Digital Literacies and the Inclusive Classroom
How digital tools can support academic, personal, and communal growth
Close your eyes and picture the ideal classroom.
Are the students diverse? Are they silently writing structured five paragraph essays or are they using 21st century skills to demonstrate learning? How is their teacher supporting their academic and pastoral needs? Are they collaborating? Are they creating? Are they connecting to their peers and the larger community? Are they gaining skills they can carry with them throughout their academic and personal journeys?
An inclusive classroom needs more than a single unit on Black authors during the month of february. It needs more than a rainbow or trans flag hung on the walls. An inclusive classroom does more than introduce students to other people, cultures, abilities, etc. that differ from their own–it pushes students to actively learn, get involved, and interact with topics that are relevant to them. Digital literacies are the key to engaging students and fostering academic learning
Why Inclusivity Matters
Our classrooms are made up of diverse students who come to us with various backgrounds. They come to us with learning disabilities. With different skin colors. With beliefs and customs and family values. They come to us with trauma, with questions, with needs, with secrets and with the desire to find their individuality.
A culturally responsive teacher not only recognizes all of these factors, but actively seeks to support each and every student. And they must do this while checking their own internalized bias about what other people can and can’t do, how they learn, how they communicate, etc.
The article, “Exploring Digital Literacy Practices in an Inclusive Classroom,” addresses how teachers can use digital literacy tools to support the requirements of all students. The authors explain how educators should be, “constructing learning experiences based on the fluctuating needs of students that attend to the social, political, and economic realities of being labeled as special education, bilingual, at‐risk, struggling, or below grade level.” Inclusivity supports students who have Autism to share their experiences with their classmates. It actively challenges curriculum that leaves out Black girls. It works with support teachers to ensure that students with learning disabilities aren’t pulled out of the classroom while everyone else is working with digital tools.
Creating a Community
In order to bring in cultural relevance and media literacy, teachers must foster a community within their classroom. This means the sharing and celebrating of differences. Students not only share with their classmates, but post questions and publish work that reaches out to the larger community. Students must know that all their voices and interests matter.
“Exploring Digital Literacy Practices in an Inclusive Classroom” portrays a teacher who has set up this type of community amongst her students. In her class, “everyone counts on each other to raise questions, provide resources, and share information that contributes to the learning and development of the whole community.” They create podcasts using Garageband, digital comic strips portraying what it’s like to be unique, social change projects, and more.
In this community, students can take responsibility as “experts” in given fields. Some students are savvy with intricate platforms like Garageband. Others have an eye for spatial awareness and can create aesthetically pleasing slides using Canva. Students can work together to make the curriculum accessible for their peers. Digital tools also allow for students to record the process of making, organize what they’ve learned, and share with larger audiences.
Honoring Silenced Voices on Real-World Platforms
Students learn best when they see themselves reflected in the topics they’re studying, when those topics can be applied to the real world, and when they feel pride in the work they’ve created. Digital literacies support each of those necessities.
The article, “From Digital Consumption to Digital Invention,” explains that:
Teachers and students need access to previously othered critical traditions such as postcolonialism, poststructuralism, feminism, critical race theories, and intersectional theories. The media classroom needs to see itself as a space that explicitly embraces critical theories and that envisions to create spaces for metatheoretical awareness, cultural analyses, and cultural critique. (16)
Digital tools help students explore these social issues, strengthen 21st century skills, and demonstrate academic thinking about complex texts and ideas. Instead of cumulative tests, students can create stop-motion animated short films, record podcasts, create poems and digital six-word memoirs. They can illustrate their views on history through memes, through comic strips, through multimodal presentations, and more.
The text, “Developing Curriculum to Support Black Girls’ Literacies in Digital Spaces,” portrays students working on units titled, “Defining Myself,” “#Blacklivesmatter,” and “Gender Equality.” Not only do the girls see themselves directly within the themes and concepts they’re learning about, but they also gain academic skills that push them to engage, explore, create, and publish. The text explains:
These experiences provided multiple opportunities for Black girls in the class to explore social issues across modalities and raise questions about audience, privilege, power, voice, and equity. The questions they raised in discussions and the work they produced drew on multiple literacies that were tied to their identities as Black girls. They approached each topic as collaborative problem solvers who were trying to make sense of how race, class, and gender affect their lives and their communities and what they can do about it. (357)
This is equitable education. This is academic learning. This is the elevation of marginalized students. This is the bridge from the classroom to the community. This is digital literacy.
Teachers, how do you use digital tools to support marginalized voices in your classrooms?