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Re-imagining the classroom to encourage school students to learn about literature

Geoff Walton, Manchester Metropolitan University Mark Childs, Open University

Motivating children to learn about literature and stay motivated in class is a challenge which we have found a way to address. We found that creating e-artefacts – that is, digital artefacts such as online comic strips, live videos or animations – is a valuable way of encouraging school students (aged 10–15) to participate in studying literature (Walton, Childs & Jugo, 2019).

Why? School students find creating e-artefacts interesting. And it’s not the technology, because the novelty quickly wears off – rather, it is the opportunity to collaborate and create that they find rewarding.

‘School students find creating e-artefacts interesting. And it’s not the technology, because the novelty quickly wears off – rather, it is the opportunity to collaborate and create that they find rewarding.’

We used participatory action research (Reason & Bradbury, 2011), placing schoolteachers at the centre of our research. Teachers identified the research questions, chose teaching methodologies and selected analytical instruments that they felt were appropriate for their learners. Although this reduced the opportunities for comparative analyses, it successfully limited the divisions between academics and practitioners that often become evident in research projects. Schoolteachers from five schools in Croatia, Denmark, Poland, Sweden and the UK developed their own approaches for classroom activities. Despite this independent approach, we found teachers across all schools had identified the same process for relating texts to activities, involving a close reading of the text, collaborative formatting for the e-artefact, and the same reflection and discussion points.

Our article, newly published in the British Journal of Educational Technology, focusses on phase one of a three-phase project: creating content in the classroom with teacher support. For younger students, learning to use the software and being confident in using it increased their digital literacy substantially. For older students there was little difference: they had already learned how to use most software. Students engaged more reflectively with the texts: creating e-artefacts required them to think more about narrative, because they had to re-present them to an audience. Furthermore, creating videos takes time, which meant focussing longer on one text – but having something creative to do meant the children avoided becoming bored. Spending more time on the texts resulted in a deeper exploration.

Our creativity-led approach was based on Papert’s constructionism (Ackerman, 2001) and Bloom’s revised taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002), expanded upon by Churches (2008). Teaching staff reported that creating e-artefacts helped make learning more fun for students and staff, which resulted in better relationships between students and teachers because everyone wanted to be there, doing the activities. We also found no barriers to engagement due to lack of information and communication technology (ICT) literacy across any of the five schools, despite this being a concern in the literature. This was because we harnessed input from staff in order to design and create a technology plan, based on the technologies that teachers knew they, and their students, were familiar with or could learn easily.

Our approach builds on previous studies (see for example Davies, 2007) which observed that reframing texts using video and visualisation tools encourage deep literacy, as creating the e-artefacts requires reflection and abstraction. However, creating e-artefacts requires more time and greater engagement with the texts being studied, and an environment that is stimulating enough to support this. Observations, echoing Sadik (2008), that students can struggle to link these activities to academic content were made, but interviews with teachers indicated that using moments of reflection supports this aspect of learning.

We believe that it is time for educationalists and decision-makers to accept a reimagining of the classroom and how it is managed – one that allows for more time for creative, collaborative activities and a noisy learning experience. Pedagogical research, too, needs to accept teachers as trusted experts in their own practice, and involve them from the beginning in the research design and analysis.


This blog post is based on the article ‘The creation of digital artefacts as a mechanism to engage students in studying literature’, by Geoff Walton, Mark Childs, Gordana Jugo. 

It is newly published in the Wiley, and is free-to-view for a limited period, courtesy of the journal’s publisher, Wiley.


References

Ackerman, E. (2001, September). Piaget’s Constructivism, Papert’s Constructionism: What’s the difference. Constructivism: Uses and Perspectives in Education, Volumes 1 & 2 (conference proceedings). Geneva: Research Center in Education.

Churches, A. (2008, April 1). Bloom’s Taxonomy Blooms Digitally. Tech & Learning. http://www.techlearning.com/studies-in-ed-tech/0020/blooms-taxonomy-blooms-digitally/44988

Davies, C. (2007) What can technology do for/to English? In Adams, A. & Brindley, S. (Eds.), Teaching Secondary English with ICT (pp. 50-66). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212–218. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4104_2

Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2011). Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice. London: SAGE.

Sadik, A. (2008). Digital storytelling: a meaningful technology-integrated approach for engaged student learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(4), 487–506.

Walton, G., Childs, M., & Jugo, G. (2019). The creation of digital artefacts as a mechanism to engage students in studying literature. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(3), 1060–1086. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12785