Friday, July 23, 2010

Can We Teach How to Read Digitally?

This is a qualitative research study (Walsh, Asha & Sprainger, 2007) focused on looking at the differences between reading print text and digital text. The study examines how students read and navigate digital text and when students are taught a “metalanguage of visual grammar” (40) does it allow them to discuss and understand digital text better? They cite it is important to study this because there may need to be new theory and pedagogy developed for students to read and fully understand digital text.

Literature review: Looked at the advantages of digital text: The use of visuals, graphics, images, sound assisted students in skills of “prediction, comprehension, and vocabulary knowledge” (42) which greatly enhance reading skills. Disadvantages is that students were then always looking for that assistance from digital text and they were distracted by games, animations etc. What was agreed on is that studies need to be specific, in order to develop strategies for reading digital text.
Study: This would not be able to be generalized due to the small number in this study, however important information was gathered on the way students navigate and read on screen! Also they established methodology for making observations of students who were digitally reading.

Teachers from 5 different schools paired up with another teacher and made observations of primary grade students, in small groups, reading digital text. This study had 3 stages. Stage 1 observed and videotaped students as they read and navigated a WebQuest (all non-fiction). Stage 2: Teachers were taught what was called, “metalanguage of visual grammar” which explained terms and vocabulary like “use of color, angles, perspective framing, salience, vectors, reading pathway…” (43). Stage 3: Was then teaching this “visual grammar” to the test group of students and then record observations again.

Observations were recorded in four different areas which are Luke and Freebody’s four reading practices (43). They were looking at: Coding Practice, Semantic Practice, Pragmatic Practice and Critical Practice. Coding looked at navigation of websites—did they know how to decode information on search engines, website home pages—generally moving from page to page. Semantic Practice looked at “drawing on background knowledge, different levels of understanding and making intertextual links.” (43) The Pragmatic Practice was looking at the social purpose of digital text. Critical Practice was using the visual grammar when talking about the digital text.

Results: That digital text is highly motivating and students used basic techniques for navigating but “their reading responses and understanding seemed to be at a literal, often superficial, level with little evidence of inferring, evaluating or critical thinking.” (51) The conclusion ended with there is much study that needs to be done in regards to transfer on knowledge from print to digital.

Reflection: The terms that they were using to record observations were new to me so I spent some time looking up information to see what kind of information was being collected. Although they taught this visual grammar to students and some students were able to use some of these same terms--there was not much difference in the actual depth of reading and understanding digitally. Since they were primary grade students perhaps they are not ready for some of the more abstract ideas and terms since they still operate under a fairly concrete idea scheme.

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