About Our Project
Upper Yarra Community House has been providing innovative education programs to young people aged between 15-19 who are at risk and/or early school leavers for many years now. Many of these students are disintersted and disengaged with classroom literacy practices.
In 2005, it came to our attention that the young people in our programs are technologically very savvy. Yet many struggled with pen and paper based and traditional “book” literacies in the classroom. It became obvious that their home literacies such as Internet messaging, mobile phone text messaging and Internet use were are not being valued or utilised in the classroom, in other words their out of school literacy practices were going unrecognised.
Our project set out to address some of these issues. How can we engage disengaged early school leavers? How can we educate teachers about the new literacies? How can we involve young people in the project to guide and inform us? How can we to create activities that are meaningful to the students themselves and that satisfy teacher’s needs to address learning outcomes and engage reluctant learners?
Our project goals were to:
- To generate discussion in the classroom around the practice, domains and events of new literacies
- To improve skills and engagement of students in literacy tasks
- To produce a digital resource that will inform and assist teachers to integrate new literacies into the classroom
An action research methodology was utilised. Two students from UYCH youth education program joined our research team along with three teachers, two from ACE organisations and one from a Secondary School. We all came together in five workshops to explore the use of new literacies by young people, how these could be incorporated into classroom literacy learning and to trial the created activities. Data collected were student surveys, workshop notes and recordings. Reflective teacher journals and teacher interviews conducted post trialling of the activities, also contributed to the findings. Our student researchers were invaluable in explaining new terms, how the technologies worked and what benefits young people saw in the uses of them. They also made recommendations for the activities.
New Literacies: A socio-cultural perspective:
The contemporary socio-cultural view is that “reading and writing only make sense when studied in the context of social and cultural practices of which we are but apart.” (Gee, 2000:180). Consequently, literacy can no longer be described as paper based reading and writing framed in psychological, cognitive and school based learning terms or a set of discrete skills that can be applied readily across diverse contexts. Literacy is seeped in social meanings and like society and culture; literacy is always evolving and changing. (Barton & Hamilton,1998, Street, 1997). We never just read and write, but read and write in a situated place, with a social identity and history, making meaning of what we read and write though our own particular world paradigm.
New Literacies: A digital perspective:
The younger generation has been described as the “Shi Jinrui” (Carrington, 2004), a term roughly translated from Japanese that means New Human Kind and describes the new generation of technological literates. Communication modes have expanded and young people accept, embrace and use new technologies. Most have been using digital tools since kindergarten. Prensky (1998, 2001) calls younger people Digital Natives and outlines ten ways that our young people think differently to the older generation whom, he calls the Digital Immigrants. Digital Natives have different thinking patterns and expectations of communication than the digital immigrants. These are:
- Twitch speed vs. conventional speed
- Parallel processing vs. linear processing
- Graphics first vs. text first
- Random access vs. step-by-step
- Connected vs. standalone
- Active vs. passive
- Play vs. work
- Payoff vs. patience
- Fantasy vs. reality
- Technology-as-friend vs. technology-as-foe
Some Digital technologies that young people are familiar with are:
- Digital games such as Nintendo DS, play station and internet games
- The various functions of mobile phones; from SMS to taking and sending photos
- Messenger and email (young people prefer messenger because communication is more immediate)
- Ipods: downloading movies and music
- Social Web technologies such as My Space and chat rooms
Digital literacies are an integral part of young people’s identity and the way they live their lives. Many of these communication forms may be foreign to parents and teachers and consequently, young people may possess more functional and social mastery of these than most of their adult teachers and parents.