As any 10-year-old can tell you, it's not just about the book anymore. Today's litany of literacies—the "new" literacy—requires us to move beyond the printed page and to interpret meaning from the images and icons that are infused into every facet of our culture. And it includes reading these images, icons, and print from literature, computer monitors, television screens, and personal devices.
Children take this in effortlessly. After all, the Internet, Game Boy, and cable TV have been around all of their lives. But it becomes our challenge as teachers to help them decode and make informed choices about all of the information that streams their way. They are receiving and internalizing it, but can they interpret it? Can they form judgments about it? And can they master the skills involved well enough to use it to communicate effectively? We want our students to be conversant in all forms of literacy—to become not only educated recipients, but empowered communicators.
For educators, this means recognizing all forms of literacy, embracing them as relevant, and, finally, creating meaningful classroom experiences that integrate printed, visual, and technological literacies within disciplines and subjects.
Sounds daunting, doesn't it? But it really just requires adopting a broader and more creative view of literacy and finding ways to incorporate that into what you already do each day in your classroom. In today's world, being a teacher also means being a learner. Determine what your students need to know, and then look for ways to fuse those concepts and skills together. Share a spirit of adventure with your class, and be willing to learn alongside them from time to time. Don't be afraid to jump in.
Fuse the Concepts
In my work as an elementary school media specialist, I have found that the more fully I integrate literature, visual literacy, technology, and creative problem-solving, the more engaged my students become in learning. The evidence of this learning is more personal, relevant, and expressive. They learn to master processes, produce many outcomes, set standards for their own work, communicate in a variety of forms, and collaborate and coach one another.
Sound good? It is! That's the way we learn and solve problems in real life—not in isolated tasks, but in effective components of information and solution. As teachers, we use many resources and skills, along with a range of processes and tools to develop units of study for our pupils. We collaborate, experiment, revise, and evaluate. We look for ways to reach the auditory learner, the kinesthetic learner, and the visual learner. It becomes second nature to us, so we may not always fully analyze our means and methods. That's because we are applying real learning to a real job for a real purpose. And that's the ultimate goal of teaching—to lead our students toward a level of mastery that allows them to understand and apply literacies and tools for effective communication and, ultimately, to link that learning to real life.
A Few Ideas
Following are four elementary-level projects that use technology as the mortar of interdisciplinary and interliteracy learning. Some of the technology applications are as simple as scanning an image or clicking a digital camera. Primary level projects also include concrete tasks, such as manipulating tools or arranging objects, because I believe that kinesthetic tasks are vital to neurological development in young children. Intermediate level projects center on literature circles and are more sophisticated. These projects require software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements to create and manipulate visual and printed information. All four of these projects spring from works of literature that are common to most school media centers. They follow a framework that includes introducing a work of literature, learning a technology process, providing reading and working time, self-evaluation, and group discussion of outcomes The communication skills garnered by the students build on each other from project to project and year to year.
I Spy a Detail
Based on the I Spy picture riddle book series by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick, "I Spy" book reports reinforce reading for detail, word recognition, inferences, and visual information. Primary level students selected a book from our media collection. The children took turns using a digital camera to take pictures of classmates with their books. Then, as the students read, each generated a written list of objects mentioned in their particular story. (Interestingly, one student—Sierra—took the connection a step further, creating a list that incorporated both images and printed words, as shown in Figure 1.) The list was stapled to a lunch bag and sent home, with a note to parents requesting that they help the student to collect representations of the objects listed.
As they evaluated the items they had gathered, some children discovered that they needed to amend, expand, or edit their lists. For instance, upon reviewing his story, Brandon realized that the five plastic alligators he brought to represent the book Alligator Babies did not really tell the whole story. He added an egg, a toy fish, some grass, and a plastic bag of water to his items.
During our next lesson, students learned the procedure for scanning to create a digital image of their collected objects. Students arranged the objects on a scanning tray, covered their arrangements with opaque fabric, and scanned them to create a visual representation of their story ( Figure 2 ). (Hint: Protect the tray with a sheet of Plexiglas to prevent scratches.) Using words from their lists, they created a series of simple questions: "Do you see a net? Can you find a ball? I spy a rope. Can you see it too?" The images and sentences were compared to the photos of the students holding their books, and the children had fun trying to match the book with the "I Spy" photograph and sentences. Finally, a copy of the photo and the questions were affixed to the inside cover of the book to encourage future readers to look for detail.
Snips of Snaps
Look Again by Tana Hoban was the springboard for a photography project that introduced the concept of context. Austin, a first grader, checked out the book and was showing a cropped portion of a black and white photo to a group of friends, and letting them guess what the object might be. He looked up and said "I think I could make pictures like that" and a gradewide learning project was born ( Figure 3 ).
