Enhancing literacy and 21st Century Skills: Attending to 'practices' and 'events' in English teacher education
Barbara G. Pace
English Education & Media Literacy Education
University of Florida
As a scholar and teacher at the University of Florida, I have developed face-to-face and online courses that are designed to increase educators’ awareness of how technology and literacy might intersect. These courses promote a sociocultural view of learning and focus on expanding teachers’ perspectives of literacy. Content is based on teaching media literacy and on using popular culture to anchor literacy events.
One of the courses, Technology and Media Literacy, is the capstone course in the graduate English Education program at UF. Because it was designed for future English teachers who will work specifically in the area of literacy, the focus on understanding the nature of literacy is robust. Future English teachers are challenged to re-vision literacy and to think of the various ways it might be practiced or displayed. We talk specifically about the teacher’s role as a “designer” of literacy events, and we identify the kinds of literacy practices that make up the English language arts.
The most recent offerings of Technology and Media Literacy have included the use of Web 2.0 applications and of iPads. During each assignment, students analyzed how literacy events and practices were embedded in the use of technology. For example, when they used Xtranormal to render their favorite literary passage as an animated short, they deconstructed the process to identify literacy practices and to relate those practices to standards. Similarly, when they used iPads to create a “Media and Me” comic book, they evaluated 21st Century literacy practices (Leu et al, 2004) that had been part of the project, such as locating and collecting information, evaluating and filtering information, redesigning content/information, and composing/communicating information.
Prospective teachers enjoy these classes and engage enthusiastically in these classroom literacy events. Furthermore, two empirical studies have provided evidence that many of these teaching candidates do develop a more nuanced understanding of literacy. In an initial study, (Pace, Rodesiler, & Tripp, 2010), we found that most students had developed a view of literacy as more than reading and writing. They also demonstrated a beginning awareness of the usefulness of Web 2.0 and included web-based applications in lesson plans for the final project though they were not required to do so. All of the students were energized by the ideas for using popular culture in their classrooms.
Despite the general success of these classes, the above study and a second study (Pace, Krell, Rodesiler, 2012) sounded a cautionary note by exposing the challenges of pressing prospective teachers to think more fully about “literacy” and its realization in practice. In each study, a small group of students identified a troubling gap between the understandings of literacy that we proposed and the forms of literacy that dominated field placements. Many students also claimed that technology was not a viable option in most classrooms.
Given the climate of schools and the pressure on teachers, we were not surprised by the distress these students voiced. We are still working to respond, to consider how we might make a more hybrid space for talking about the constraints that shape and redefine teacher work, the English language arts, and literacy.
Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J. L., & Cammack, D. W. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the internet and other information and communication technologies. Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, 5, 1570-1613. Retrieved from Google Scholar.
Pace, B.G., Rodesiler, L.B., & Tripp, L. (2010). Pre-service English teachers and Web 2.0: Teaching and learning with digital applications. In C. D. Maddux, D. Gibson, & B. Dodge (Eds.), Research Highlights in Technology and Teacher Education (pp. 177-187). Chesapeake, VA: Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education.
Pace, B.G., Krell, D., Rodesiler, L.B. (2012). Negotiating troubled fields: Hybridity and opportunity in English teacher education practicums and internships. Presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English Research Assembly Conference, February 25, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Research, 15(2), 4-14.