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Salika A. Lawrence | Kelly McNeal | Melda N. YildizBy using popular culture,

teachers can help students

engage in a variety of

multimedia projects that

help them make connections

between reading, writing,

and technology.

Summer Program Helps Adolescents Merge Technology, Popular Culture, Reading, and Writing for Academic Purposes

Research has documented that adolescents engage in many literacy prac- tices outside of school (Cutler, 1999; Fisher, 2003; Hinchman, Alvermann,

Boyd, Brozo, & Vacca, 2003/2004; Mahiri & Sablo, 1996; Moje, 2000),

where they have the choice and freedom to make their own decisions with

few restrictions and opportunities to interact with a wide array of texts in

different forms. Recent reports suggest that today’s adolescents have “mul-

tiple literacies” (King & O’Brien, 2002) because they interact with multiple

forms of nontraditional texts and different sources of information, access

popular culture and mass media, and communicate with people from diverse

backgrounds and perspectives through the use of new technologies (Moore,

Bean, Birdyshaw, & Rycik, 1999). Adolescents’ current reliance on technol-

ogy prompts a redefinition of literacy that represents a generation of youths

who read less print-based text (Collier, 2007) and rely instead on visual im-

ages as a means of comprehending text while sorting through a plethora of

digital information, technology, and media. Although they now “read” more

images, youths still need and use critical thinking skills such as exploring

and critiquing the “text” when they shift through different sources of digital

information.

Previous research falls short of distinguishing between the technological

literacy practices adolescents engage in outside of school, namely e-mailing

and surfing the Web (Moore et al., 1999), and the academic and critical lit-

eracy expectations identified in media and visual literacy standards, name-

ly evaluating sources, synthesizing information, and using different media.

These practices ref lect “21st-century literacies...[which] includes new ideas

about what can be considered texts” (Collier, 2007, p. 4) and students’ interac-

tions with those texts.

Collier (2007) reported that students in our 21st-century context increas-

ingly interact with nontraditional texts such as rap lyrics and graphic nov-

els. In this context teachers have had to reexamine their classroom practices

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 52(6) March 2009 doi:10.1598/JA AL.52.6.3 © 2009 International Reading Association (pp. 483– 494)

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because of the increasing inf luence of technology on students’ literacy practices. The problem is that

teachers...assume students already know all the “tech stuff,” and need only to have their writing and think- ing skills sharpened.... First, not all students have tech- nological knowledge; second, even those who do have it need to know how to manage these skills. (Collier, 2007, p. 5)

Bringing students’ out-of-school knowledge and experiences into the classroom can help adoles- cents meet in-school expectations (Hinchman et al., 2003/2004) and can prepare them for the real-life expectations they will encounter in the workplace (Collier, 2007). Frey and Fisher (2004) and Schwarz (2006) used students’ prior knowledge of popular cul- ture, specifically graphic novels, to address deficiencies they saw in students’ reading and writing. They found that using graphic novels—bound books of stories in comic form—was effective when teaching traditional elements of high school English curriculum, specifi- cally reading strategies such as making inferences and understanding vocabulary in context and writing prac- tices such as addressing a prompt and different audienc- es and creating engaging leads (Frey & Fisher, 2004).

This article provides a description of a three-week, campus-based summer literacy program that provided opportunities for adolescents to develop multiple lit- eracy skills. We, the university faculty working with a group of high school students, sought to build upon students’ interest in popular culture with traditional academic tasks such as reading, writing, and conduct- ing research to bridge the gap between adolescents’ in-school and out-of-school practices. We created a curriculum to build upon the proficiencies we be- lieved the students brought with them to the program (e.g., technology skills and media literacy) to further develop their literacy skills in other areas, namely reading and writing. Although others have used com- ic books as a strategy to engage students as readers (Bitz, 2004), we sought to introduce the technology component to merge all of these literacy practices to- gether. We believed that if we used popular culture to engage a group of 12 urban high school students in a variety of multimedia projects, they would make con- nections between reading, writing, and technology.

