Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Literacies divide

Three recent studies reveal the impact of poverty on information and digital literacy.

A new study shows that a separate gap has emerged, with lower-income students again lagging more affluent students in their ability to find, evaluate, integrate and communicate the information they find online. Although the study is based on a small sample, it demonstrates a general lack of online literacy among all students, indicating that schools have not yet caught up to teach the skills needed to navigate digital information. Seventh grade students from a school in a community where the median family income was more than $100,000 demonstrated slightly more than one extra school year’s worth of online reading ability compared with students from a community where the median family income was close to $60,000. Despite the higher rates of academic Internet use among the more affluent students in the study, a little more than a quarter of them performed well on tasks where they were required to discern the reliability of facts on a particular web page. Only 16 percent of the lower-income students performed well on those tasks.
The New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension: Rethinking the Reading Achievement Gap
Donald J. Leu, Elena Forzani, Chris Rhoads, Cheryl Maykel, Clint Kennedy and Nicole Timbrell
14 SEP 2014 | DOI: 10.1002/rrq.85

In  a $20 million project carried out there beginning in 2003, laptops were randomly assigned to public middle school students. The benefit of owning one of these computers, researchers later determined, was significantly greater for those students whose test scores were high to begin with.
Shapley, K. (2009). Evaluation of the Texas Technology Immersion Pilot: Final Outcomes for a Four-Year Study (2004-05 to 2007-08). ERIC.

     Researchers are also documenting a digital Matthew Effect, in which the already advantaged gain more from technology than do the less fortunate. As with books and reading, the most knowledgeable, most experienced, and most supported students are those best positioned to use computers to leap further ahead.
     This may stem in part from the influence of adults on children’s computer activities. At the more affluent neighborhood library,  young visitors to the computer area were almost always accompanied by a parent or grandparent. Adults positioned themselves close to the children and close to the screen, offering a stream of questions and suggestions. Kids were steered away from games and toward educational programs emphasizing letters, numbers and shapes. When the children became confused or frustrated, the grownups guided them to a solution.
     At the less affluent library, children manipulated the computers on their own, while accompanying adults watched silently or remained in other areas of the library altogether. Lacking the “scaffolding” provided by the richer parents, the poorer kids clicked around frenetically, rarely staying with one program for long. Older children figured out how to use the programs as games; younger children became discouraged and banged on the keyboard or wandered away.
These different patterns of use had quantifiable effects on the children’s learning. More affluent preschoolers encountered twice as many written words on computer screens as did the poorer children; the more affluent toddlers received 17 times as much adult attention while using the library’s computers as did their less privileged counterparts. The researchers documented differences among older kids as wellNeuman, S., & Celano, D. (2012). Worlds apart. American Educator (fall), 13-23.

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