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English Teaching: Practice and Critique September, 2008, Volume 7, Number 2 pp. 85-98 

Digital literacies in two low socioeconomic classrooms: 
Snapshots of practice 

University of Southern Queensland 


University of Southern Queensland 

ABSTRACT: The teaching of digital literacies is regarded as an important 
facet of literacy teaching in the 2f‘ century. With many literacy tests 
continuing to indicate that students’ levels of achievement tend to be 
differentiated along socioeconomic lines, it seems timely to consider the 
connections between home and school and how these play out in relation to 
digital literacies. This is particularly important in light of the considerable 
evidence that has demonstrated how important home-school connections are 
in ensuring improved traditional literacy outcomes for students from low 
socioeconomic backgrounds. With these points in mind, this article reports on 
an investigation into the usage of digital technologies in two middle-years 
classrooms in low socioeconomic suburbs in a regional Australian city. Using 
a range of ethnographic techniques, the study explored two teachers’ 
approaches to teaching students how to use digital technologies in one school 
term. Through snapshots of digital practices in the two classrooms, three 
issues are considered: teachers ’ pedagogical approaches; students ’ access to 
digital technologies at home and at school; and the teachers ’ recognition of 
students ’ prior knowledge of digital technologies. The article concludes by 
reflecting on the need for teachers to draw on the digital literacies that 
students are using in their out-of-school lives, to make bridges to school 
learning and thus address the challenge of preparing students to be literate in 
the 2T‘ Century. 

KEYWORDS: Deficit discourses, digital divide, digital literacies, digital 
technologies, literacy, socioeconomic status 


Current understandings about the learning of literacies highlight the importance of 
social and cultural contexts and the way that literacies always involve people 
conducting social and cultural activities. This view challenges monolithic accounts of 
“literacy” as a set of neutral and transportable skills and instead understands literacies 
as active and interactive practices that always occur within social situations and 
cultural contexts (Barton & Hamilton, 2000; Luke, 1992). 

Traditionally, school literacy learning has privileged a narrow range of literacy 
practices and this has had the effect of advantaging some learners and disadvantaging 

Copyright © 2008, ISSN 1175 8708 

Henderson <& Honan 

Digital literacies in two low socioeconomic ... 

or marginalising others. As Gee (2004) points out, some students “get an important 
head start” to the learning of school literacies before they arrive at school (p. 3). 
Indeed, success in school literacy learning - defined by Alloway and Gilbert (1998) 
as “demonstrated competence in the context of literacy as it is done and evaluated in 
schools” (p. 255) - has been inextricably tied to “the repertoires of practices and 
knowledge that they [students] already had from their home and community 
experiences” (Comber & Barnett, 2003, p. 5). 

In talking about the connections between home and school. Comber (1998) argued 
that what has often been understood as “background” - socioeconomic status, family 
practices, ethnicity, home languages, and “young people’s life-worlds and 
experiences” - is “by no means ‘background’ in their [students’] access and take up 
of educational provision and school literacies” (p. 3). From the seminal work of 
Shirley Brice Heath in the US (1982, 1983) through to more recent research in the 
Australian context (e.g. Comber & Kamler, 2004; Freebody, Ludwig, & Gunn, 1995; 
Kamler & Comber, 2005), it has been acknowledged that families engage in diverse 
literacy practices and that these are not always recognised as valid in school contexts. 

There is plenty of evidence that the non-acceptance of home literacy practices as valid 
or useful generally results in deficit stories about students and families (Freebody et 
al, 1995; Henderson, 2005; Kamler & Comber, 2005). However, there is also 
evidence that home-school connections are important when trying to improve literacy 
outcomes for students whose literate strengths and capabilities in contexts outside 
schools do not match the valued and normalised literacy practices of schooling 
(Freebody et al, 1995; Thomson, 2002). By reconceptualising home literacies as 
resources to support school literacy learning, teachers can help to recormect students 
to classroom literacy learning (Comber & Kamler, 2004; Kalantzis, Cope & The 
Learning by Design Project Group, 2005). 