Description of the Context and Participants Four full-time faculty members, three of whom wrote this article, immersed students in a three-week exploration of graphic novels during the summer of 2007. The faculty included one literacy professor who teaches in a masters reading program and two pro- fessors who teach in a teacher education program for candidates seeking secondary certification. One of these faculty members is an urban education profes- sor, and the other is an educational media and tech- nology educator who teaches several online courses. The fourth faculty member who worked in this sum- mer program is a professor who teaches mathematical methods courses.

The students who participated in the program are members of the Paterson Teachers for Tomorrow (PT4T) program, which is part of an urban, school– community partnership with the university. PT4T seeks to recruit, prepare, and support new teachers who commit to return to the Paterson Public School District once they complete their college education and teacher certification. Each summer the high school students participate in a three-week summer program at the William Paterson University cam- pus in northern New Jersey. A group of 12 African American and Hispanic students participated in the 2007 summer program. In this article we use pseud- onyms to refer to the participants.

The students participated in a series of two-hour sessions each day: SAT Math Test Prep, Technology, Reading, and Writing. This article focuses on the multiple literacy practices that occurred during tech- nology, reading, and writing sessions. The curriculum we developed for the reading and writing sessions fa- cilitated discussions about contemporary social issues that we believe moved students closer to becoming change agents in their communities. The activities provided opportunities for students to examine and discuss social issues in hopes of increasing their per- ceptions of themselves as community leaders and change agents. Ongoing ref lection during the three weeks of the program helped us integrate the ele- ment of social justice and grass roots with community change throughout the curriculum.

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Components of the program were also strongly inf luenced by research on popular culture, students’ in- and out-of-school literacy practices, and the dif- ferences often evident in students’ literacy practices as they code switched when communicating in dif- ferent contexts and with different audiences (Ball, 1992, 1995, 1996; Cutler, 1999; Fisher, 2003; Frey & Fisher, 2004; Hinchman et al., 2003/2004; Mahiri & Sablo, 1996; Moje, 2000; Moje, Young, Readence, & Moore, 2000). Taking a cue from the studies we re- viewed, we chose several graphic novels for students to read as common texts and for independent read- ing. The common texts were Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer and Randy Duburke and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi. While several outcomes were noted with regard to students’ reading of graphic novels, this article focuses on the impact made when we combined technology, comics, and graphic novels and engaged students in reading and writing activities. We distinguished com- ics from graphic novels by noting that graphic novels are “a longer and more artful version of the comic book bound as a ‘real’ book” (Schwarz, 2006, p. 58) that provide a means for exploring and developing multiple literacies (Schwarz, 2006).

Data Collection and Analysis Various artifacts, namely the students’ work, their comments, our lesson plans, ref lective notes, and the rubric we created to evaluate the students’ culminat- ing project, were obtained from the summer program. Students’ work consisted of their journal entries, re- sponses to the texts they read, and their individual and group projects. Students’ comments were ob- tained through surveys and conferences with faculty. Ref lective notes from faculty were obtained during meetings, and periodic modifications were made to the curriculum. For instance, we did not initially have a rubric for students’ projects, so we decided to co- create a rubric with the students as we introduced the requirements of the project with them. This process helped clarify expectations for the students.

We sought to examine the authentic practices of the participants as they occurred throughout the pro- gram. To this end, document and content analyses were used to review the artifacts we collected “as objective

indicators of phenom- ena to which they re- fer, and [analyze] the content of a document” (Henn, Weinstein, & Foard, 2006, p. 98). Content analysis was also used to chunk the data (Wolcott, 2001). We used the themes that emerged as a way to gain insights into the learn- ing experiences and ac- tivities that both faculty and students engaged in during the program.