Students shot photos around the campus, then used a cropping frame to manually isolate an area of their photo. I demonstrated the way that technology could be used to crop photos, used Adobe Photoshop Elements to electronically crop the photos as the children indicated, and organized the finished work into a PowerPoint slide show to create an electronic book.
Students enjoyed a creative brainstorming session during our next media lesson, as they tried to guess what the cropped portion of the photos might suggest. I took the idea a step further by creating statements that included unfamiliar words—for example, "I ate a xigua (Chinese watermelon)"—and showing the children three objects: a baseball, a toy car, and a small watermelon. The first graders used the context of the words they understood—"I ate"—to deduce the meaning of "xigua." We talked about the way that we could use this skill in our reading and practiced the skill with the books they selected for checkout.
Judging a Book by Its Cover
Crossing Jordan, by Adrian Fogelin, is a powerful story of racial prejudice and healing. The story is filled with symbolism—a fence, a racetrack, a peephole—and there was much discussion among the fourth grade literature circle as to which elements in the story might be symbolic and what those symbols might represent. Students were challenged to compose a photograph that symbolized some aspect of the story and to integrate that image into an original book cover ( Figure 4 ). They were also asked to explain in writing how their book cover related to the story.
We took a look at some of the books in our collection with revised cover designs—for instance, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen—and theorized on why the illustrator made the revisions, how the image changed the message, and who the target audience might be. With digital photography at the foundation, fourth graders used Photoshop Elements in order to incorporate filters and text to heighten the inference behind their images. For example, Miranda used a filter to create a strong, high-contrast photo of clasped hands. Jewell chose a neon filter to create a rainbow effect around the silhouettes of a pair of runners. Measurement was also a consideration, as their final outcome needed to match the dimensions of the book.
With these expectations in mind, students generated a list of the qualities of an "excellent" book cover. Their ideas were transcribed into a rubric that the fourth graders used to keep their projects on track and to evaluate their work. The students covered copies of our class set of Crossing Jordan with their original cover designs to share with other readers.
You Are There! Emberscapes
As Jackie, a fifth grader declared, "The writing, the story and the pictures have to match the same mood, or the whole thing just doesn't work!" In that spirit, the fifth grade literature circle incorporated a composite photo and prose into a project responding to The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. We re-enacted a scene from the beginning of the book wherein the children of Ember randomly draw their lifelong occupations from a felt bag. Students did a bit of Internet research to learn more about their selected occupations—electricians, gardeners, messengers, recyclers—and developed descriptive writing about the relationship of their job to Ember society. Using the ever-handy thesaurus, each child composed a bit of first person narrative.
Next came the creative design of student "Emberscapes." It was great fun for the fifth graders to don costumes and stage photographs of themselves at "work." Meanwhile, I developed a folder of stock photos and placed it on the student drive of our school network. Using Photoshop Elements, students isolated their image, moved that image into the environment that they felt best matched their profession, and added a layer of descriptive text on top. There was a great deal of collaborative problem-solving as students grappled with inference, intent, proportion, graphic design, and the task of creating authenticity in their work (see Figure 5 and Figure 6 ).
Each member of the literature circle was required to teach the composite technique used to two additional students. (Because we are a small rural school with only eight networked computers in the media center, we often use a "pay it forward" philosophy to advance technology know-how among our students). Finally, the fifth graders evaluated their work with a partner through a student-generated rubric and responded, in writing, to the imagery created by a fellow classmate.
And They're Off!
The authentic thrills and chills of teaching come into play as I watch the children take ownership of the learning and ideas taught through interliteracy learning. When students voluntarily sacrifice recess or social time to mentor a classmate or to work on a technology-based literature project, I know that something exciting and empowering is going on in their lives! Last week, Ana, a fifth grader, came into the media center to create some marketing tools for the handmade soap she was making with a kit she had recently received. What dynamism in observing her create effective information including text and image and incorporating a digital camera, a scanner, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Adobe Photoshop Elements into a single finished product—efficiently, independently, and purposefully.
Being an educator in the information age means acknowledging that we cannot possibly teach our students everything they will need to know in order to navigate through the 21st century. There is a world of enormous magnitude in their futures. Many of the tools they will use, the jobs they will have, and the challenges they will face are beyond our imagining within our current framework. But we know that there is purpose in teaching them to become savvy interpreters of meaning, empowered communicators of information, and creative collaborators who are not afraid to embrace emerging forms of literacy as they unfold.
Johanna Riddle is the media specialist at Samsula Elementary School, Volusia County Schools, Florida. She is nationally certified in K-12 media education and has been the recipient of a number of awards and recognitions, including the Smithsonian's Learning Innovation and Florida's Art Educator of the Year awards. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.