The middle years of schooling have been flagged locally, nationally
and internationally as a 'distinctive and significant area of
educational concern' (Carrington, 2002, p. 3). Definitions of
'the middle years' have been diverse but generally relate to
early adolescence--students between the ages of 10-15, from Years 5-9
(Barratt, 1998). Unlike other Australian states, Education Queensland
has expanded their notion of the middle phase of learning to include two
distinct stages, with the first stage commencing at Year 4. Whilst one
key theme in middle years literature is the transfer and transition of
adolescents from primary to secondary school (Carrington, 2002; Galton,
Gray & Ruddock, 2003), this article considers the continuities and
discontinuities for literacy development experienced by students as they
make their transition from the early foundational years of primary
school into the 'first' stage of the middle phase of learning.
In particular it explores the complexities of literacy teaching in the
multiliterate environments created by Interactive Whiteboards.
What are the needs of students in Year Four?
Pre-adolescents or students in this first stage of middle learning,
like their older counterparts experience a period of unparalleled
physical, cognitive, social and emotional growth (Johnson, 2008).
Physically, puberty can occur as early as 9-10 in children. Girls in
particular, are showing earlier signs of the onset of puberty
(Zuckerman, 2001). Whilst acknowledging that students develop at
different cognitive rates, students in Year Four are typically in the
concrete operations stage of Piaget's stages of development. In
this stage students can apply logical reasoning and perception to work
out concrete problems. In relation to literacy this increased power of
logic and comprehension enhances a student's ability to understand
more multifaceted storylines (Roberts, 2008). Socially and emotionally,
egocentric tendencies lessen, with students strongly influenced by
friends, peers and the media. Year Four students form part of the
'tweens' segment of the population, recognised both as an
economic marketing demographic, and a cultural group (Guthrie, 2005).
Today they engage in life-worlds shaped by fashion, music, television,
technology and video-games created specifically for them. It is through
technology and media that Year Four students determine their own
identity and position in the world (Beavis, 2005).
In relation to academic learning students of this age typically
display a growing curiosity and eagerness to explore learning
experiences of greater breadth and depth. However, for some the
challenges are overwhelming and their interest diminishes and progress
slows (Education Queensland, 2004). Year 4 can be a critical period in
reading development with the surfacing of comprehension difficulties for
some students (Best, Floyd & McNamara, 2004). This phenomenon has
been termed the 'fourth grade slump' (Chall & Jacobs,
2003; Gee, 2000; Education Queensland, 2000; Meichenbaum &
Biemiller, 1998; Snow et al., 1998). Students who experience
difficulties with reading in the early foundational years often continue
to struggle as they progress through their schooling (Brozo &
Simpson, 2007; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2009).
Chall, Jacobs and Baldwin (1990) in exploring the notion of the
'fourth grade slump' conceptualised reading as a staged
developmental process. In the early stages of reading, students are
'learning to read' with a focus on decoding, word recognition,
fluency, and an understanding of the language and pattern of narrative
texts. However, from Year Four to upper primary, students start to
'read to learn' and encounter more varied and challenging
texts with longer, more complex sentence structures, as well as more
abstract vocabulary. There is an increased emphasis on factual texts
which require an understanding of how knowledge is structured
differently within subject areas or 'curriculum literacies'
(Rose & Acevedo, 2006; Wyatt-Smith & Cumming, 2003). Through
this transition, children enter the 'world of knowledge' in
printed form, gaining access to 'knowledge that can be acquired
only if one knows how to read the texts that contain it' (Chall,
1983, p. 70). Whilst some programs have been developed to address this
need, they have focussed on Years 5-9 (Rose & Acevedo, 2006).
Clearly, earlier considerations of enhancing students' literacy
development as they transition from the early foundational years into
the first stage of the middle phase of learning, Year Four are
Reading in the 21st Century
Chall's model of reading stages has mainly been referenced to
print-based texts. More recently, new digital technologies are viewed as
a panacea for improving literacy instruction and in ameliorating the
fourth-grade slump (Cummins, 2008: Gee, 2008). However, Gee (2008) in
considering digital texts emphasised that students need more than being
able 'to read to learn' in content areas. He stressed the
capacity 'to read to discover and innovate,' not just settle
for the ability 'to read to learn' school content as a body of
inert (static) information (p. 10). This is important in that the effect
of digital technologies has redefined skills needed by employers and
employees for workplaces within a 'knowledge society'
(Stewart, 1998). 'Knowing how to access, evaluate, and apply
information is necessary for success in the workplace and at
school' (Schmar-Dobler, 2003, p. 81).
A Multiliteracies approach (New London Group, 1996; Cope &
Kalantzis, 2000) is one approach that would appear to address Gee's
expanded notions of 'reading to learn'. It is a way of
planning for reading in the 21st century and calls for a more
discriminating approach to reading, with a focus on critical literacy.
