Printer Friendly

A new direction: using mobile technology devices to motivate and engage boys in literacy learning.


An important aspect of positively influencing boys' academic, social and emotional outcomes is the relationship between their home, school and community lives. This relationship is much broader than simply parental involvement. An Australian report (Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training DEST, 2006) states that school structural and organisational components should draw boys' home, school and community lives together, to enhance their motivation, engagement, academic and social performance. The purpose of this article is to focus on school structures that have the potential to achieve this. These structures are discussed in the context of a Year 1 classroom located in Far North Queensland. National reports on boys' education, research findings and evidence-based teaching practices underpin the discussion. The article concludes by stating that school-level structures should support classroom-level structures if Early Years boys are to experience an improvement in their motivation and engagement, their standing among their classmates and their perception of themselves as literacy learners.

Existing writing and reading structures

In a report to the ACT Department of Education, Youth and Family Services (DEYFS) (2002), Martin suggests educators should provide structural and organisational components that create conditions for boys to engage in authentic and meaningful writing practices (see examples below). In a Year 1 classroom located in Far North Queensland, these classroom structures provide boys with choice and control over their writing topics (DEYFS, 2002; Harwayne, 2001). The Year 1 boys receive explicit writing instruction through daily modelled writing sessions (Calkins, 2010). The boys write daily, for sustained chunks of time (DEYFS, 2002; Alloway, Freebody, Gilbert & Muspratt, 2002).

1. Writing goals are specific and task-related.

2. Modelled writing sessions explicitly teach boys writing knowledge and skills.

3. Thinking maps help boys organise their ideas and thoughts before composing text.

4. Anchor charts visually support boys throughout the writing process.

As with writing practices, educators should provide structural and organisational components that create conditions for boys to engage in successful reading practices (see examples below). The Year 1 boys are encouraged to read high-interest texts, chosen by them (Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), 2002). They have opportunities to talk in response to those high-interest texts. Boys are explicitly taught reading strategies, to develop their knowledge and skills to comprehend texts competently (DEST, 2002; Calkins, 2010). They participate in multiple, modelled reading demonstrations and have opportunities for supported reading practice (DEST, 2002; DEYFS, 2002).

1. Boys' reading diet is broad and based on their interests.

2. Popular culture music lyrics and favourite stories are used to develop boys' reading fluency and comprehension.

3. Anchor charts visually support boys in their use of reading strategies and comprehension.

These Year 1 writing and reading practices are firmly underpinned by boys' home and community interests, inherent strengths and capabilities. According to Zumbrunn, Bruning, Kauffman and Hayes (2010) and James (2007), if educators use boys' interests in planning, pedagogy and practice, then writing and reading self-efficacy is bolstered. This motivates and inspires boys to continue writing and reading (Calkins, 2010). Clay and Hartman (2004) argue that this leads to boys developing their identities as writers and readers. When this happens, they broaden their ideas of masculinity. Informal conversations with Year 1 educators indicated that they believed the existing writing and reading practices have positively impacted on boys':

* Motivation and engagement in the writing and reading.

* Thirst for a wider reading diet.

* Writing and reading self-efficacy.

* Writing and reading attitudes.

* Identities as writers and readers.

* Academic scores from standardised testing.

A new direction

While the Year 1 boys' interests, strengths and abilities feature prominently in the existing writing and reading practices, they are largely based on interactions with traditional print-based texts. These interactions have dictated strategies used to teach boys to read and write. However, as digital technology becomes more prominent in boys' homes and communities, there is a clear shift towards a preference for the use of mobile devices for learning (Bearne, 2007; Healy, 2003). According to Robledo (2011), mobile technologies can be used as leverage to make learning authentic and relevant to boys' lifeworlds. They are useful platforms for getting boys motivated and engaged in reading and writing.

Informal conversations with the Year 1 boys revealed that mobile technology devices such as computers, game-based electronics, drawing-based software, the internet and email heavily impacted on their out-of-school writing and reading practices. Put simply, the boys' in-school experiences did not match the reality of their everyday home and community experiences. The existing writing and reading practices (outlined previously) created conditions for boys to experience limited electronic modes of communication in school.

Classroom-level structures

Walsh (2010) warns educators not to view print-based literacy and digital literacy as opposing concepts. Rather, the challenge for educators is to develop and implement classroom-level structures that meld mobile technologies into existing literacy planning, pedagogy and practice without compromising the position of rich, cultural print-based texts (Cope & Kalantzis, 2001). The following are examples of how Year 1 educators created opportunities for boys to read, write, view, design and produce in both print and digital modes. The task involved the boys innovating on and transforming the traditional fairytale The Three Little Pigs into a new digital narrative.

The mobile technology devices suited boys' preferred patterns of learning. Mind mapping apps such as Total Recall and Think Tree catered to boys' preference for the visual mode of organising their ideas and thoughts. The boys sifted through content, decided on the best, and justified why. Explain Everything created opportunities for boys to manipulate text size and font, import images and record sound. Together, these apps focused less on verbal information, and concentrated on visual information requiring physical making, creating and manipulation. By melding print-based and digital modes of writing and reading, boys' preferred patterns of learning were catered to. The Year 1 educators were more able to support second language and struggling writers and readers effectively.

School-level structures

Isard (2012), Hattie (2003) and Rowe (2000) state that the biggest influence on learning is the educator and their professional development. A report of American educators' use of classroom technology concluded that two-thirds felt ill-prepared to use digital technologies in their classrooms (Smerdon, Cronen, Lanahan, Anderson, Nicholas & Angeles, 2000). These educators indicated they would be more likely to use digital technologies in their classroom if they had access to explicit, direct professional development. According to Lingard and Ladwig (2001), there is not enough emphasis on school-level professional development structures. They suggest that without a commitment to creating conditions that promote a learning community, and improve planning, pedagogy and practice, better student outcomes will not be evident.

