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October 2015
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"That Sounds So Cooool": Entanglements of Children, Digital Tools, and Literacy Practices
September 2015: Volume 49, Issue 3

This article first appeared in TESOL Quarterly, Volume 49, Number 3, pgs. 461–485. Subscribers can access issues here. Only TESOL members may subscribe. To become a member of TESOL, please click here, and to purchase articles, please visit Wiley-Blackwell. © TESOL International Association.

Many observers have argued that minority language speakers often have difficulty with school-based literacy and that the poorer school achievement of such learners occurs at least partly as a result of these difficulties. At the same time, many have argued for a recognition of the multiple literacies required for citizens in a 21st century world. In this study the researchers examined a specific case in which English language learners (ELLs) made short videos about sustainability and social justice, to determine the diverse literacy practices such activities entailed. The researchers found that children produced storyboards and scripts, and videos with titles, and engaged in several other literacy activities, discussing what “made sense” in sequencing in a documentary story, what sustainability and social justice meant, how to report on information they had gathered, and so on. They also examined how new materiality theories might assist us in analyzing how ELLs engage in digital literacy activities. These theories encourage us to think about how human beings interact with other kinds of materials to accomplish perhaps novel tasks. With respect to language learning, such a view might challenge our conceptions of language and literacy learning. For new materiality theorists, language and literacy cannot be an “out-there” kind of “thing” that learners put “inside” themselves. Rather, languages and literacies and people and their activities and other materials accompany one another, and are entangled in sociomaterial assemblages that rub up against one another in complex and as yet unpredictable ways. 

Minority-language-speaking children who are schooled in majority languages generally do not achieve as well in school as their majority-language-speaking peers. In Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, observers have noted this gap in achievement (Benzie, 2010; Bourne, 2007; Gunderson, 2007; Gutiérrez, Zepeda, & Castro, 2010; Toohey & Derwing, 2008). Such is also the case in countries in Latin America and Asia (López-Gopar, 2009; Wintachai, 2013). Another gap often noted is that between the majority-language oral interactional skills that minority-language-speaking children seem to acquire quickly and well, and their documented difficulties with school print literacies in the majority language (Cummins, 2009). Many observers have argued that both receptive and productive difficulties with printed language continue to handicap minority-language speakers throughout their school careers, and that the poorer school achievement of such learners is at least partly a result of these difficulties (August & Shanahan, 2006).

At the same time that difficulties in print literacy practices for majority language learners have been noted, many have argued for a recognition of the multiple literacies required for citizens in a 21st century world. Learners of today are surrounded by media that provide meanings through the use of language, but also through a variety of modes: visual, aural, gestural, musical, and so on. Many have argued that educational institutions need to focus on these multiple modes to prepare learners for a world in which messages are increasingly available through multimodal means (Carrington & Robinson, 2009, Gee, 2013; Kress, 2003; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; Lotherington & Jenson, 2011; Rogers, Winters, LaMonde, & Perry, 2010; Sheridan & Rowsell, 2010).

Bringing together interests in language learning and in multimodal multiliteracies, we have over the past few years observed English language learners (ELLs) in a variety of settings making videos, and have been intrigued by how the activity not only engages learners in a great deal of oral production, but also entails many literate practices. There is a small literature on videomaking with language learners (Li, Gromik, & Edwards, 2012; Lotherington, 2011), which often concentrates on the products of students’ activities, their digital creations. We have also written about the products learners complete (Dagenais, Fodor, Schulze, & Toohey, 2013; Toohey, Dagenais, & Schulze, 2012), but we have become increasingly interested in the processes by which learners come to create videos. We have also become interested in how what is often called new materialities theory, in concert with theory about multimodality, might provide amplified ways to understand the videomaking processes we have observed. In this article we propose, through examination of a specific case, to address the following questions:

  1. What literacy practices do ELLs and their peers employ in the creation of digital video texts?
  2. How might theories of the material assist us in analyzing how ELLs engage in digital literacy activities?

Before presenting our data and discussion, we review those aspects of multimodality theory and theories of the material that we see as relevant in answering our research questions.

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This article first appeared in TESOL Quarterly, 49, 461–485. For permission to use text from this article, please go to Wiley-Blackwell and click on "Request Permissions" under "Article Tools."
doi: 10.1002/tesq.236

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