It also draws together two other areas of change: (1) multimedia and
technology and the range of semiotic systems they use, and (2) cultural
and linguistic diversity. Unsworth (2001) proposed that the notion of
Multiliteracies or multiple literacies is distinguishable not only by
multimodality and the mediums and channels of communication but
according to domains of learning or content areas. The increased range
of technology on offer in classrooms, in particular Interactive
Whiteboards, offer opportunities for engaging with multimodal texts,
which use a variety of modes to communicate meaning. However, all of
these modes come with their inherent affordances and constraints for
meaning-making. In the next section aspects of practice or features of
multimodal texts that create continuity or discontinuity in
multiliterate practice will be examined and discussed.
Context for this study
This article draws on findings from a larger ethnographic case
study of one primary school with a whole school implementation of
Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs). It sought to address the gap in
empirical research in relation to Multiliteracies (New London Group,
1996; Cope & Kalantzis, 2000) by exploring if and how teachers
integrate IWBs into their literacy curriculum in ways that develop
multiliterate practices in the area of reading, viewing, writing and
shaping. In this article findings from one Year Four teacher, Janelle
(pseudonym) are reported. This case study of Janelle allowed for an
exploration of how one teacher grappled with the implementation of IWBs
and the variety of resources they afford.
Data were collected during literacy blocks over a 4 month period
and entailed classroom observations, reflections recorded in email
correspondence and formal reflections. For some days both fieldnotes of
observed events and teacher reflections for the same event were
available. This made possible a contrastive analysis between
Janelle's espoused beliefs and her enacted practice (Argryis &
Schon, 1974) and allowed access to how multiliteracies was constructed
in her classroom to create continuities or discontinuities in learning.
What counted as Multiliteracies? Continuities for practice
In order to discuss Janelle's classroom practice, we need to
frame it within her espoused view of Multiliteracies. Her definition
included a focus on speaking and listening, reading and viewing, writing
It also acknowledged both print-based and multimodal texts with the
key purpose of 'reading to learn', with the ability to
discriminate what counted as valid information.
Janelle believed that students should use web pages for some tasks
such as accessing and reading and researching sporting profiles, rather
than books as these were the most up to date. She did, however, counter
with, 'Internet texts: need to question their accuracy, though this
is difficult to really do because what text source is accurate'. In
classroom lessons, Janelle's practice focused on efforts to
encourage greater student interaction with the IWB where she taught
technological skills to students to physically interact with IWB
resources. Janelle later noted:
Janelle's teaching practice supported the enacted use of a
variety of multimodal texts such as web pages, Learning Objects,
interactive games and stories, computer software and teacher-created
resources on both the IWB and classroom computers. Janelle integrated
the IWB into classroom practice, applying the whole group-small
group-whole group teaching strategy within the two hour literacy block.
Her beliefs about Multiliteracies indicated a continuity of practice for
bridging the digital divide, the development of much needed literacy
skills for the 21st century, and ameliorating the fourth-grade slump
(Gee, 2008; Cummins, 2008).
What counted as Multiliteracies? Discontinuities for practice
Whilst engaging students with new forms of literacy made possible
by the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and
digital texts, an important aspect of Multiliteracies that Janelle did
not focus on was critical literacy. Critical literacy was identified in
year level planning documents and alluded to in Janelle's
definition of Multiliteracies, however, it remained a new concept that
was recognised but not enacted in practice. After reflecting on the
literacy practices of her students in a later email Janelle considered
that, 'Need to incorporate more of a critical literacy
aspect.' She also suggested that the:
Janelle could see the potential of IWBs in teaching her students
about examining the cultural and social context of texts but was unsure
of how to enact her understanding. She indicated that:
Numerous authors (Comber, 2003; Green & Cochrane, 2003) have
discussed the use of critical literacy in early childhood settings with
the provision of practical examples. With the advent of ICTs and
multimedia, students are exposed to a greater range of texts on a daily
basis. When we consider that our identities and futures are shaped by
the cultural texts we encounter (Luke, 1993), it is important for
students to develop a critical perspective about texts.
Another aspect of multiliteracies that is important for the
comprehension and the construction of multimodal texts is attention to
the meaning-making of the semiotic systems or modes of communication.