As digital technologies have increasingly permeated daily life and impacted on the 
literacy practices that are used (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006b; Carrington, 
2006; Healy, 2008; Henderson, 2008), there has been growing recognition that digital 
literacies and the use of digital technologies are a necessary part of school learning. 
While considerable research has focused on a so-called “digital divide”, which 
highlights the “gap” between those who have technological access and those who do 
not (e.g. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 1999; 
Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, 2001), there is a growing 
sense that the divide is actually between the rich literate practices used by young 
people in their homes and the narrow and restricted practices engaged in by schools 
and teachers. Recent data from the USA and the UK indicate that the so-called digital 
divide between socioeconomic groups is not as clear-cut as it was 20 years ago 
(InterActive Education Project, 2002; Horrigan, 2006). As the costs of computer 
technologies and internet access decrease, and the infiltration of mobile phone 
technologies increases, families from low socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely 
to perceive access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) as an 
educational imperative (Honan, 2006a). 

Despite parental investment in digital technologies as a “techno-educational panacea” 
(Schofield-Clark & Demont-Heinrich, 2004), there is some evidence that teachers in 
low socioeconomic schools often underestimate the access of students to computers 

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and the internet (Honan, 2006a; Snyder, Angus, & Sutherland- Smith, 2004; 
Warsehauer, Knobel, & Stone, 2004). Previous studies have also indieated that 
teaehers generally do not take aeeount of students’ home use of digital technologies, 
especially when that use involves mobile phones and game consoles rather than 
computers (Honan, 2008). 

With these issues in mind, the current research set out to investigate the use of digital 
technologies in two classrooms in schools in low socioeconomic areas. Through 
snapshots of digital practices in the two classrooms, three issues are considered: 
teachers’ pedagogical approaches; students’ access to digital technologies at home 
and at school; and the teachers’ recognition of students’ prior knowledge of digital 
technologies. The article concludes by reflecting on authentic purposes and contexts 
for learning digital literacies. 


To begin an investigation of the usage of digital technologies, particularly computers, 
in schools and to explore students’ perceptions of this usage in relation to their home 
practices, data were collected in two middle-years (young adolescent) classrooms in 
low socioeconomic suburbs in a regional Australian city. In particular, the research 
set out to investigate teachers’ assumptions about the digital literacy practices and the 
digital texts used at home by students from low socioeconomic backgrounds; what the 
students described as their home digital literacy practices and the types of digital texts 
that they accessed, and how the home practices described by the students compared 
with what they were expected to do at school. 

The small study was conducted in two, state primary schools located in low 
socioeconomic suburbs in a regional city area of south-east Queensland, Australia. A 
two-step process was used to identify the two schools. Unemployment data from the 
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006a) were mapped against information from the 
state education authority about the locations of schools (Department of Education 
Training and the Arts, Queensland, 1999). Once schools were identified as located in 
the section of the city with the highest level of unemployment, schools’ Annual 
Reports, which are available to the public from the internet, were used to select two 

In their A nn ual Reports, both schools noted the high level of unemployment in their 
local communities, along with other factors that are often linked with low 
socioeconomic status (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2000; 2007). One school’s 
Annual Report stated that the majority of their students came “from families with long 
term unemployment and 50 per cent of the students live in families with only one 
natural parent,” and the other reported that the school population had “a moderately 
high rate of student transience, a significant unemployment rate and a high percentage 
of single parent families.” In both schools, a small number of students came from 
indigenous families. (References are not provided so that the anonymity of the 
schools is preserved.) 

The research was conducted in one middle-school classroom in each school 
(Classroom 1 and Classroom 2). The classes, each with approximately 25 students. 

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were ehosen through negotiation with the sehool prineipals, who identified a teaeher 
who had an “interest” and was au fait with using digital technologies in the 
classroom. Both teachers had many years of teaching experience. During one school 
term of 2007, data were collected during a weekly visit by one of the researchers. As 
a participant observer in the classrooms, the researcher used a range of ethnographic 
techniques, including classroom observations, field notes, informal discussions with 
students and interviews with the teachers and the students. 

During classroom observations, data were collected about activities within the 
classrooms as a whole, but there was a specific focus on a small group of students - 
eight in Classroom 1 and six in Classroom 2. We had asked the teachers to consider 
students who they knew would fit our interest in low socioeconomic status and home 
usage of computers. However, we also explained that we wanted to cause the least 
disruption to classrooms as possible and were happy for the teachers to consider what 
was convenient to them. In the case of Classroom 1, convenience played a major role. 
The class was already operating in three small groups for focused lessons on the use 
of computers and the teacher chose one of those groups for the focused observations 
of particular students. 


