Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Interpretive Review of Electronic Literacy and Hybrid Texts

EDU 600 Research Methods and Techniques University of Southern Maine Summer 2010

Introduction: The way that students, and many others, interact with information and the world has changed significantly in recent years, and is continuing to change. Though perhaps “evolve” is a better term, I use the word interact purposefully, with blogs, wikis, and other collaborative tools information is no longer static, sitting in a textbook. Information is presented differently now and our students navigate this world of hybrid texts, texts that consist of more than one media, throughout their day, everyday. I’ve always been interested in technology, photography, and as a teacher – getting students to enjoy reading and learn and practice literacy skills. Student engagement is a big part of completing this last task. I think that, through technology, images and words acting together address the new literacies students need to be taught.

Research on electronic literacy and hybrid texts really focuses on the change happening in how information is presented and interacted with by its audience. I think the changes that are happening are fascinating, the research explores how these changes can, and should, be brought into the classroom and the effect it has on students. I want to know more about this and I want to incorporate this into my class. I had mixed success in finding primary source articles that provided the details I needed. The connection of the two topics is the influence of technology on hybrid texts and how electronic and language arts literacies are supplemented or supplement mix media texts.

Design and Purpose: All six of these studies are qualitative. This was not by design, it simply worked out that the article titles that peaked my interest all turned out to be qualitative. Two studies were conducted using case studies, four incorporated ethnographic designs. With the exception of Barone and Wright’s article each study was designed appropriately. I think that a case study of one student along side the ethnography would have provided richer results that would contribute to the articles validity more than the hypothetical day in the life of a fictional student.

Each article had either electronic literacy or hybrid texts, or both, as their focus. The overlap in topics is really only obvious when you look at the collection of articles as a whole and pay attention to the details that allude to electronic literacy or hybrid texts in articles focusing on the alternative topic.

All sought to ground themselves in previous research. Norton references Kay Haugaard at the outset of her article and comes back to that name in the conclusion. Tan and Guo steep their introduction in references to previous research. Rowsell and Burke mention a handful of studies, as does Ranker. Looking at the Matrix (appendix 1) it is clear that the more the researcher grounds themselves in previous work the higher the overall quality of the article.

Sampling: Three of the studies provide no clear count of participants. Authors, Ranker, Barone & Wright, and Tan & Guo study classes (a first grade class, a fourth grade class, and two classes of 14 year-olds, respectively), the number of students in the class(es) under study is not provided. I found this surprising. If I found this in only one article I might consider it to be an accidental oversight, but when half of the studies I’m reviewing leave out this information it points towards more purposeful writing/reporting strategies. Two of the three were convenience samples, which serve to compound the distrust over the sampling measures. These samples, particularly those of Barone and Wright (second authors class), and Ranker (the sample’s teacher was the author’s student) were studies that did not include the number of participants – this caused some highbrow rising as I was completing the Matrix.

The sampling for Norton’s study of elementary school students who read Archie comics had the strongest sampling. Volunteers were taken and this sampling led to thirty-four participants. Rowsell and Burke’s case studies (2009) sample was interesting. The two teens, 13yr female & 14yr male, are from different countries (Canada & United States) and had different social roles. She is into sports, is popular, and receives A’s. He receives special services, is more of “a loner in the class” (p 110). At first I didn’t think this was a very good sample, but when I saw the results I realized how appropriate that sample was.

Data Collection: It should be no surprise that interviews and observations were used in all these studies. I think anecdotal evidence and first hand accounts can be very persuasive. It is interesting how the different types of research work to persuade their audience.

Norton’s study on Archie comics (2003) used only questionnaires and interviews. An analysis of the comics themselves might strengthen claims that students are inferring, understanding “irony, puns, and plays on words” (p 142). Looking at how the language and the images support this complex thinking would support her research question.

One study stands out in this area, Tan & Guo’s 2009 study; observational field notes, extensive (10hr) teacher interview, many hours of video of classroom observations transcriptions, and video recordings with transcripts prove to be the most comprehensive data collection methods present within the six articles. This article had the clearest delineation of data collection; it was thorough and concise. The methods themselves were thorough as well; this study had the most data collection methods in use and it also rated highest in over all quality.

Gainer and Rowsell & Burke also should be noted as they analyzed content and documents during data collection.

Data Analysis & Results: Overall, all of these six articles did a great job providing thick description. I personally place high value on having the exact words from a participant as well as the author’s interpretation. The sad news is that with the exception of one, thick description is all they used to demonstrate interpretative validity. This is the one column that had the most impact on me. Seeing that single method listed over and over, and the overall quality score right next to it, really showed me that when I’m looking at research articles to not let quotes be my single knee jerk reaction to a article’s validity. Tan and Guo’s article (2009) added coding and triangulation to their extensive interview quotations.

With all of the faults I’ve found in these articles I can say that the results did not stray from the data. As previously mentioned, Rowsell and Burke’s study had some fascinating results that changed my mind about the appropriateness of their sample size (two). They found that both students were engaging at similar depths in similar ways with their respective online texts. This is interesting when you look at how different their success’ are with print text. This tells me that engagement and hybrid texts, or rather the relationship between these two can lead to success.

