Empowering ELL Students Through Digital Literacies: Research, Complexities, and Implications

Submitted by: Chang Yuan
Abstract: In the context of an increasingly global society and rapidly changing technology, English language learners (ELLs) need support developing digital literacies to prepare for a future in which learning and using new technology is an intuitive process. In the past few decades, technological advances have been altering the way in which information is produced, communicated, and interpreted. The Internet and digital environments have afforded a broader range of opportunities for literacy practices to take place. The International Society for Technology in Education considers a 21st-century learner an “empowered learner, digital citizen, knowledge constructor, innovative designer, computational thinker, creative communicator, and global collaborator.” Technology has transformed the social practices and definitions of literacy, which leads to implications for the teaching and learning environments facing ELLs. Using the sociocultural perspective of second language acquisition (Lantolf & Thorne, 2007) and an asset lens (Hakuta & Garcia, 1989), we argue that practicing digital literacies (Ferrari, 2012) in the classroom engages ELL students to develop as active participants who gain ownership of learning and the command of English. This innovative teaching pedagogy is promising in addressing tensions between an English, often monolingual, public school system in the United States and an increasing population of K-12 ELL students the system has been facing with by closing the achievement gaps between ELLs and their counterparts. Drawing upon a combined framework of educational empowerment and categorization (Spires & Bartlett, 2012) of digital literacies, we examine how practices of digital literacy empower ELL students to become active participants in the co-creation of knowledge alongside their native English speaking peers. To ensure all students are able to take advantage of this learning, we suggest that teachers must also possess the knowledge and skills of digital literacy. Accordingly, educational researchers should examine factors that support teachers’ utilization of digital literacies. At the school level, it is critical that leadership and administration can offer a digital supportive environment for both teachers and students.

Keywords: English language learners, digital literacy, empowerment, critical theory, digital divide

Ferrari, A. (2012). Digital competence in practice: An analysis of frameworks. Seville, Spain: Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, European Commission. Retrieved from http://www.ifap.ru/ library/book522.pdf
Hakuta, K., & Garcia, E. E. (1989). Bilingualism and education. American Psychologist, 44(2), 374-379.
Lantolf, J., & Thorne, S. L. (2007). Sociocultural theory and second language learning. Theories in second language acquisition (pp. 201-224). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Spires, H., & Bartlett, M. (2012). Digital literacies and learning: Designing a path forward. Friday Institute White Paper Series. NC State University.