Practices That Connect Reading, Writing, and Technology We (the faculty members) taught minilessons to model reading, writing, and technology strategies. These minilessons were presented in different set- tings. Although each subject was taught indepen- dently, we were each available for consultation or to visit the classrooms. Subject-specific minilessons (e.g., technology, reading comprehension, writing) were incorporated into all three of our teaching ses- sions and included strategies for comprehending visual texts, writing comics, learning the research process, and understanding technological basics such as how to use a USB port as well as relevant technological applications. Minilessons were taught in the class- room because we had access to a console and projec- tion screen where we could model various strategies and tasks the students were expected to complete. After each minilesson, the class went to the computer lab where students had hands-on time working on the activities introduced and demonstrated in class. Students practiced using the strategies in groups and independently. Some of the lessons included search- ing for information on the Internet, deconstructing commercials, writing an online book review, and using reading strategies such as making connections and asking questions. We used comics and excerpts from graphic novels as shared texts to model read- ing strategies through think-alouds (Wilhelm, 2001).

We did not initially

have a rubric for

students’ projects,

so we decided to

cocreate a rubric

with the students as

we introduced the

requirements of the

project with them.

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Minilessons also focused on discussing the impor- tance of word choice, voice, and tone encountered in text. We also asked students to write short pieces for wordless comics (Frey & Fisher, 2004), such as writ- ing captions and dialogues to change the tone and voice of the text while matching visual elements in the pictures. Short stories written in comic form se- lected from Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City were also used as writing prompts.

During the reading sessions students participated in silent reading, whole-group and small-group dis- cussions about common texts (the graphic novels), journal writing about both common and independent texts, responding to reading through writing, one-on- one conferencing between faculty and students, and small-group activities to explore social issues discussed in class and in the texts. The writing minilessons fo- cused on writing for authentic purpose and real world audiences. Students were shown how to distinguish between narrative and informational texts. They were also provided with opportunities to closely exam- ine techniques used by the authors and illustrators of the graphic novels they were reading independently. We noted how the authors and illustrators used space on the page and the panels to lay out the story using images and different types of text. The writing ses- sions also focused on informational writing, research, and publishing writing using Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, as well as conducting Internet research.

During the technology sessions, students used Macintosh computers to learn about the Comic Life Software by Plasq. Then they used the software to create comics that combined visual images with the text. Comic Life has a simple interface. This software application can be used to create greeting cards, photo albums, storybooks, instructional handouts and bro- chures, storyboarding video projects, and comics or graphic novels. The software provides students with the opportunity to create their own comic in digi- tal form. It also has options for creating comics with different page layouts with boxes, images, and text. There are many different filters, effects, word and thought balloons, and templates that can be applied to create different types of documents that turn texts and images into comic form. For example, the students selected and inserted various fonts and manipulated

the size of fonts and shapes of the images to choose the visuals that best fit their project. As indicated in Table 1, the minilessons and in-class media literacy activities sought to scaffold students through a learning process in which they gradually became more proficient with the software by completing different hands-on activi- ties. To increase students’ proficiencies in media lit- eracy, we taught lessons on deconstructing magazine and television advertisements, as well as news stories. Students had hands-on time working in two differ- ent computer labs: one lab had Macintosh computers loaded with Comic Life and the other had personal computers (PCs) loaded with Microsoft Office. In the PC lab, students used word-processing functions and prepared PowerPoint presentations in which they re- sponded to their individual texts.

During the program students were asked to create four projects: an individual comic, a group research project and informational comic strip, an individual reader response project, and an individual book cri- tique. The two projects created using Comic Life, the individual comic and the group research project and informational comic strip, were vastly different. The former required that students write a comic strip about themselves. Students created narratives about their lives and used the software to produce a comic version of the story. During lab time, students used techniques learned from the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (1994) to explore concepts such as templates for manga and graphic novels. The latter project students created with Comic Life, the group research project and informational comic strip, was more comprehensive. To connect to the central theme of community in the PT4T program, we believed that a research project would provide opportunities for students to develop their critical literacy while increasing their awareness of issues relating to social justice. These kinds of academic tasks promote critical literacy because students were challenged to “make use of literacy tools to navigate, resist, construct, and reconstruct popular, academic, and work cultures” (Moje et al., 2000, p. 211). In class, we brainstormed several social problems facing their community today. Some of the topics were gang violence, homelessness, and hate crimes, to name a few. The students also dis- cussed other issues that exist on a larger scale, namely

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digital camera. Some of the students drew their own illustrations and scanned them into the computer.