Quality of Studies: I find myself rating quality on the half marks. Making the range: Low, Low/Medium, Medium, Medium/High, and High. There was a wide range of quality scores within these six articles; two rated Low/Medium, one was Medium, two earned Medium/High marks, and the last fell on the line between Medium/High and High.

I really noticed the quality differences in the articles, but the area that had consistent low scores was in interpretive validity. Only one article stood out in this – it also earned the highest overall rating. This was a wake up call, as I mentioned before. My focus for 8th grade writers is providing evidence in their academic writing. I forgot that, as a reader, I must look for evidence that shows the researchers findings to be valid. This is an important lesson that this class and assignment taught me.

Summary: Had I to go back choose articles again, I would be more particular about the quality of my choices. Of course, I’m only now able to make those choices based on quality now that I’ve taken this class – a paradox I guess. While writing this review, I found that many of articles were not very solid examples to use. This makes comparing and contrasting a bit tedious to read. Luckily, in each category, there was one that shone, as either a good or bad example and made for something to discuss. The content of the articles was very interesting. It combines my love of my job and content area with my passion for technology. Many of the articles provided examples of practical classroom practices that any teacher could put into operation, such as using comic books to teach inference skills, character development, and the list of web-based resources found in table one (p. 299) of Barone and Wright’s article (2008).

Some of the articles did leave me with questions.

Barone and Wright dropped this bombshell on me: “In 2005, approximately 95% of K-12 classrooms in the United states had Internet access[,] . . . 80% of kindergartners use computers . . . However, the average of U.S. students’ use of computers in school was 12 minutes per week” (p. 292). This caused my jaw to drop and really hooked me into learning more about electronic literacy and best practices surrounding it. I find that 12 min/week is an abysmal average and really just don’t understand how that can be.

I never understood why Norton’s focus was on Archie comics (2003), and not a more contemporary comic – this was never explained (the number of kids who read it was also surprising but I didn’t expect Norton to have a reason for that). Norton also cited that “Ivey and Broaddus (2001, p. 368) . . . found that middle school students ranked their classrooms as ‘one of the least likely places’ to find the texts they want to read.” (p. 145). This is sad and just supports what most English teachers [should] know: Choice in reading material is very important; it goes back to the power of engagement.

My interests, personal and professional, made reading these articles enjoyable and professional development at the same time. My goal now is to bring what I’ve learned from this research and see what results I can get in my classroom, and be a model to others in the area of electronic literacy.


Barone, D., & Wright, T. (2008). Literacy Instruction With Digital and Media Technologies. Reading Teacher, 62(4), 292-303.

Gainer, J.S. (2010). Critical media literacy in middle school: exploring the politics of representation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(5), 364–3 73.

McVicker, C. (2007). Comic strips as a text structure for learning to read. The Reading Teacher, 61(1), 85-88.

Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147.

Ranker, J. (2007). Using comic books as read-alouds: insights on reading instruction from an English as a second language classroom. Reading Teacher, 61(4), 296-305.

Rowsell, J., & Burke, A. (2009). Reading by design: two case studies of digital reading practices. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(2), 106-118.

Appendix: Matrix of Articles – below.


Review – “Parallel Journeys” by Eleanor H. Ayer

Parallel JourneysParallel Journeys by Eleanor H. Ayer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of this book is clever. It refers to the two journeys through WWII and the Holocaust the narrative traces of a Jewish mother and a boy in the Hitler Youth, it also refers to the structure of the book. The chapters alternate between Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck with no clue to the reader but context and the consistency of the shift in perspective.

I recently read Night again. I’ve read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and been to the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam. Neither the books or experience provided the emotional roller-coaster found within Ayer’s book.

Helen Waterford’s story is heartbreaking, she goes into hiding with her family, her husband and young daughter, in order to protect their daughter they arrange for her to live with foster parents, they are found by the Gestapo (possibly because they were informed by the people hiding the Waterfords), husband and wife are separated – never to be reunited, she endures and survives death camps, finds her way back home, finds her daughter who looks upon her as a stranger and begins to rebuild her life.

Alfons Heck is a young boy when Hitler starts his rise to power. Taken in by the nationalism and propaganda Alfons joins the Hitler Youth. At sixteen, he became a Bannfuhrer, equivalent to the rank of a major general in the U. S., with 6,000 troops under his command. He believed whole heartedly what ever he was told about Germany, Jews, and the enemies of Germany. When the war ends Alfons is a prisoner, the French show him and other Nazi’s images of the concentrations camps which are regarded as forgeries by the Nazi’s (Heck included) to make them feel bad. They truly did not believe that Germany had perpetrated such horrendous crimes. He eventually comes to realize the truth. Heck moves to Canada to escape his past and then to the U.S. where Helen reads a column Alfons is writing and calls and sets up a meeting up with Alfons. They talk and then begin touring together talking about their “Parallel Journeys”

The story is told by Ayer, but within her narrative excerpts from Alfons and Helen’s personal stories are interspersed. Giving the history two very real faces.

