by Mark Meacham, Amy Vetter, and Tresha Layne
Our past two blogs discussed our camp set-up and camp experience. In this blog, we explore what we learned from young writers at a summer camp dedicated to 21st century literacies. As campers engaged in small talk about fashion trends, Harry Potter characters, and which of several beginning sentences grabs the reader’s attention, we learned how young writers used this time to compose 21st century multimodal texts. In the following paragraphs, we discuss how campers sought feedback from instructors and each other, how they drew on individual conferences and, how they utilized tech tools shared during whole group mini-lessons to socially construct multimodal texts.
In defining 21st century literacies, NCTE (2013) notes that individuals who practice 21st century literacies build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought. From the start, as campers crafted stories, poems, and informational texts we found that they consistently called on instructors to read what they had written and to make suggestions for developing content. For example, in the first week, Katie (rising eighth grader), solicited feedback from Malik (instructor). During their interaction, Katie shared details of her life and explained why she chose to create characters that identify as gay. As a writer, then, she explored with an instructor how she draws on aspects of her identity to create characters that are, as she told Malik, “not so stereotypical.” From this example, and others like it, we learned informal social interaction centered on the craft of writing served to foster campers’ thinking about who they are as writers and what motivates them to write. Katie said she wanted to share stories that “are not so straight-oriented,” that reflect who she is. In the end, Malik responded in a way that both supported her identity construction as writer and motivated her to continue constructing a text that, in Malik’s words, “can fill in a space that is a void.” Thus, when campers like Katie utilized social interactions to solicit feedback from instructions, we observed not only how 21st century literacies might be collaborative in nature, but also how that collaboration might foster young writers’ identity and text construction, and strengthen youth’s independent thought.
Another way young writers posed and solved problems collaboratively, was by calling on each other to help with ideas for plot. During day eight, for example, Haley (rising tenth grader) asked Katie to provide a word that describes how two characters might show affection for one another. Katie suggested she use “coddling” because it connotes a mother-child relationship that is “not, like, romancy.” As they continued discussing the scene, Katie asked clarifying questions and shared ideas for describing the characters’ actions. In other words, Katie helped Haley with a problem associated with plot. This kind of interaction suggests text construction was not only collaborative, but often involved problem-solving. In fact, certain interactions between campers at times, involved one camper composing lines of text for another camper’s story.
We also learned that young writers utilized support from instructors and writing coaches to develop proficiency and fluency with tools of technology, manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information and create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts. To help young writers understand that text construction is multimodal, instructors designed and presented mini-lessons to share digital tools that aid in the writing process. While instructors interacted with campers, they encouraged campers to use the tools to brainstorm, plan, edit, and cite sources. For example, as he constructed a website, Zeke (rising eighth grader) created a digital comic using a tool (pixton) instructors shared during a mini-lesson. In explaining the comic’s design, Zeke noted he “chose a kid [as a character]” because he wanted to show how a kid may “want to volunteer when he gets older.” Zeke said he did this because kids may “want to help out so other people can study too.” Sharing comic strip makers such as pixton, thus, fostered Zeke’s construction of a multimodal digital text that served, as he noted, to engage his audience.
We also discovered, for some campers, digital technology was not only used to share drafts and solicit feedback, but was also used to extend audiences and engage in social action. This aspect of 21st century literacies suggests problem-posing and solving often involves designing and sharing information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes (NCTE, 2013). In constructing his website, Zeke researched the Kenyan students’ daily activities, located pictures online, created a survey about volunteering, and learned how his audience might use his website to support the Melon Mission Project. For one page, he created a forum through which his audience could interact with him and other visitors to the site. During a short conversation, Ray (researcher) asked Zeke about the purpose of the forum. He said, “people can have a conversation and I can go and answer any of the questions they might have.” For another camper, Rosalyn (rising eleventh grader), framing text construction as multimodal provided opportunities to educate her audience about subtle messages associated with media consumption. For her text, Rosalyn created a multimodal blog using another of the digital tools (weebly.com) we shared during a mini-lesson. Both Rosalyn and Zeke, then, composed texts that were linguistic, visual, and aural, in other words, multimodal. In the end, sharing digital tools opened opportunities for campers to reach audiences outside the confines of the camp and, in Zeke’s and Rosalyn’s case, to engage those audiences in social causes.
As we reflected on the camp, we learned that providing extended periods of time and sharing digital tools fostered text construction. As campers worked to create blogs, websites, or animated comics, their composition process was social, collaborative, and multimodal. Given these findings, we plan to open more opportunities for campers to be socially interactive and student-centered to foster campers’ 21st century literacies. One of those goals includes providing opportunities for students to work in our School of Education’s Self Design Studio to promote creativity.
NCTE Executive Committee (2013). NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment. Retrieved from: http://www.ncte.org/governance/21stcenturyframework