Only one classroom event revealed a small amount of discussion about the
use of two visual clues in an interactive story book. In order to
discuss the meaning-making of the different modes a metalanguage (Cope
& Kalantzis, 2000) is needed. However; the overall use of a
metalanguage by Janelle to discuss texts was limited. In classroom
interactions where she was guiding students to be 'whiteboard
teachers', Janelle used language such as 'click on this',
'choose that word' rather than using technical language such
as 'icon' and 'hyperlinks'. In order to foster the
development of Multiliteracies, Unsworth (2002) further suggested that
it is necessary to understand the bases of their diversity, both in the
affordances computer technology offers and the increasing prominence of
visual images. For students to develop effective practices with
Multiliteracies, they need to be familiar with how language, image and
digital rhetorics can be situated independently or interactively to
construct different meanings.
Literacy as print-based: A discontinuity
Unsworth (2002) stated that whilst existing print-based teaching
practices will endure in the future, they are of themselves insufficient
for the development of literacy practices required for a changing
future. Information previously presented in traditional text formats is
now being offered in different forms of electronic communication.
Observation of Janelle's enacted practice, when using web-pages
revealed traditional print-based practice. At times, web pages were
cut-and-pastes and adapted as evident in one reflection when she stated
that, 'Karak the Mascot text (copied from Internet) in
'kidspeak' language so they responded well to the
corresponding comprehension activity'. In another whole class
activity, Janelle cut and pasted Internet text and photos for a
sportsperson, Donald Bradman, into the Smart Notebook software. Teaching
practice focused on developing students' comprehension of the
content of the written text, rather than considering the text as a web
page, with all of its inherent textual features such as graphics, vivid
colour and eye-catching phrases. As Coiro (2003, p. 458) stated,
'Electronic texts introduce new supports as well as new challenges
that can have a great impact on an individual's ability to
comprehend what he or she reads. The Internet, in particular, provides
new text formats, new purposes for reading, and new ways to interact
with information that can confuse and overwhelm people taught to extract
meaning from only conventional print'. Janelle reflected later that
it was a 'Relevant written text used from the Internet and
'skimming' skills appropriate for this mode of text'.
Acknowledging the need for different strategies--a continuity
When asked if reading a print text and reading an Internet text
required the same approaches, Janelle responded:
Janelle understood some of the key understandings about the nature
of multimodal texts (Anstey, 2002) in that they can be multimodal,
interactive and non-linear.
Janelle believed that different reading practices were needed when
reading print and multimodal texts. However, whilst she may consider
that there are differences in reading approaches with print-based and
Internet texts, 70% of her students in a Home Literacy Survey viewed
reading a web page as the same as reading a book. This may have been a
result of Janelle's print-based approach to teaching with texts and
this had implications for classroom practice. For example, when
attempting to locate particular information with web pages on one
occasion, students had to navigate through 'everything else on the
page' and struggled to complete the task of 'reading to
learn'. This seems to link to Coiro's (2003) notion of
confusion when being overwhelmed by vast amounts of information.
It may also relate to the proposed lack of attention to expository
texts in the early foundational years, a possible attributing cause of
the fourth grade slump (Sanacore & Palumbo, 2009). Internet texts
are often expository in nature, with students needing familiarity with
the concepts, vocabulary and organisational formats (Schmar-Dobler,
2003). This would appear to coincide with Janelle's reflection with
the 'Internet sites were too hard for students' and linked to
lack of concept and vocabulary knowledge.
Regardless, as Leu (1997, p. 65) warned that 'individuals
unable to keep up with the information strategies generated by new
information technologies will quickly be left behind.'
Differences in teaching practice--a possible discontinuity
Later, when reflecting Janelle recognised her different teaching
approaches when using traditional picture books and multimodal texts.
She explained that when using picture books she discussed audience and
purpose, yet with multimodal texts she did not. When asked to elaborate,
Not elaborating on the audience and purpose of multimodal could
provide a discontinuity for some students. Best, Floyd & McNamara
(2004) highlighted that knowledge of genre is an important aspect of
text comprehension. Multimedia technologies produce hybrid, nonlinear
interactive texts in which there can be the blurring of genres.
Lack of relevant texts--a discontinuity
On several occasions (see Table 1) Janelle commented that she could
not find relevant texts for students of this year level and appeared
resigned to this. In most instances this related to the challenging
nature of existing texts, with unfamiliar vocabulary or content. In her
reflections she did acknowledge that prior knowledge was important for
student comprehension of texts and attempted to locate texts with which
students may be more familiar. In other instances the challenge of the
text related to the sentences structure, which impacted up student
understanding. For example, the editing text did not allow for students
to predict the correct placement of text connectives. For some spelling
activities, there can be differences between American English and
British English, which can cause a discontinuity for students. Janelle
saw these as constraints as she prepared IWB lessons.
Janelle also reflected that she should have 'carefully located
better resources for them, rather than depend on the ones that were
provided in this online activity'. At a later date students were
having difficulty in completing a task which needed them to locate
information from a website. 'Students doing Internet task had
difficulties with the text (unfortunately the parent helper wasn't
here for this activity which I had planned for)'. Resigned to the
fact that she couldn't find Internet texts at her students'
levels, her strategy became to recruit parental help. 'Can't
find enough texts at the students' levels--so I need to improve
this aspect I need to recruit more helpers for my literacy block'.
