May I Play Minecraft?
“Ms. Reever, may I play Minecraft?” asked the eager 5-year-old to his teacher. There was 10 minutes of extra time during the math block, and the kindergarten class was allowed to pull out their laptops to explore some math links their teacher proudly posted to their learning page. The teacher, shocked at such a question, responded, “No, you have been told there are links to explore and Minecraft is not one of them. Furthermore, Minecraft is not appropriate for school. That is something you will have to play at home.” As soon as the teacher finished her sentence the student immediately followed the remark with, “But it is educational!! Look, it is teaching me how to add and subtract!” Curiously, Ms. Reever bent over and watched the student interact with the app. It was true. This version of the app was an educational feature that engaged children while reinforcing what the student has been learning. This interaction led the teacher to ask herself the question, “Why can’t he play Minecraft?”
Digital learning is something that has been around, but never to the extent that it was called upon during the 2019 to 2022 school years. Recently, teachers have found that technology is a part of their students’ lives – kindergarten to high school. The shocking thing is most teachers still compartmentalize academics and technology. Yes, educators may use Microsoft apps for writing, online tools for math, but rarely engaging game-like apps and hardly ever employing them as teaching resources. Why is that? Why can’t they play Minecraft? In this article, the goal is to explore digital literacy at the primary level and the need to expose children not just to mechanics and academic uses of technology, but to employ the fun, engaging parts of technology and incorporate them in an enjoyable, educational way.
All students know how to use devices for entertainment, but only few (especially the primary level) know how to use technology for thinking (Ziemke & Muhtaris, 2019). Yet, if one were to think about how society uses technology in the world, they would see its capacity is much greater than entertainment. Nonetheless, most primary students are pigeon-holed to using technology whole group, completing quizzes, or as entertainment. As educators, if the belief is that they are here to prepare their students for college and career, this model will fail them. Educators must develop strategies, tools, and lessons that not only expose students to different uses of technology but prepare them to use technology beyond entertainment (Ziemke & Muhtaris, 2019).
Below are some practical, yet helpful ways that teachers can use technology within their classrooms to engage, educate, and prepare their students for the future.
Educate students on the power of technology
Due to the lack of information, most primary and maybe even secondary students, do not understand the gift and power technology offers. It goes beyond a funny video, an engaging game, and an interesting read aloud. Students must understand that technology is a tool that can guide them toward better understanding, communication, thinking, and more. With that understanding, students must also be educated on the dangers, downfalls, and need of ethics with technology (Ford, 2018). Once students are educated on the power of technology, this creates a foundation to build upon for students to grow and develop with technology as a productive, useful tool.
Assess students’ needs in all content areas
Once there is an understanding of the powerful tool technology is, educators must do their part to provide students opportunities to use this tool in a productive way. How? First, teachers need to assess what students need. In literacy, we see that students are all in need of the three components of basic (reading/writing), intermediate (enables literacy across all learning), and disciplinary literacy (technical uses of literacy) (Cullen, 2016). All these build upon one another and all are needed. So, where does the focus need to begin in each grade level? For example, the focus in a kindergarten classroom may be developing that basic literacy and a third-grade classroom’s focus will be more on the intermediate and disciplinary literacy. This guiding question helps the educator build their instruction and technology tools based on where their students lie. Once there is an understanding of where their students are, educators have a second step: plan lessons and guided and independent work, with the appropriate use of technology to meet their goals. Each grade level has content and standards to meet and literacy goals, as mentioned above, to accomplish. Furthermore, each student has goals/responsibility to adapt into the social climate of our world, concerning technology. In order to meet all of these needs, what digital tools can a teacher embed that benefits and helps accomplish all of these goals? To follow through with both of these steps, teachers must observe and assess their students’ needs in all content areas and how they can plan lessons and work to meet their needs.
Plan disciplinary literacy lessons with appropriate technology use
“According to McConachie and Petrosky (2010), disciplinary literacy refers to ‘the use of reading, reasoning, investigating, speaking, and writing required to learn and form complex content knowledge appropriate to a particular discipline’ (pg.16).” (Cullen, 2016, para 13). All content areas can be used to develop literacy while also growing in that content area’s goals and objectives. Additionally, all content area can develop students’ needs through multimodal avenues. Therefore, once students understand the power of technology and the educator is aware of every student’s needs in technology and academics, the teacher must plan lessons that develop their literacy, content, and technology goals. Within education, students must develop the following skills: exploring patterns across text, identifying, and examining strange or surprising aspects of text, developing interpretive literary puzzles, considering the historical, cultural, and social context of a text, and making original text-based claims (Colwell et. al., 2020). Students can and will do all of these goals in all content areas; therefore, as educators it is important to plan explicit instruction with the aid of technology to do just that. Thus, educators must explore the content goals with a dual mindset: one, to understand the objectives and goals that must be met in that content area (like math, science, and history); but secondly, instructors must look at the goals of that content area with a mindset to lace the instruction with the appropriate literacy and technological tools to accomplish all student goals. One way to do this is employing the PEDDL Framework listed in the book Digitally Supported Disciplinary Literacy for K-5 Diverse Classrooms (Colwell et. al., 2020). Here, it discusses a framework to help teachers plan lessons in a quick, non-overwhelming way yet meeting the goal of disciplinary literacy supported with technology.
Let them play Minecraft
As demonstrated by the title of this article, the last step to provide a classroom that is filled with a multi-modal learning environment is the educator has to trust the work put into their instruction, research, and planning, and let them do it. Trust the process and allow students to engage in this new way of learning. Not only will the students benefit and be prepared for the “real world,” but the teacher will see the real difference and authentic preparation for life that her planning has impacted her students. Let the children seek out documentaries, articles, and websites to develop their research, curiosity, and expand their knowledge. Let students play games that sharpen their skills, vocabulary, and development in typing and navigating a computer. Let students type, video, and write responses to develop fine and gross motor skills, communication, feedback, and preparation. Let students engage in now what they will have to later.
These steps will help students be engaged in learning, educated in tools and content, and be prepared for their future. The key action is teachers must engage in the process. Just as Ms. Reever was self-reflecting on why the student could not play Minecraft, all educators must be reflective on their practices. Is the current way of teaching really benefiting the students of today? If not, begin reflecting on your practice and see how to slowly implement the steps above. One might find that each step taken provides more security in our students’ future.
Additional Resources on the Topic:
Colwell, J., Hutchison, A., Woodward, L., & Bean, T. (2020). Digitally supported disciplinary literacy for diverse k–5 classrooms (language and literacy series) (Illustrated ed.). Teachers College Press. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED606189
Cullen, K. A. (2016). 12. Culturally responsive disciplinary literacy strategies instruction – steps to success: Crossing the bridge between literacy research and practice. Pressbooks. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/steps-to-success/chapter/12-culturally-responsive-disciplinary-literacy-strategies-instruction/
Ford, C. A. (2018). Equity and digital literacies: Issues of access, ethics and engagement in a youth community setting. Language and Literacy, 20(3), 67–72. https://doi.org/10.20360/langandlit29409
Ziemke, K., & Muhtaris, K. (2019). Read the world: Rethinking literacy for empathy and action in a digital age (Illustrated ed.). Heinemann.
Brooke Reever is a Kindergarten teacher at Havre de Grace Elementary School and currently working toward a master’s degree in Literacy at Loyola University Maryland. Click to find out more information about the Literacy Program at Loyola University Maryland.
Posted: November 14, 2022