The class that was observed in one school was a Years 5, 6 and 7 multi-age class 
located in a large, double teaching space. The children were between 10 and 12 years 
old. Four computers were available at one of the back comers of the room. These 
were used at times during class and the teacher allowed students to use them in the 
mornings before school commenced. However, twelve computers were located in a 
small room next to the classroom. These were not for the exclusive use of the class, 
but were accessed by classes from across the school. The room thus served a 
“computer laboratory” purpose within the school. 

For the class in question, a teacher-aide provided focused half-hour lessons on 
computer use for small groups of approximately eight students at a time. The 
computers in the withdrawal room were located on desks that were arranged in a U- 
shape against three of the walls. This set-up meant that students faced a wall when 
they were using a computer and keyboard and that they had to turn their bodies when 
they were required to look at the whiteboard located on the fourth wall. The centre of 
the room was an empty space. It was apparent during the observations of the focussed 
lessons that once students sat at a computer, they remained in that position until the 
half-hour lesson was finished. 

During the research period, the class was working on a Mathematics investigation 
about the number of “letter slots” on a vinyl pencil case. Students were collecting data 
about the number of letters in the names of students in their own class as well as 
across the school. This information was to be stored in Microsoft Excel and the 
students were learning how to use that program during the teacher-aide’s focused 

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The class in the second school was a Year 6 class (approximately 11 years of age), 
located in a single teaching space with four computers on desks at the back of the 
classroom. These were used by the students before school, during school time, and 
during lunch breaks on rainy days. A withdrawal room containing 22 computers was 
located between this classroom and another and was used on a regular basis by the 
class. Most of the computers were situated on desks against the wall in a U-shape and 
students had to face the wall to use the computers. However, the rest of the room was 
full of hexagonally-shaped desks with chairs for students to use if not working at a 
computer. In most of the lessons observed, students were able to move within the 
withdrawal room as well as between this room and their classroom and they engaged 
in considerable discussion about the tasks they were doing. 

During the period of data collection, all students in the class were preparing a 
PowerPoint presentation about “Me” as part of an integrated studies unit that involved 
the key learning areas of Technology, English and the Study of Society and the 
Environment. The students were expected to create PowerPoint presentations that 
contained hyperlinks, different sized fonts, word art and photographs. The audience 
for the presentation was to be the class and the teacher. The students were encouraged 
to include information about the younger students (from either Year 1 or Year 2) they 
were mentoring as part of a whole school reading program and this provided an 
opportunity for later use of the PowerPoint presentations in other classrooms. 


During the observation period, it was apparent in both classrooms that there was a 
focus on teaching specific aspects of “how to use” a particular computer program. 
Despite the similar focus, however, there were considerable differences in the 
approaches that were taken. 

In Classroom 1, where a teacher-aide provided focused and explicit instruction about 
Microsoft Excel, the approach was teacher-aide-directed and incorporated the 
teaching of a set of skills - including entering data, the addition of rows, producing 
graphs, and copying graphs in Excel and pasting them into a Word document - using 
“dummy data”. In each lesson, the students spent considerable time listening to an 
initial set of oral instructions, which were sometimes recorded on the whiteboard. The 
students were then expected to follow the steps at their computer keyboards ,while the 
teacher-aide provided further instructions as a “voice over” (see Comber, 1997). The 
voice overs included instructions such as: “Go to edit and copy;” “Now go back to 
your spreadsheet. This time we are going to graph the money,” and “This time click 
on Row 4 and edit and paste.” 

Even though the teacher-aide used an extensive metalanguage - which included the 
terms “chart wizard”, “button”, “icon”, “number keypad”, “data values”, “minimise” 
and many more - there was little discussion around these terms. When there were 
opportunities for interactions between the students and their instructor, an IRE 
(initiate-respond-evaluate) format was evident, whereby the teacher-aide initiated a 
discussion by asking a question and the students provided responses which were 

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evaluated by the teaeher-aide (Cazden, 2001). There were few opportunities for the 
students to engage in diseussion with each other, as they spent most of their time 
listening and following step-by-step instructions. 

