Literature plays a pivotal role in supporting, sustaining and
developing literacy and language learning. As teachers we know that it
is impossible to separate language or literacy learning from literature.
Students learn language that is relevant and meaningful for their
current and future social interactions through talking, listening,
reading and writing.
The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (ACARA 2009) deines
"Understanding, appreciating, responding to, analysing and
creating literature: an enjoyment in, and informed appreciation of, how
English language can convey information and emotion, create imaginative
worlds and aesthetic and other significant experiences."
Teachers, parents and the greater community promote varying aspects
of language and literacy development through exposure to a range of
texts. The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (ACARA 2009)
describes literature for students as inclusive of poems, films, stories,
websites, plays and a range of other literature forms. Enthusiasm in
literature is a crucial milestone, and is also one of the hardest to
teach. Having a diverse range of items classed as literature ensures
that the greatest possible range of students can find a type of
literature that suits their personal, cultural and social needs.
Diverse forms of literature presented to students can engage and
appeal to a vast range of learner types and levels of appreciation. In
understanding how children develop an appreciation of and understanding
of diverse forms of literature I looked to the children I work with.
What I discovered was children were easily engaged in complex
computer-generated, multimodal literature (including e-books). I also
discovered that the 'love of books' exists for paper and
electronic literature, even in very young children who were more than
happy to share their thoughts about their favourite stories with me.
Their literature included an array of visually appealing, bright,
interesting, humorous and unusual forms of text that were well read and
obviously well loved. Some texts focus on social issues and concerns,
whereas others focussed on literacy development, numeracy, science
knowledge and other key areas.
On the specific recommendation of one child I read Young's
1996 Big Dog and Little Dog Visit the Moon. I read the story with a view
to analysing how this piece of literature played a role in developing
language and literacy skills whilst being relevant to the reader. The
story dealt with the idea that it's important to help someone who
is sad. It dealt with complex ideas such as identifying when someone
isn't happy, developing a method to approach the individual and a
means to engage the individual to make them happy. Throughout the book
the reader is presented with an array of cleverly chosen verbs and
adjectives, supported by large, brightly coloured pictures with speech
bubbles to reinforce text. About half way through the book I realised I
had stopped trying to analyse language and I was engaged in the cute
pictures and activities of Big Dog and Little Dog. It was at this point
I realised that children (and adults) identify with characters, seeing
them as aspects or individuals within their own lives and identifying
and sharing their concerns, hopes, dreams and fears. Big Dog and Little
Dog modelled problem solving skills that children learn as a side effect
of enjoying the amusing antics of the pair. Literature can be used as a
method to show, model, illustrate and outline key literacy skills, but
in saying this, it is important to understand that children's
literature is more than just reading text. Children can and should learn
a portion of their literacy and language skills indirectly through
literature. What is more obvious and apparent are the social and
personal lessons that are learnt. Children's literature should be
engaging, interesting, relevant and aim to improve or challenge the
Adults can play a crucial role in igniting children's passion
for literature in its many forms. Texts that aren't engaging,
interesting or relevant can be easily put aside by students.
There's a balance between engaging literature and focussing on
children's language and literacy development. There have been
comments that indicate that the Shape of the Australian Curriculum:
English paper tends towards a more traditional view of the importance of
grammar, spelling and pronunciation. I don't believe that these
changes will inhibit teachers' ability to define and select
engaging literature to meet Australian standards for their students.
There is a wealth of excellent literature for students to choose from.
The freedom to choose their own literature increases children's
appreciation of it. Literature can be selected to enhance the learning
of a range of curriculum areas. Literature that is well chosen and
contextual enhances the understanding of a topic whilst developing and
improving language skills and it provides useful opportunities to
enhance and cement literacy skills. Linking a syllabus topic to the
choice of literature, to increasing language skills and to enhancing
literacy skills increases the success of both learning the topic and
learning life-long English skills.
An understanding of children's literature and relevance of the
literature to the individuals concerned plays an important role in the
success of the literature's appeal. Appealing literature directly
impacts language and literacy development. Miller (2011) describes how
to truly discuss literature with students, it is absolutely essential
for a teacher to be familiar with the stories to gain a deeper insight
into what the students feel when they read a text. Allowing students to
choose from a selection of predetermined texts provides a structured
framework for language and literacy development. Ensuring that a variety
of literature forms are presented increases the range of children's
vocabulary, the use of complex vocabulary and children's language
fluency. Literature can be presented in a range of meaningful,
interactive and interesting ways that enable teachers to model, assess,
and build upon literacy skills.
Well-chosen literature develops knowledge of self, knowledge of
others and social interactions and knowledge of the world around them.
Texts can be used to develop students' language skills regarding
the world around them. Well-chosen literature builds and develops
vocabulary and grammatical skills, as well as develops children's
confidence and fluency in English (ACARA 2009). Language and literacy
development relies on literature as the means to present language and
literacy skills. Texts can and should be selected based upon
students' backgrounds, environment and interests to develop a
consistent level of literacy and language skills.
