Can a Digital Teaching Corps Help Close the Literacy Gap?
9.26.11 | Michael Levine and James Paul Gee have written a research brief for the Progressive Policy Institute in which they elaborate on their proposal to create a Digital Teachers Corps, modeled after Teach for America, that would use digital media tools to improve literacy.
In “The Digital Teachers Corps: Closing America’s Literacy Gap” (pdf), Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, and Gee, professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University, propose recruiting 1,500 “digitally savvy young teachers, as well as a cadre of community literacy mentors including master teachers and librarians” for the first year and scaling up by 5,000 people annually. Participants would be dispatched into U.S. public schools in low-income communities.
The brief highlights the continued literacy crisis as well as the excruciating slow place by which school systems adopt new media tools for learning: “In the United States today, the majority of low-income children and a shocking one-third of their more affluent peers are behind when it comes to one key predictor of future achievement: fourth grade reading.”
Scores in fourth grade are important, they note, because if kids are not well on their way to being confident readers by age 10, they are much more likely to drop out of high school later on.
The authors point to a slew of convincing evidence (much of which we’ve written about before) that new media tools, including interactive games, online courses and social media, can help. But schools need both hardware (think broadband availability) and software (think professional development) to successfully use digital tools for learning.
They point to work by Susan Neuman of the University of Michigan who found that there are clear ways of improving access for low-income students, but students still often miss out on “active mentoring and support or one-on-one conversations with caring adults needed to choose ‘rich literacy’ resources such as educational media sites available on the web.” (For another innovative model, see Spotlight’s coverage of the Digital Youth Network.”)
Levine and Gee also discuss New York City’s School of One, which has had success with a digital curriculum that tailors learning to the individual needs of each child. We’ve had our eye on the new ChicagoQuest charter school that just opened on the city’s west side this fall. Based on an innovative model developed at the Quest to Learn school in New York City, ChicagoQuest is immersing kids in hands-on learning, through an inquiry-based model that has digital media at its core.
Levine and Gee also point a study by the Center for Children and Technology and SRI International that shows pairing new media content such as interactive video and games with professional development can make a real difference in literacy skill development. I wrote about that study here. They write:
When well-deployed, digital media can allow students to see how complex language and other symbol systems are relevant to their own lives. Because digital media can easily combine actions, images, levels of challenge with language and other symbols, this technology can generate “situated meaning” which allows children to know how a word functions to solve problems in the world and how its meaning can vary across different contexts of use.
The authors issue a challenge to U.S. foundations to create a competition for the best design for a non-profit organization focused on ensuring that “80 percent of all 10-year-olds are competent readers by 2020” and awarding start-up funding to the winning design for a Digital Teacher Corps.
For more on their proposed model and funding structure, read the whole brief at the Progressive Policy Institute.
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