information and ideas; Analyze messages in a variety of forms by identifying the author, purpose and point of view, and evaluating the quality and credibility of the content; Create content in a variety of forms, making use of language, images, sound, and new digital tools and technologies; Reflect on one’s own conduct and communication behavior by applying social responsibility and ethical principles; Take social action by working individually and collaboratively to share knowledge and solve problems in the family, workplace and community, and by participating as a member of a community."

Slow reading

Many articles have been written to praise slow reading, and I believe we all agree on the positive effects of slow reading  in our lives. As David Mikics, author of the book Slow Reading in a Hurried Age says in his article on the New York Times:  'After all the Internet’s many diversions, people still yearn for the solitary refuge of reading, since a book provides a space for reflection, a private therapy that is hard to find online. Most of us remember from childhood the experience of being head-over-heels in a book, utterly absorbed. We entered into a strange, enchanted world and traveled with an author’s characters; we lived their lives with them. There’s nothing in the online world that can fulfill the promise that we get in a work of fiction to give us a sustained picture of the self.'

We all read a lot online: on our smart phones, tablets, computers. Most of us also like reading paper editions. Who says that print-based and digital reading cannot co-exist? It seems that a successful reading programme needs the combination of both, and our role is finding ways of integrating digital practices to motivate our students to read more.

Digital Reading

When we read (more like research and browse) online, we do a lot of scanning and skimming.

It might have many advantages and disadvantages in the language classroom:

  • difficulty with the overall comprehension of the text,
  • drop in reading accuracy: paying attention to key words but not paying attention to details,
  • no deep understanding or time to reflect,
  • no understanding argumentative points.

On the other hand, some of these points are also advantages:

  • most exams require good scanning and skimming skills,
  • speed (try apps like Spritz for fun - it's very unlikely that this app will motivate your students to read more, but it can be a fun game),
  • making quick connections, 
  • built-in dictionaries for immediate vocabulary help.

How can we turn the web tools, digital apps and social media websites into our invisible sidekick on our mission of reading education? These technologies on their own are not going to make our students read more and read more effectively, but we can take advantage of them. In this first post we have collected ideas for you to build paths into and around a text, to place it in a real web.

There are two major ideas I would like to point out for your reading lessons:

Intertextuality and engagement

A great advantage of the Internet and digital apps is that we can quickly contextualize texts. Take a classics reader. If you walk into the classroom and start talking about it, you might or might not be able to engage your students. Use the most basic websites to motivate your students to read and engage them before reading. 

  • YouTube: Watch film trailers and film clips. You can also watch short videos of the areas where some classic novels are set.
  • Wikipedia: Search for information about the author.
  • Glogster: Create a theme poster with Glogster.
  • Slideshows and Videos: Introduce a new topic with colourful slideshows. Try Animoto, Slideshare and Prezi.
  • Educational videos: One reliable resource is Khan Academy if you are looking for information about History or Science topics.

Here you can find worksheets that helps you contextualise readers: a sample project sheet and a blank project sheet.

Next time we're going to look at ways to create online classroom communities to support your reading projects; and we'll also recommend web-based and social media activities for your reading lessons; plus digital apps and web tools your students can use during the reading process and in Book Clubs.

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