Modern literature is extremely diverse and encompasses a broad
range of areas that prepare children for their future interactions.
Well-chosen literature needs to be just as diverse to meet the growing
need for digital and multimodal literature. As our society develops, so
does our reliance on technology and technology based communication.
Creating adults of the future requires an understanding and appreciation
of the workplace and lifestyle requirements that people could reasonably
be expected to have.
Digital literature plays a key role in workplaces now and most
likely will play a greater role in the future. Numerous research
articles argue that digital technologies have had and will continue to
have an enormous impact on literacy, literature and language development
(Robinson, 2010; Coslovich, 2010; Sebastian, 2010; Sydell, 2010). Whilst
digital literacy should be promoted in children, it is important that
children have the opportunity to engage in non-digital literature.
Turning pages, discovering new and exciting images and reading text in a
structured manner are more likely to occur in hardcopy. Skimming,
licking between pages and reduced engagement is more likely to occur
with digital literature (Pradeep, 2010). Computerbased technologies
allow new methods for children to engage with text in a visually
relevant way. If we consider for a moment what our professional
practices look like: our reports are digital, newspaper and journals are
online, even some of our professional development courses are online.
There is a need for children to be able to access and make meaning from
Digital literature whilst similar to traditional literature can
have several key differences in the role of literature in developing
language and literacy skills (Anstey & Bull, 2006). Digital reading
has been noted to take longer (Sydell, 2010), users are more likely to
skim or scan material looking for information of interest (Pradeep,
2010), and users may not engage with the non-tactile aspects. Digital
literature plays a huge role in developing unique language and literacy
skills that are not relevant or even existent in non-digital literature.
Digital literature is an essential component of language and literacy
development that has direct applications to the real world.
Given the unique language and literacy aspects found in digital
literature, I was surprised to discover the minimal coverage of digital
literature in the Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English (2009);
especially when compared the significance of technology in the Shape of
the Australian Curriculum: Science (2009). In fact there seems to be an
unusual focus on historic skills rather than coverage of more modern
literature accessibility skills. Spelling and handwriting have managed
to make the Shape paper and these skills could be argued as aging and of
little use when compared with digital literacy skills such as typing
speed, text to speech recognition skills and mouse finesse in accessing
modern literature. From a personal perspective, I can't remember
the last time I picked up a pen. I fill in forms online, I read digital
text, I engage with colleagues via email, I have an online diary, and I
use a telephone and Skype to contact family. With Dictionary dot com
(2011) and Word spell checking, spelling doesn't play a crucial
role in accessibility of literature. Digital literature is also
appealing to young audiences because of its very nature. It's
visual, kinaesthetic literature that is multimodal and accessible. The
culture of generation Z is digital. Limiting the focus on digital
literatures could reduce the accessibility and desirability of English.
Acknowledging that all types of literature can appeal to, enhance and
develop English skills is fundamental in choosing a variety of forms of
literature to embrace and develop.
The role of literature in literacy and language development is
crucial, just as literacy is essential in developing literature skills
and language is the doorway to literacy and literature. The three play
linked roles where skills in one area develop another and cannot (and
should not) be teased apart in the classroom. Literature is the ultimate
enabler, the ability to communicate, interact and be understood and
plays a critical role in children's lives now and in their future.
ACARA (2009) Shape of the Australian Curriculum: English.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Publications.
http://www.acara.edu.au / publications.html
ACARA (2009) Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Science.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Publications.
Anstey, M. and Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and Learning
Multiliteracies: Changing times, Changing literacies, International
Reading Association, Newark, Delaware, USA.
Coslovich, G. (2010) 'E-books lack the magic of the real
thing' Sydney Morning Herald. 8 January 2010. Accessed 4 March
Dictionary.com (2011) LLC. www.dictionary.com
Miller, Donalyn (2011) Catching Fire. The Book Whisperer.
Web-blogs. 7 February 2011.
Robinson, H. (2010) Et Tu, Libraries? Save Those Books--They May
Soon Be Collectors' Editions. 12 July 2010. Extra Space Storage
News archives. Accessed 4 March 2011.
Sebastian, P. (2010) 'The browser's ecstasy: And then
there were digital books.' The Deccan Herald. 13 July 2010.
Sydell, L. (2010) 'Reading a book on an iPad or Kindle? It
might take longer' NPR. All Tech Considered. 8 July 2010.
Young, S. (1996) Big Dog and Little Dog visit the Moon. Mammoth,
Lynley Matthews is a qualified NSW secondary science teacher with a
passion for multimodal literacy. Her work focuses on developing
learners' creativity and self-expression through a variety of
mediums; providing unique opportunities for all learners to engage in
meaningful literacy learning. firstname.lastname@example.org