The approach in Classroom 2 was quite different from the one observed in Classroom 
1. To equip the students with the skills required to produce a series of PowerPoint 
slides, the teacher had modelled some of the tasks that needed to be completed - 
including inserting photographs, changing the slide background design, adding sound. 
The modelling was conducted in the classroom using a computer connected to a data 
projector, and the teacher was logged in as one of the students. The students plaimed 
the content (information about themselves) and the wording of their series of 
PowerPoint slides on paper before using the computers. The paper task was 
completed individually. Information on the whiteboard provided an organisational 
structure for the four slides that students had to design, as well as a guide to inserting 
specific features into PowerPoint, as per the requirements of the task. 

A major difference with the approach taken in Classroom 1 was that the students in 
Classroom 2 were working on the task (the design of PowerPoint slides) right from 
the beginning and their learning of aspects of the program PowerPoint occurred as 
they were doing the task. It was apparent that the teacher had identified “experts” 
within the class and called upon them to assist students who had missed some of the 
modelling episodes. Even though each student worked at a computer, there was much 
discussion about the tasks they were doing and it was evident that considerable 
problem-solving was occurring. The teacher moved amongst the students, answering 
questions and offering advice. The students experimented with colour, layout and 
fonts as they prepared their slides and this experimentation was a major point of 
discussion and comparison as the students worked at the computers. 

Collaboration amongst students was a feature of the class’s use of computers and even 
students who were not necessarily regarded as experts took on the role of teaching 
other students when they were able to do something that other students could not. For 
example, in one instance, one of the female students shared her knowledge about 
changing the design and colour of the slide backgrounds with students working at 
nearby computers. The students also discussed the information that they displaying on 
slides and ways of organising and expressing that information. 


In using quite different approaches to the teaching of digital technologies, the teachers 
also seemed to have different understandings about their students’ prior knowledge of 
digital technologies and the computer program that was being taught. In Classroom 1 , 
the students were given direct instruction of sequences to follow when using 
Microsoft Excel and this instruction was the same for all students in the one group 
that was observed, regardless of their previous experiences with computers. As will 
be further explained in the next section, the students in that group had varied 
experiences of computers and one student knew quite a lot about Excel, because she 
had watched her father use the program at home. 

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In Classroom 2, all students were also doing the same task. However, the students 
were working at their own paee and were individualising the task as they proeeeded. 
The teaeher reeognised some of the students as experts and, on oecasions, matehed up 
experts and novices. There were opportunities, however, for all students with 
expertise on the use of PowerPoint to share their knowledge with other students. 

Even though the teacher in Classroom 2 may have seemed more attuned to students’ 
prior knowledge, it was evident that both teachers had talked with their students about 
digital technologies, including computers. The teachers had certainly heard about 
many of the digital technologies that students used at home and there was recognition 
that students had better skills than teachers in some areas. For example, the teacher in 
Classroom 1 explained that “Their text messaging skills are quicker. While I’m still 
looking for the button to press they can tell me where it is.” 

In response to the question, “What do you know about students’ access to digital 
technologies out of school, the teacher from Classroom 1 answered: “Probably not a 
lot. I do know that a few of them have X-Boxes and PlayStations and a lot of them 
spend time on those.” The teacher from Classroom 2 responded in a similar way: “Not 
a lot. There’s an unusually large number of kids in this class that don’t have 
computers, about 20 per cent I think, in this day and age, that’s about four kids. I 
thought it’s like a microwave that would be standard practice.” 

When interviewed, the teacher in Classroom 1 indicated that she based her 
assumptions about students’ home use of computers on a whole-school survey that 
had been conducted in the previous year: “A lot of them said they had computers but 
the majority of them said they use computers just to play games and not for any other 
use.” The assumption that a program like Microsoft Excel was not used at home 
seemed to be one reason for the directed approach. Additionally, the teacher pointed 
out that the focused lessons taught by a teacher-aide were a school practice that she 
had not yet questioned: 

It’s been a sort of a school thing that [the teacher-aide] does a little bit of skill work 
before with the kids.... I feel confident enough to do a lot myself where some of the 
other teachers just don’t and I think that’s probably where it originated from. And 
[the teacher-aide] ’s done it in the past and because I’m sort of new in the school we 
haven’t sort of talked about changing that or doing something different. 