Through all of these experiences, Janelle was building her knowledge
about how to problematise and address these issues.
Janelle used a variety of Learning Objects in the classroom to
engage students in literacy learning. Similarly there were issues about
the affordances and constraints evident in the texts themselves. In this
particular Learning Object titled 'Picture This' (Education
Services, 2008) whilst hyperlinks allowed access to the meaning of
challenging words such as nova, the positioning of the linked window
blocked the sentence. This would prevent readers from re-reading the
sentence in its entirety to situate the meaning of the word nova. The
decisions teachers make about the types of texts and learning objects
that they use for presenting content have clear implications for
students' understanding and learning. The IWB and the multimodal
resources that they offer have particular affordances and constraints
for meaning-making. Teachers need to be critically mindful about
resource selection and the level of challenge it may offer students in
their classrooms. Like Janelle, teachers need to problematise these
resources and consider how to scaffold their use in the classroom.
[FIGURE 1 OMIITED]
Conclusion ... So what can we learn from Janelle?
Teachers like Janelle are important to the success of actively
embedding technologies like the IWB into classrooms. She is a
well-intentioned teacher who believed in the potential of the IWB for
improving students' outcomes and engagement. Janelle had
considerable technological knowledge and expertise however; she
struggled with her knowledge about how to develop multiliterate
practices for her Year 4 students. Year Four students are
'tween' learning to read and reading to learn,
'tween' the early foundational years and what is often
recognised as the middle years. As suggested by Beavis (2005) and Gee
(2008) technologies and multimodal texts are central to this
'tween' segment of the population and provide inroads to
ameliorating the fourth grade slump. However, as shown in this article,
what they offer and how teachers use them can offer continuities and
discontinuities for literacy success.
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Multiliterate people have the ability to be literate with a variety
of modern texts--reading a book to find information, search the web
to locate information, differentiate between two websites that
count as true information. They can read between the lines with
text and email digital messages. They can present orally to a
variety of audiences. They can create a digital presentation to
My students are constantly engaging in new forms of
literacy--primarily digital forms of literacy because of the
Smartboard. However, these are not often made explicit. I believe
this is critical and I endeavour to expose my students to a variety
of literacy forms--digital, visual, written, multimodal--perhaps
not enough attention given to audio.
IWB is the ideal opportunity to explicitly develop these skills
with students. The collaboration and social learning process would
also aid students in these skills. We regularly visit the Internet
for a specific purpose and this becomes the main focus. Maybe more
'just in time' learning needs to be taking place when using the
I tend not to do this with Year 4 students--why? I find this
difficult to do with Year 4 students. I think that the upper school
is more conducive to the cultural and social aspects of texts.
No ... I think Internet text really needs the reader to focus on
the specific text, and not everything else on the page. Plus there
isn't the turning of the pages, the text is often non-linear in
that hyperlinks can take kids to other links etc. They are the same
I guess in that they are a series of words, sentences, paragraphs
etc. But often the text is organised quite differently. In books
text is usually clearly organised under headings or on the page,
whereas the Internet restricts the creator of the text to try and
fit it all on a page, often smaller fonts, often without clear
organisation or headings. Students need to rely more on skimming
and scanning skills with the Internet.
YES--I do practise this, and once again, because the smartboard is
a tool that enables me to effectively do so. When we are looking on
the internet we discuss the hyperlinks, we also consider using
tools (spotlight) to focus on specific text and not everything else
on the page.
I think we tend not to because we haven't fully acknowledged online
resources as a type of literacy ... which is rather naive of me I
guess ... but it is a relatively new literacy that is being
utilised in the classroom--and perhaps more and more because of the
Table 1. Reflection by Janelle on texts used in classroom
Texts somewhat difficult for this year Text too challenging
level, though some children could Readability of text an issue
comprehend. Size of text too small for Lack of relevance of content
students to read. Perhaps text was not
relevant in terms of content.
Text being too difficult--mainly with Consideration of vocabulary
the vocabulary plus unfamiliar content Consideration of relevance
for the students, e.g. Donald Bradman. of content
Texts (I think) are targeted at a Consideration of text level
higher level than perhaps Year 4, but Teacher appears resigned to
this is probably always going to be the lack of appropriate texts
American phonics activity didn't have a Text too challenging
direct effect as it was on vowels. The Structure of text did not
text for editing was too challenging as allow students to predict
it was difficult to work out where the placement and make
connectives could be placed, when they meaning
did not comprehend the meaning of the
sentences. case with Internet texts.