ERIC Identifier: ED311120
Publication Date: 1989-08-00
Author: Kleifgen, Jo Anne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Computers and Opportunities for Literacy Development. ERIC/CUE
Digest No. 54.
When the computer revolution began in American schools, hope ran high that
this new tool would help to solve many educational problems, including the
problem of how to teach traditionally unsuccessful students more effectively.
Research in the 1980s suggests, however, that the introduction of computer
technology into the schools has served to widen the gap in educational
opportunity between rich and poor, male and female, and Anglo-American and other
ethnolinguistic populations. This report examines briefly that situation. It
also explores ways in which some schools have begun to use computers and
collaborative learning environments to help develop language and literacy skills
in students who have difficulty with traditional teaching methods.
INEQUITIES IN SCHOOL COMPUTER USE
In the early part of this
decade a national survey (Center for the Social Organization of Schools [CSOS],
1983-84) of over one thousand schools revealed that lower income students have
less access to computers than do middle and upper income students. This finding
was not surprising, since affluent parents and school systems are better able to
invest in such costly equipment.
Further, non-white and limited English speaking students frequently go
without computers in their schools. Those few who do get access to computers are
generally given drill and practice exercises rather than problem-solving or
other more challenging software. This trend may be the result of an erroneous
belief in reductionist, or part-to-whole learning, which calls for poor readers
to first master the rules for phonics, then learn single words, and only later,
be given sentences and stories to decode. Studies suggest, however, that
learning can be more effective through gradual differentiation of the whole into
meaningful units (Vygotsky, 1987; Cole, Griffin & Laboratory of Comparative
Human Cognition, 1987).
The CSOS survey also found that female students, regardless of social class,
spend less time in school on computers than males. An important reason for this
is related to the type of tasks assigned. Computers are generally set aside for
math and science education or programming rather than for instruction in the
language arts, where female students traditionally have excelled (Hawkins,
1985). By extending computer applications in schools to the development of
language and literacy skills, more female students can be attracted to the
USING COMPUTERS FOR LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
linguistically and academically when given access to problem solving, word
processing, and communications software, particularly when such software is used
in collaborative tasks. Problem solving at the computer, for instance,
encourages cognitive and linguistic development. Students discuss and clarify
assigned tasks and resolve contrasting points of view (Mehan, Moll, & Riel,
1985). Group work engenders increased and richer language use during a learning
Diaz (1984) demonstrated that Spanish-dominant students made strong gains in
English as a result of involvement in complex computer tasks. The students
learned to use computers during after-school enhancement lessons in programming,
text processing, and electronic mail. Although the materials were in English,
the bilingual teachers encouraged the use of Spanish as a bridge to learning
skills and concepts. Having gained special knowledge about computer operations,
the students later became peer teachers in their regular, English-medium
classrooms, and, as a result, their academic performance and self-esteem
improved along with their English proficiency.
It should be noted that the choice of software clearly influences the quality
of human interaction in computer-shared settings. Clements and Nastasi (1988),
for example, found that LOGO environments, when compared to drill-and-practice
environments, encouraged a greater frequency of social problem-solving.
USING COMPUTERS TO DEVELOP LITERACY SKILLS
the teaching of writing have been able to demonstrate the positive effects of
the process approach, which places emphasis on choosing meaningful topics,
writing in groups, and conferring together about drafts (Graves, 1983; Calkins,
1986). This process approach to writing, particularly when coupled with computer
use, encourages purposeful social interaction in classrooms. One reason for this
may be the nature of the hardware itself: because the screen content is visible
to others, what was once considered a private activity becomes more public.
Moreover, the ease with which students can revise on computers allows them to
discuss and test alternatives, and edit one another's errors. Improvement in
writing takes place once students have control over the word processing
commands, and this improvement can occur for students who are learning English
as well as for native speakers of English (Mehan et al., 1985).
Finally, writing together on a word processor engenders both spoken and
written language, with each mode of communication enriching the other. Teachers
and students talk about the text that they are drafting and revising. At the
same time, the words and phrases displayed on the monitor are incorporated into
their discussions (Kleifgen, 1989).