The teacher in Classroom 2 appeared to have an in-depth understanding of the role of 
games in her students’ lives, although some value judgements seemed to be apparent 
in her views. For example, in talking about a possible relationship between family 
income and technology, she said: 

I think it’s probably the reverse because one of the families that’s particularly poor 
has every electronic thing known to man, even down to the new 360 X-Box which 
was a thousand dollars... where you can actually do the physical boxing and attach 
the things to yourself. 

In talking generally about students’ access to digital technologies, there were 
indications of deficit views about the parents of children in her class and perhaps of 
society in general. She explained that: 

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I think it would be typical of what’s happening - go and occupy yourself, yeah 1 
don’t want to kick a football with you or sit down and watch TV with you. Go into 
your room and watch TV. Unfortunately 1 think that’s indicative of what’s happening 
these days. 

Nevertheless, despite the teaehers’ understandings of the place of technologies in the 
students’ homes, it was as if they were unable to see any relationship between the use 
of games and other technologies for leisure activities and the use of technologies 
required at school. 


Interviews with students in both classrooms and straw polls of the two classes 
indicated that students “lived” with technology of various types in their out-of-school 
lives. Every student in both classes had access to a games console of some type, 
whether that was a Nintendo DS, GameBoy, X-Box or Sony PlayStation, and 58 per 
cent had a television in their bedroom. Many of the students also had a DVD or video 
player attached to their television. 84 percent reported having at least one computer in 
their home, and almost all of the students said that they had access to a computer 
elsewhere - whether they used one at a friend’s or relative’s house or at the local 

What was apparent in the students’ discussions of their home usage of technologies 
was that computers were one option among many activities that they could engage in 
when not at school. By far the most popular form of home entertainment was 
electronic games, but games were played in many forms - on games consoles, 
computers and occasionally mobile telephones. For many of the students, it seemed 
that games provided opportunities to engage in “fun” play. As the students explained, 
there were many types of games, ranging from those where “you shoot bad guys and 
everything. You escape from jail”, to ones where, for example, “you have to try and 
knock out the blue tiles before the time runs out and then you go up to the next level”. 

Computers, however, were not only used for games and many of the students reported 
their regular use of the internet, the downloading of television programs and the use 
of Microsoft Word and Excel for some of their leisure activities. For example, one 
student used Microsoft Excel for adding up the money he had saved - to “see how 
much I can spend”. Another said that, “Dad uses it [Excel] to do his darts things.... 
Because he plays darts and he has got to tally up all the dart things to give to the darts 
team... and I watch how he does that.” Others talked about the use of the internet to 
“get some cheats for games on the PlayStation” or for parents to “buy off eBay”. 
Some students, though, talked about the reluctance of some family members to use 
computers or about their role in teaching relatives to become users of technology. For 
example, one student described her mum as “not really computer smart.. . .She doesn’t 
really go on the computer”, while another explained, “Eve actually taught my 
[grandfather] half the stuff he knows about computers.” 

In the classroom, the students’ use of technologies was focused on computers, but 
these were not used on a daily basis. The teacher in Classroom 1 expressed concern 
that she had not used computers as often as she would have liked, although the 
students were able to use them before school and during some lunch breaks. In 

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Classroom 2, it was evident that computers were used fairly regularly as part of the 
curriculum, but that the usage was not necessarily daily. In other words, technologies 
seemed to play a much greater role in the students’ home lives than in their classroom 


As we noted earlier, there has been considerable research in Australia and elsewhere 
that has attempted to disrupt the deficit views of literacy practices in homes that 
operate differently from those valued in schools. There have been significant moves 
towards “tum-around pedagogies” (Comber & Kamler, 2004) that base work in 
classrooms on the “funds of knowledge” (Moll, Amanti, Neff & Gonzales, 1992) that 
children bring in their virtual school bags (Thomson, 2002). Our work on research 
investigating the uses of digital literacies in homes and schools is based on an 
uncomfortable hunch that deficit views of the digital practices engaged in by students 
at home were becoming as deeply entrenched in schooling as those that were once so 
taken- for-granted about print literacy practices. Our studies into this area began with a 
literature review (Honan, 2006a) that seemed to indicate that these deficit discourses 
were operating in: accounts of the uses of technologies in low and middle 
socioeconomic schools (Warschauer, 2003); descriptions of teachers’ assumptions 
about access to technologies by students from low socioeconomic homes (Snyder et 
al, 2004; Warschauer et al, 2004); and assumptions about girls’ work in the 
“gendered digital divide” (Honan, 2006b). 

