Computers excite kids mastering English

November 14, 2007

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By Diane Mar-Nicolle

When education professor Kelleen Toohey began a three-year research project to determine how non-English speaking children become literate she never thought their computer literacy would also play a key role in the study.

But it quickly became clear that the immigrant and refugee kids at the two Lower Mainland elementary schools she chose for her investigation were as thrilled to be using computers as they were responsive to the study exercises she devised.

Toohey is the principal investigator in the study, funded by a $106,575 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The study aims to better understand how young English-language learners learn, and how they might be helped to improve their English literacy.

In posing the question, "How can English-language learners be aided in learning English at school," Toohey and her co-researchers Paul Neufeld and Roz Stooke turned to technology to help children with their writing skills.

The children were excited to be working with computers and it soon became clear that not only were the computers improving their literacy in the stories they were writing, says Toohey, they were improving their computer literacy skills as well.

"It became apparent that we had to look at literacy in a broader sense and include technological literacy since it will play such a relevant role in their futures".

The problem was, only one of the schools had the computers necessary to carry out the research. So Toohey convinced the Faculty of Education to lend the school two computers on a long-term loan basis.

With these in place, the kids at both schools are now able to make podcasts of the stories they have written and illustrated.

So far, says Toohey, the study’s preliminary work looks positive and the teachers and researchers are delighted that the Faculty of Education has been supporting their research and, through this initiative, helping their students achieve their literacy goals.

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