To progress further, the school professional development structures must provide educators with authentic, meaningful examples of how to use mobile devices in planning, pedagogy and practice. They need to develop educators' knowledge and understanding about how mobile devices can cater for boys' different styles of learning, develop collaborative skills and promote self-regulatory learning. Professional development structures must provide educators with examples of how mobile devices can be authentically and meaningfully integrated across learning areas. Personal Learning Networks (PLN) is an example of a professional development structure that would achieve all of these goals. Isard (2012) argues this powerful learning tool provides educators with an online resource to tap into about mobile devices. It allows educators to learn, connect, share, create new understandings, and most importantly, the opportunity to make a difference in boys' school experiences.


Despite the impact of digital technology in the lives of boys, writing and reading pedagogy structures are still bolted into narrow understandings of the teaching of writing and reading. National reports into boys' literacy and schooling call for educators to integrate electronic modes of writing and reading into planning, pedagogy and practice (DEST, 2002; DEYFS, 2002; Alloway et al., 2002; Martin, 2003; National Literacy Trust, 2012). It is imperative that educators develop their knowledge of ways print-based literacy and digital literacy can work together to provide opportunities for boys to demonstrate broader ways of knowing, thinking and doing.

Mobile Devices

iPad mind mapping apps such as Total Recall and Think Tree supported boys' thoughts and ideas using fun, cloud-shaped pop outs.

Parker used Total Recall to organise his ideas. He noted the different things 'The Three Little Steves' could use to build their house (NB: 'Steve' is a Minecraft character). Parker experimented with the font, size and colour of the pop-outs. He created a name for his file and saved it.

Digital note taking using iPhones motivated and engaged boys in the writing process. This mobile device sustained boys' interest and encouraged longer on-task behaviour, while E-Portfolio apps such as Explain Everything allowed the boys to read, write, animate, import and narrate their story.


ACT Department of Education, Youth and Family Services. (DEYFS) (2002). Improving the educational outcomes of boys. Retrieved from http://burnside.slimlib. of_boys. pdf

Alloway, N.P., Gilbert, P., Musptratt, S., & Freebody, P. (2002). Boys, literacy and schooling: Expanding the repertoires of practice. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training.

Bearne, E., Clark, C., Johnson, A., Manford, P., Mottram, M., Wolstencroft., Overall, L. (2007). Reading on screen. Retrieved from reading_on_screen_research_report/

Calkins, L. (2010). A guide to the reading workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Clay, V. & Hartman, D. (2004). Boys and families literacy strengths resource. Newcastle: University of Newcastle.

Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) (2006). Motivation and engagement of boys: Evidence-based teaching practices. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) (2002). Boys, literacy and schooling: Expanding the repertoires of practice. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Cope, B., Kalantzis, M. & Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing multiliteracies and the New Basics. Retrieved from Kalantzis,%20M.%20(2003).%20As sessing%20 Multiliteracies%20and%20the%20New%20Basics.PDF

Ewing Everett, T. (2006). Multiliteracies in early childhood education: the modes and media of communication by first grade students. Retrieved from etd/91/

Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers make a difference: What is the nature of the evidence? Paper presented at the Building Teacher Quality: ACER Conference, Melbourne, 19-21 October.

Harwayne, S. (2001). Writing through childhood: Rethinking process and product. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Healy, A. (2004). Multiliteracies pedagogy. Retrieved from Id=166836799

Isard, J. (2012). Mobile technologies in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://educationtechnologysolutions. classroom/

James, A.N. (2007). Teaching the male brain: How boys think, feel and learn in school. California: Corwin Press.

Martin, A. (2003). Boys and motivation. Australian Educational Researcher, 30 (3), 43-64.

National Literacy Trust. (2012). The Boys Reading Commission Report. Retrieved from: http://www. Commission_Report.pdf

Robledo, J. (2011). Mobile Devices for Learning: What You Need To Know. Retrieved from mobile-devices-learning-resource-guide

Rowe, K.J. (2000). Exploding the 'myths' and exploring 'real' effects on the differential performances, attitudes, behaviour and experiences of boys and girls throughout their primary and secondary schooling: Useful findings from research in teaching and learning for boys and girls. Paper presented at the Teaching Boys Developing Fine Men Conference, 21-22 August, 2000, Brisbane.

Smerdon, B., Cronen, S., Lanahan, L., Anderson, J., Iannotti, N., & Angeles, J. (2000). Teachers' Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers' Use of Technology. Retrieved from

Walsh, M. (2009). Pedagogical Potential of Multimodal Literacy. Retrieved from assets/pdf_file/0007/195676/Chapter_3_Multimodal_ Literacy_M_Walsh.pdf

Zumbrunn, S., Bruning, R., Kauffman, D., & Hayes, M. (2010). Explaining determinants of confidence and success in the elementary writing classroom, paper presented at American Educational Research Association, Denver.

Debbie Brosseuk has taught in state and independent schools for 19 years. She has recently completed her Masters degree in Boys' Education at the University of Newcastle. Debbie is passionate about investigating and implementing evidence-based teaching strategies to engage and motivate boys in the Early Years of literacy.
COPYRIGHT 2014 Australian Literacy Educators' Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Brosseuk, Debbie
Publication:Practically Primary
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2014
Previous Article:Oral language and the Little Yarra Steiner School.
Next Article:Extending children's vocabulary and comprehension through oral and visual literacy.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters