While it has been some time since our discussion of Sara Kajder’s Adolescents and Digital Literacies (2010), so many elements of the book have stayed with me as I work with colleagues to rewrite our Spring curricula.
The subtitle of the book, Learning Alongside Our Students, truly spoke to some of us in the DLC, especially those of us still learning about the scope and power of Web 2.0 tools. Everyone in the DLC agrees that this learning is essential in growing in our practice–and of course, helping our kids grow. Kajder points out that, as we and our students learn together, it’s important to let go and allow our students to use digital tools creatively. In doing this, we help our students to be self-directed learners; and it becomes less about teaching them how to use certain tools and more about letting students discover and decide what tools work the best for their objectives.
Like other members of the DLC, the book’s call to acknowledge and build upon students’ out-of-school literacies forced me to ask myself some tough questions: Do I value my students’ “non- academic” literacies? What can I do to bridge the literacies of my students’ out-of-school lives with their academic lives? How can I use their out-of-school literacies to make the work in my own classroom more meaningful to them?
Many of the other points the book makes resonated with all of us, including the idea that teaching digital literacy is a social justice issue. Kajder points out that, the “digital divide” is not merely one of access, but one of creation as well. Not every student with access to digital tools, she reminds us, is using those tools to create content.
Finally, some really great ideas emerged from this conversation. Among them was the idea that perhaps our students could create an archive of sorts, with links to digital tools that they themselves have used with success. In the spirit of choice, the students could select the medium for this project (e.g., a blog, wiki, or whatever platform they think would work best); and perhaps students could link projects they’ve made using the tools. Those in our discussion were really excited about the idea that our students could craft a public space to share their expert voices and showcase their work.
I’m looking forward to trying this project out in my classroom soon, and I hope it’s something I can share by our Summer Institute. In the meantime, I’ve gone back to Sara’s book at least once a week since reading it, and it continues to remind me that teaching digital literacy is not about the technology, it’s about building my students’ capacities as readers, writers, and learners; it’s about building their capacity to communicate by leveraging the ways they already communicate; and it’s about making English class meaningful and practical.