While the study reported on in this article is only small, it does (unfortunately) begin 
to affirm some of our hunches. In relation to teachers’ misconceptions about their 
students’ access to technologies at home, the study confirms reports in the literature 
review as well as the findings of another smaller study reported elsewhere (Honan, 
2008). That is, teachers generally underestimate students’ access to computers and the 
internet outside of school, tend to ignore the place of other kinds of digital 
technologies apart from computers in students’ daily lives, and more disturbingly, 
disparage and denigrate the uses of technologies by students at home. The teachers’ 
comments about using computers “just to play games”, parental use of television so 
that children can “occupy” themselves, and parents spending money on “every 
electronic thing known to man” unfortunately resonate with echoes of the deficit 
assumptions about parental attitudes to print material in terms of bedtime reading 
(Heath, 1982); the absence of “real” books and “quality” literature; and parents’ 
attitudes to reading in low socioeconomic homes (Mraz & Rasinski, 2007). 

The failure of teachers such as the ones in this study to tap effectively into students’ 
funds of knowledge about digital technologies has serious and probably unexpected 
influences on the pedagogical practices engaged in during literacy classes where new 
technologies are used. Elsewhere (Honan, 2008), one of us has reported on teachers’ 
tendencies to repeat, year after year, lessons and activities that focus on the basic 
operational skills needed to navigate a desktop, save a file, and open programs. In that 
study, students in Year 2 and again in Year 4 were being taught the same basic 
operational skills. 

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In this study, the teacher-aide in Classroom 1 practised a “defensive” and safe 
pedagogy where students must wait for step-by-step instructions, even when it was 
clear that they were capable of proceeding without constant oversight (Garrison & 
Bromley, 2004, p. 596). It could be argued that these pedagogical practices are used 
because of the aide’s lack of professional authority (compared to a qualified teacher) 
in relation to the students, or because of her lack of professional knowledge of 
alternative practices. However, the classroom teacher’s willingness to hand over the 
teaching using computers to the aide is in itself an illustration of the defensive 
teaching practices that Garrison and Bromley (2004) describe. Generally both 
classroom teachers and the teacher-aide engaged in pedagogical practices that assume 
that the completion of routine classroom tasks are more important or valuable than the 
engagement in creative problem-solving or higher cognitive tasks that are inherent in 
constructivist teaching approaches (Niederhauser & Lindstrom, 2006), essential in a 
“productive pedagogy” framework (Lingard, Hayes & Mills, 2003), and according to 
Gee (2003), developed when playing video games. 

These safe and routine pedagogical practices involving the use of digital texts 
resonate with the practices observed in literacy classes in low socioeconomic areas by 
Freebody and his colleagues in the early 1990s (Freebody et al, 1995). In that study, 
analysis of classroom conversations revealed that teachers spent an extraordinary 
amount of time in talk devoted to routine classroom tasks and management of student 
behaviour, working towards the production of “docile bodies” (Foucault, 1995). 
Similarly, Warschauer (2003) found that teachers in low socioeconomic schools in his 
study used digital technologies for routine and technical tasks that prepared their 
students for the workforce, while their colleagues in ‘elite’ schools “used technology 
to prepare scholars” (p. 132). 