When computers are integrated into the language arts curricula of schools,
female students have increased access to and interest in the technology.
Traditionally high achievers in reading and writing, they become as involved in
the technology as males when computers are used as tools for writing (Hawkins,
1985). Group writing at the computer, then, can become an entry point to
technological literacy for female students.
One of the most exciting applications of computers for the development of
literacy has been the use of electronic mail, either within a school through
local area networks or through telephone links to other schools locally and
around the world through inexpensive electronic bulletin boards. For example,
students in San Diego draft and edit news articles for the Computer Chronicles
Newspaper (Levin, Riel, Boruta, & Rowe, 1984). Then they send their articles
via electronic mail to students in other states and even other countries,
including Israel, Japan, and Mexico. Members of a student editorial board edit
incoming stories for publication in the Chronicles. Having a newswire and a real
audience gives the students a goal for writing and provides motivation for
revising and editing. Similarly, a project called De Orilla a Orilla (From Shore
to Shore) allow bilingual students in Connecticut, Puerto Rico, and Mexico to
transmit stories and newsletters. The project has been successful in improving
students' native language and English literacy skills (Sayers, 1989).
THE CRUCIAL ROLE OF TEACHERS
These projects demonstrate not
only that computers help students to achieve academic success but also that the
best improvements in language and literacy have occurred in the classrooms of
skilled teachers. They make pedagogical choices that encourage productive
classroom interaction and engagement in tasks that are both challenging and
meaningful to all students. Rejecting the notion of a dual curriculum that
provides cognitively challenging tasks for advanced students and rote learning
for struggling students, effective teachers use computers as tools for learning,
choose appropriate software, and take an active role in teaching children how to
use them in a collaborative learning environment.
In sum, a constellation of factors is important
in the development of language and literacy skills for all students:
o cognitively challenging software, including software for text construction
o collaborative learning environments where spoken and written language is
used to solve problems and complete meaningful tasks; and
o skilled teachers who provide challenging tasks for every student and become
involved in using computers as tools for learning.
In effect, by providing rich linguistic environments and meaningful learning
activities, teachers can use computers to enhance the educational experiences of
all students, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or economic background.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Calkins, L. (1986). The art of
teaching writing. Exeter, NH: Heinemann.
Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS). (1983-84). School uses of
microcomputers: Reports from a national survey (Issues 1-6). Baltimore: Johns
Clements, D.H., & Nastasi, B.K. (1988). Social and cognitive interactions
in educational computer environments. American Educational Research Journal, 25
Cole, M., & Griffin, P., and Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition.
(Eds.). (1987). Contextual factors in education: Improving science and
mathematics education for minorities and women. Prepared for the Committee on
Research in Mathematics, science, and Technology Education, Commission on
Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Center for Education Research.
Diaz, S. (1984, November). Bilingual-bicultural computer experts: Traditional
literacy through computer literacy. Paper presented at the meeting of the
American Anthropological Association, Denver, CO.
Graves, D. (1983). Writing: Children and teachers at work. Exeter, NH:
Hawkins, J. (1985). Computers and girls: Rethinking the issues. Sex Roles, 13
Kleifgen, J. (1989, February). Talk, text, and computers. Paper presented at
the tenth annual Ethnography in Education Research Forum, University of
Levin, J.A., Riel, M., Boruta, M., & Rowe, R. (1984). Muktuk meets
jaccuzi: Computer networks and elementary schools. In S.W. Freedman (Ed.), The
acquisition of written language (160-171). New York: Ablex.
Mehan, H., Moll, L.C., & Riel, M. (1985). Computers in classrooms: A
quasi-experiment in guided change (NIE Report 6-83-0027). Washington, D.C.:
National Institute of Education.
Sayers, D. (1989). Bilingual sister classes in computer writing networks. In
D.M. Johnson & D.H. Roen (Eds.). Richness in writing (pp. 120-133). New
Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). Thinking and speech. In R.W. Rieber & A.S. Carton
(Eds.), The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky: Vol. l. Problems of general
psychology. (N. Minick, Trans., pp. 39-285). New York: Plenum Press.