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Implications for literacy learning as urban second grade students engage in digital storytelling

, University of Massachusetts Amherst, United States

University of Massachusetts Amherst . Awarded


The purpose of this year long strategic ethnography is to discover how introducing digital storytelling into an urban second grade classroom impacts the study of language arts and repositions students as literacy learners. Research questions include: (1) In a classroom where most of the students have never used computers before as learning tools, what happens as they learn to create books using digital means? (2) How do the students position themselves as authors, and how do they use imagery in representing their alphabetic (or regular print) texts?

For this study, the students write stories in cooperative writing groups and choose their own topics. The students illustrate their stories and the illustrations are scanned for digitalization. The students learn how to word process their stories, and the students also learn how to incorporate both image and text onto a page using a computer application. The researcher is a participant/observer, spending one language arts period per week in this classroom. The methods of data collection include: fieldnotes, digital photographs, audio tapes, video tapes, student surveys, teacher interviews, news stories and demographic information collected from Winterdale school system, student generated texts and other student artifacts. The frameworks of this study include: The New London Group’s theory of multiliteracies, Kress and van Leeuwen’s theory of semiotics, and Spradley’s analysis techniques based on ethnographic participant observation. Analysis of these student generated texts using the frameworks mentioned, critical discourse analysis and domain analysis help to reveal emerging themes and how the students position themselves as writers.

Video footage, fieldnotes, participant observation and dialogical data show that the students in this study were excited and energized by their involvement with the Digital Storytelling Project (DSP) and that the use of computer and digital media technology was very well received. As the students shared in the decision making involved in designing a story, they positioned themselves and one another as authorities, and as successful and creative writers and illustrators. Creating the images for their stories opened up yet another mode of communication and became a source of competence for the students. They used their imaginations and elaborated on their story lines as they added visual details that were not found in the written texts. The DSP also raised the classroom teacher’s awareness of computer technology and gave her the courage to be an active participant in the realm of technology alongside her students. Three of the student participants exhibited positive behavior changes as a result of participating in this project. This study implies that pairing social semiotics with computer technology can enable students, including at-risk students, to find modes of communication that they can employ, and this has the potential to increase active engagement with literacy learning.


Carey, J. Implications for literacy learning as urban second grade students engage in digital storytelling. Ph.D. thesis, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved January 27, 2022 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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