Few of the students who used the digital camera to take pictures for their project were familiar with how to upload pictures to the computer. With guid- ance from us, all of the students were able to success- fully do this task by the third week. Because the few students who owned computers did not have access to Macintosh computers at home, and therefore had dif- ficulty accessing and viewing their work, a minilesson was taught on how to export their comics as HTML, image, or QuickTime files and how to then e-mail these files to themselves so that they could work on the projects remotely if they had computers at home and so that they could share the projects with a wider audience. All of the students also printed hard copies of their comics to share with the class during their final presentation on the last day of the program.

While creating individual comic strips, the stu- dents created title and speech bubbles in a variety of

global warming, human trafficking, and modern-day

slavery. It was expected that the informational comic

strip they created should inform or persuade their au-

dience to take action in response to the social problem

depicted in their text.

Using Technology to Facilitate Students’ Creation of Text We found that all of the students were engaged with

technology while completing their tasks. While

working with the Comic Life software, students

dragged and dropped various images onto the page to

digitally alter photos and graphics to look like comic

drawings. None of the students used the computer to

draw images. Most of the images students used were

downloaded from the Internet, pictures they had

saved on their USB drives, or pictures downloaded

from a personalized Flickr site, which was established

to store pictures students were taking in class using a

Table 1 Media, Information, and Technology Literacy Activities That Occurred During the Technology Workshop

Week Activities/topics

1

Preproduction

Day 1

Media literacy

 Introduce information literacy

 Define literacy

 Deconstruct media images and advertisement

Day 2

Computer basics

 Introduce Comic Life software

 Practice use of software and Macintosh computers during lab time

2

Production

Day 1

Information literacy

 Search for graphic images using various search engines (e.g., Google)

 Save individual projects onto USB drives

 Export projects into various formats (e.g., jpeg, tiff, gif)

 Work on individual project during hands-on lab time

Day 2

Media production

 Edit individual project

 Print drafts of the project

 Take pictures in the classroom and import them into individual project

 Introduce digital editing software (iMovie) to produce final copies of the individual project

 Work on group project during hands-on lab time

3

Postproduction

Day 1  Work on group project during hands-on lab time

Day 2  Work on group project during hands-on lab time

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styles. They experimented with elements of the comic medium. Some students included speech bubbles out- side of the frame and captions to provide the reader with additional information about the story—these elements are often seen in comics. Students seemed excited to figure out the software and its capabilities— they cut and pasted text and images, manipulated the size and shapes of the layout, and shared new insights with the group when they found a layout pattern that enhanced the images and text they inserted. Other students were able to add text and bubbles with relative ease. We observed that this was often the first thing they did when they started working on a comic tem- plate. The students’ writing process consisted of iden- tifying the pictures (either downloading photographs from Flickr or inserting illustrations they created) and including them in the comic template. Then students wrote text to go along with the pictures. During con- ferences with the instructor, students were questioned and prompted to add more details, to rearrange text to better connect to the images they inserted, or to find a better image to connect with the text they wrote. While writing, students used various literary devices in their narrative such as dialogue, irony, and f lash- back. To support the limited text in each comic, the students also used transitional words, color, and set- ting to show time change. The students also tested how to alter their images and change them to comic form, but most of them left their pictures unfiltered in the final product.

For the culminating project students worked in groups to conduct research and share what they learned about their selected topic with a wider au- dience via an informational comic. Students were randomly assigned to groups ranging in size from two to four members. Each group selected a topic—a contemporary issue relating to social justice, which they knew little about. Once a topic was chosen, the groups researched this issue before creating their in- formational comic about the topic. The students cre- ated five- to six-panel comic strips using Comic Life by synthesizing and summarizing information in the form of texts and visuals that they obtained through research.

Some modeling and guidance occurred in small groups where we provided students with one-on-one

support. For example, when a group appeared to be having difficulty obtaining sources in the computer lab, one faculty member walked over to provide them with assistance:

Faculty member: What are you guys doing?

Patricia: We have thoughts in our head, but we want to see if there are other options.

Faculty member: You want to combine pictures with your artwork?

Patricia: We want to see if there are things that would make the messages [in their comic] stronger.

Faculty member: Have you looked at The New Yorker website? They have pictures of the environment or pollution. You can check there. Make sure you write that down as one of your sources.

We used the one-on-one and small-group confer- ences for a variety of purposes:

1. Explaining how to complete tasks on the com- puter (e.g., inserting pictures, cutting and past- ing pictures into the Word document, changing the size and color of font in their projects)

2. Brainstorming options for presenting their work to the audience based on the type of text they wanted to share (e.g., poem about the character)

3. Modeling how to write and post an online book review, how to search the Internet for in- formation, and how to save to the USB drive

4. Providing students with suggestions and re- search strategies to help them progress through the writing process

5. Asking students questions to ascertain their needs and then guiding them through their projects

Students were frequently observed using tech- niques that had been modeled by us during whole-class minilessons. For example, while conducting research in the computer lab for his group project, Brian was overheard saying to his group member “She showed

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by making connections to their prior knowledge and across texts (Gruber & Boreen, 2003).

Students Use Technology When Responding to Text We provided students with a list of reader response options from which they could choose how to re- spond to the graphic novel they read independently. Some of the options included

1. Write and illustrate a poem

2. Write a critique of the book

3. Make text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to- world connections

For two weeks students worked on their read- er response project, which required them to select how they would respond to their independent read- ing book, to complete the response, and to prepare

us Google.” He was referring to a minilesson where one faculty member modeled how to narrow a search using key terms through the advanced search op- tion on the Google search engine. During one lesson the students learned how to use the advanced search option to distinguish between .com, .gov, .org, and .net sites during the research process. The instruc- tor showed students how to explore different search engines for different purposes. She showed them how to eliminate commercial sites by putting (–) minus in front of “.com” or (+) in front of “.edu” to distinguish between sites. This technique introduced students to a strategy for refining the results that appear after an initial search using a search engine. As the instruc- tor modeled using the computer, she showed students how to scan the results from a search to distinguish government and nonprofit websites. She showed the class different websites and talked about the credibil- ity issues they might encounter with certain websites (e.g., false or incomplete information, out-of-date information).

A close look at students’ group projects docu- ments students’ knowledge of the social issues they explored and their ability to critically analyze text when provided with the time to examine, research, and discuss texts with peers (Moje, 2000). The stu- dents created comics about pollution and global warming, genocide, and modern-day slavery. Figure 1 is the culminating project produced by one group of students, using Comic Life. These students were interested in researching and raising awareness in their readers about the topic of modern slavery. Students researched this issue and then chose a few key facts from their research to incorporate into this comic. This group then linked their background knowledge of slavery in the United States, prior to the U.S. Civil War, to the issue of modern slavery. They searched the Internet and found relevant pic- tures to incorporate into their comic. We found that by the third session (4.5 hours of work) this group had researched and discussed the issue, obtained relevant graphics, and completed a comic that demonstrated their knowledge about the subject and connected it to prior knowledge. We learned that students’ in-class experiences led them to engage in more in-depth and evaluative conversations of issues in the larger society

Figure 1 One Group’s Culminating Project About Modern Slavery

Note. Images A, B, and F do not require copyright permission. Images C, D, and E are photography by courtesy Shiho Fukada.

B

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In addition to using technology to enhance their reader responses and creating both individual and group comics, each student also wrote and uploaded to the Barnes and Noble website a critique of one of the graphic novels they read independently. As noted above, we showed students where to upload their book critiques onto the website. Despite the lessons taught and comments students made to us about their dislike of some of the books, we found that students only wrote and submitted positive reviews of their inde- pendent reading graphic novels; none of the students wrote negative critiques. We observed this disparity numerous times while working with the students. For example, many students complained to us that

a presentation using PowerPoint. Students’ journals revealed that the majority of the students were able to produce concise and informative responses as the sessions progressed, to incorporate dialogue into their stories, and to expand their written vocabularies. Most of the students responded to their reading by writing songs and poetry. Students also used word processing to produce final drafts of their responses. Several stu- dents manipulated the font sizes and styles to convey meaning or ideas in their response.

The students were required to present their read- er responses to the class and …