The isolation of computer related tasks and teaching practices from the other literacy 
work completed in classrooms is also an area of concern and seems to disregard 
young people’s complex integration of digital technologies in their out-of-school 
lives. The students interviewed in this study reported using a variety of digital 
technologies for a variety of purposes in interconnected ways that were integrated 
with other forms of daily activities (Henderson, 2007). This usage seems to more 
accurately reflect the daily use of technologies in many adult lives than the isolated 
tasks that were completed in the observed classrooms. The unfortunate rapid 
deployment of computer laboratories and hubs in primary classrooms across Australia 
and elsewhere (Zandvliet, 2006) supports this isolationist approach to the use of 

Interestingly, both of the observed classes had a set of computers in the classroom 
space; yet both teachers used these only sporadically. This availability of computers 
within the classroom could have contributed to an integration of digital activities 
within literacy lessons. The reasons for the lack of integration were not explored 
within this study. However, it does remind us of the introduction of “real” books into 
classrooms in the 1970s as the use of basal readers and textbook activities came into 
question. In many classrooms the “real” books became part of a reward system: 
finished work early, read a book; completed that activity, read a book; wet lunchtime, 
read a book. In many classrooms observed, including the two in this study, this 
reward system now includes “playing” on the computer. 

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Although limited in scope, this small research project has highlighted the challenging 
task for teachers to be cognisant of the diversity in understandings about digital 
technologies that students bring to school. Such understandings are important if 
teachers want to ensure that school engagement with digital literacies is indeed 
preparing students to cope with the literacy demands of a rapidly changing and 
increasingly technological and globalised world. 

Not only were there apparent differences in the prior knowledges that students 
brought to school, there also appeared to be a divide between the everyday digital 
practices that students used in their out-of-school lives and the practices that teachers 
thought students needed to engage in. Our findings from studying these two 
classrooms suggest that in some cases there are huge generational differences between 
teachers and students. Even though the two teachers in this study said that they were 
confident with using and teaching about technologies, they were quite aware that their 
students were faster and more confident than they were with some aspects of 
technologies. While the students saw technologies, including computers, as one 
option in their out-of-school leisure activities, the teachers emphasised a much 
narrower approach - the teaching of specific computer skills for specific purposes. 

What appears to be missing in this approach is an understanding of how knowledges 
about a wide range of practices with digital technologies might be useful to the 
learning of literacies at school. It was evident that the students’ knowledges were not 
always used within the classroom context. Computer games, for example, were not 
regarded by the teachers as relevant to school learning. However, as Gee’s (2003) 
work has highlighted, computer games can provide opportunities for developing 
creative problem-solving and higher cognitive skills and for learning new literacies. 
Within classrooms, students’ knowledges about technologies and multimedia can 
provide “powerful tools of engagement” that bridge home and school practices and 
open up the possibilities for building “an expanded range of performative, 
entertaining, collaborative literacy practices” (Kerkham & Hutchison, 2005, p. 117). 

A recent report (see Lenhart, Arafeh, Smith, & Macgill, 2008) indicates that young 
people also find it difficult to see relationships between their home and school digital 
literacy practices. It found that even though young people were “embedded in a tech- 
rich world” (p. ii), they did not regard their expertise in email, instant and text 
messaging - “the material they create electronically” (p. i) - as “real” writing. Such 
findings suggest that there is much work to be done in understanding the relationships 
between the digital literacy practices used inside and outside school. 

Understanding how the digital literacies in students’ virtual school bags (Thomson, 
2002) might be used to assist school learning would seem to be a critical place to 
start. According to Kerkham and Hutchison (2005), collaborative projects that 
provide opportunities for teachers and students to participate in “a dynamic exchange 
of skills and information” and for students to learn “with and from each other” can 
help to reshape the teaching and learning of digital literacies in classrooms (p. 119). 

While the digital literacies of home remain invisible to teachers, or as a worse case 
scenario are viewed as evidence of deficient home practices, then it seems that the 

English Teaching: Practice and Critique 


Henderson cfe Honan 

Digital literacies in two low socioeconomic ... 

difficult task of catering for difference and diversity amongst students will be 
compounded. Making home-sehool conneetions explicit for teachers and students, 
eombined with a mapping of how school learning might build on what students 
already know about digital literacies, will help teachers to move past taken-for- 
granted assumptions and to address the ehallenge of preparing students to be literate 
in the 21®* Century. Such a move is important if we are serious about wanting to 
ensure equitable outeomes for schooling and to prepare all students for active and 
sueeessful partieipation in society. 


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Manuscript received: June 1, 2008 
Revision received: September 1, 2008 
Accepted: September 22, 2008 

English Teaching: Practice and Critique