The most interesting, sad thing that this book offers is how the youth of Germany were used, Heck calls these youth the other victims of the Holocaust. Seeing these two people travel through the war on their respective paths provides an illuminating and incredibly sad testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and the power of well crafted messaging to inspire hatred and violence.

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Review – “Night” by Elie Wiesel

Night (Night, #1)Night by Elie Wiesel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A powerful narrative of a survivor of the Nazi death camps. The 8th grade teachers read this out loud to our homerooms.

I read this first as a High School sophomore and was very much struck by the first hand account of the atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust. I had read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl previously and was certainly touched by the voice of a 15 year old girl from beyond the grave. What Night provides are the same intimate details of the fear and hatred and conditions Anne Frank describes while she and her family are in hiding that Elie Wiesel experienced on the inside of Auschwitz, including the brutality, callous violence, and how the experience changed people into mere shadows of humanity. I think that the narrative of how the experience affected Wiesel in his life after the war ended is just as sad as the events he endured while imprisoned.

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Review – “Behemoth” by Scott Westerfeld

Behemoth (Leviathan, #2)Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The setting of this sequel to Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathanis World War I Europe. Much of the action of the book centers around historically accurate events. This makes this steampunk novel that much more interesting to me.

Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Alek does not know Deryn is a girl, and Deryn is falling for Alek and thinks Alek likes her, but is conflicted because she doesn’t want to push Alek away by divulging her secret but at the same time is having feelings that are proving to be distracting and overwhelming at times.

This would be a great book to discuss POV. The entire book is in 3rd person but it shifts from limited 3rd person centered on Deryn to limited 3rd person centered on Alek. This gives the reader an intimate view into the thoughts of each character, sometimes the shift happens so that we get the same sequence of events from each perspective making for a rounder picture and some humorous interactions.

This would also be a great way to hook students into studying WWI, comparing the history books with Westerfeld’s version of it.

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Review – “The Thief Lord” by Cornelia Funke

The Thief LordThe Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Orphaned twelve-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo run away from their aunt and head to Venice based on the stories of their mother. They run away because their aunt and uncle want to keep Bo and send Prosper away and instead of being split up they take off to make it on their own. Victor Getz is hired in Venice by the aunt/uncle to find Bo, and they suppose Prosper, though they don’t want him back.

Prosper and Bo are doing quite well though, they have been taken under the wing of the Thief Lord, a young teen named Scipio, who provides a hideout for his band of followers and helps them with clothes and food and money from the spoils of his thieving.There is something odd about Scipio though, he never stays with the group at the abandoned theater and is often goes unseen for days on end.

The introduction of a magic carousel and the eventual transformation of Scipio into an adult was unforeseen, and only marginally out of sync with the rest of the narrative.

I can see why middle schoolers like this book, it has a bit of a Peter Pan feel to it. The POV shifts from the kids to the detective and always portrays the kids as smarter.

Themes that come to mind that I might talk about if I were to teach this book: Loneliness, friendship, family, looking towards the future

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Review – “The Reading Zone” by Nancie Atwell

The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical ReadersThe Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell

The message that I get from Atwell in this book is that getting students to read boils down to enjoyment. The key is to make a print rich environment where reading is modeled and valued.

Three highlights –

Pg 75 Dining room table metaphor for reading workshop – This is exactly what my ideal model would be, just open, thoughtful discussion about books. Setting up multiple dining room tables might address my constant fear of everyone not having the opportunity to participate (or the chance to require everyone to participate).

Pg 54 efferent (to learn) vs aesthetic (to enjoy) reading – I think that too often we forget that reading should be fun,/i>! If teachers only ask students to engage in efferent reading then students will not know that reading can be enjoyable. There is a balance and a conversation to be had with students around the different reasons for reading.

Pg 92 questions for readers while roaming – It’s always nice to get practical strategies from a book, and not just the philosophic, theoretical side of teaching. On this page you can find a list of questions, organized by what levels of answer is required.

One thing that struck me:

Pg 51 Teaching the 7 comprehension strategies distracts from the ‘zone’ – This is how Reading Workshop is structured at my school. I am torn on this point. The strategies are important and need some direct instruction, on the other hand using the dining room table model many of these strategies would make there way into conversation organically.

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Review – “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Melinda is raped the summer before her freshman year at a party, she calls the cops but never reports it. This makes her stop speaking and all her friend hate her. Her parents manage to not notice the monumental change that their daughter has under gone. The art teacher is the only person/class in which Melinda tries/participates/cares. Her year long project, ‘tree’, becomes an outlet. The trees she creates become symbolic of her own feelings.

I taught this as a student teacher to 7th graders. Though the subject of rape is a pretty adult topic, Anderson presents it in a way that is very appropriate for YA readers. My students, even the boys, enjoyed the book and I think that the first person POV of Melinda and access to her thoughts, she wants to tell but simply can’t, really makes this novel accessible.

This is a powerful book. The internal narrative of Melinda as she goes through the aftermath of her rape takes a turn in the the end of her freshman year and ends with her as such a different, hopeful person I can’t help but to be moved by it.

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