This is an online version of the March 2001 Exploring Literacy on the Internet department Donald J. Leu, Jr., edits for the International Reading Association's journal The Reading Teacher. This department is “reprinted” regularly in Reading Online, and ROL readers are invited to browse the full listing of available columns.



Internet Project: Preparing Students for New Literacies in a Global Village

Donald J. Leu, Jr.

You've felt it; I've felt it. Change has become central to life in the 21st century. Sometimes the speed of this change is overwhelming, especially in a world where the Internet places so much information right at our fingertips. While the Internet makes so many wonderful resources available, the most common question I hear is "How do I find the time to keep up?"

The pace of this change will be limited only by our ability to manage it. Our students will encounter even more rapid change when they graduate, especially in the information they will require to perform effectively in the workplace. Thus, the ability to read and write becomes even more important to our children's future than it was to ours. Rapid change will be increasingly a part of their lives, and we need to begin now to prepare them. This column will explore an instructional approach, Internet Project, which prepares children for their literacy future in a world where change is a defining characteristic of literacy and learning.


Literacy as Deixis

Elsewhere (Leu, 2000), I have argued that literacy is increasingly deictic (pronounced "dike-tic")—the definition of what it means to be literate continuously changes as new technologies of literacy rapidly appear in an age of information, creating both new opportunities and new challenges for literacy educators. If literacy is deictic, and I believe it is, then the central question for each of us is not "How do we teach children to be literate?" Instead, the central question is "How do we teach children to continuously become literate?" That is, "How do we help children learn to learn the new literacies that will continuously emerge?" The distinction between viewing literacy as static and literacy as deictic is central to any discussion of literacy education today. It suggests that the current debate over standards and high-stakes assessment, based on static definitions of literacy, is misguided. Neither side in this debate recognizes that the assessment of literacy must now measure children's ability to learn the new literacies inherent in the new information and communication technologies (ICT) that will regularly appear. Literacy is no longer an end point to be achieved and tested but rather a process of continuously learning how to become literate. Many of these new literacies will converge with the Internet.

In a previous column (RT, February 2000), I described why we must begin to change the focus of reading and writing instruction to include the new literacies of Internet technologies that will regularly emerge. The world of work has changed. Globalization, information economies, and economic competition have caused organizations to flatten their formerly top-down command and control structures. In order to operate more efficiently and compete successfully within a global economy, everyone within an organization now must be able to rapidly and effectively accomplish four important activities: identify important problems central to their own unit, gather relevant information and critically evaluate it, use the appropriate information to solve central problems, and then clearly communicate the solution throughout the organization. Literacy is at the heart of each of these four tasks.

Often, this problem-information-resolution-communication process takes place within collaborative teams in an organization. Often the best place to quickly obtain useful information is the Internet. Organizations that fail to enact these changes do not survive in a world in which change is rapid and continuous. To remain static is to become obsolete. This principle also applies to schools. That is why we must also begin our own journeys, changing the nature of literacy instruction within classrooms that are becoming connected through the Internet.


Internet Project

How do we prepare our students for the increasingly collaborative, problem-oriented, and critical nature of literacy in classrooms with Internet connections? Increasingly, teachers find Internet Project to be a useful approach. There are many definitions of Internet Project. Each, however, engages students in classrooms at different locations in collaborative work to solve a common problem or explore a common topic. As a result, Internet Project helps children acquire skills in the collaborative problem-solving, information, and communication activities they will use when they enter the world of work. At least two different types of Internet Project exist: more permanent Web-site projects and temporary projects.

Web-site projects

Web-site projects are more permanent projects, coordinated by an individual or group at a Web site. They are a wonderful starting point for teachers just beginning their Internet journey because they are precisely defined with clear directions for participation and a complete set of instructional resources. One example of a Web-site project for the youngest literacy learners is the Flat Stanley Project.

Flat Stanley. Several Flat Stanley projects exist on the Internet. Dale Hubert, a Grade 3 teacher in London, Ontario, Canada, maintains one of the best examples (flatstanley.enoreo.on.ca/). Flat Stanley projects are based on the book Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown (1996, HarperCollins). In this delightful story young Stanley Lambchop is flattened by a falling bulletin board. He quickly discovers a special advantage to being flat, however, when his parents mail him to California in an envelope. This leads to all kinds of wonderful adventures.

In most Flat Stanley projects, small groups make a Flat Stanley on paper and contribute several entries in a journal about his experiences. Then they arrange with a collaborating class to receive their Flat Stanley by mail. The recipient class adds several journal entries describing Stanley's experiences with them and returns Flat Stanley and the journal to the sender. Sometimes, a class will plan a route for Flat Stanley with several classes in a chain hosting Stanley, reading the previous entries, and creating their own journal entries before sending him on his way. After visiting a host of locations, Flat Stanley returns home. Many classrooms send Flat Stanley journal entries by e-mail to all classrooms participating in the project. Thus, a new journal entry arrives each morning via e-mail describing the adventures Stanley had the previous day.

This project may be conducted at the youngest grade levels, with journal entries composed together by the class in a language-experience activity (Leu & Kinzer, 1999). Journal entries that arrive from a participating classroom may be shared within the context of a morning message or a message-of-the-day activity. At older grade levels, students may work in groups, sending and receiving Flat Stanley journal entries regularly and sharing the results with the class. Often, members of a class will put up bulletin boards containing maps and messages they have received on their various Flat Stanley projects.

If you are interested in reading about the experiences of teachers who have conducted a Flat Stanley project in their classroom, be certain to visit Success Stories at flatstanley.enoreo.on.ca/success_stories.html. You will get many great ideas for your classroom. More complete directions are available at How Does It Work? flatstanley.enoreo.on.ca/how.html. If you are looking for classrooms that might be interested in receiving a Flat Stanley, visit Participants (flatstanley.enoreo.on.ca/list_map.htm).

Journey North. Another great Internet project takes place at Journey North (www.learner.org/jnorth/), which is a resource for the study of seasonal change (see Figure 1). More than 250,000 students from all 50 U.S. states and seven Canadian provinces participated during the spring of 2000.

Figure 1
Journey North (www.learner.org/jnorth/index.html):
An example of Internet Project

journey north home page
Used with permisssion from Journey North (www.learner.org/jnorth)

Many wonderful projects are possible at this single site including various tracking projects. Students track the arrival of the first robin, red-winged blackbird, hawks, eagles, or other migratory species and then contribute this information to a common database. The database at Journey North displays the information on migrations for everyone to use. To get ready for the first sighting of an animal, students study migration patterns and learn other information about the species from the site. Journey North even contains links to the calls of migrating birds so students can hear the species they are looking for.

All of the resources you require are located at Journey North. Examples from this past year may be seen at Spring, 2000 (www.learner.org/jnorth/spring2000/species/). Links to the current year projects may be found at (www.learner.org/jnorth/). There are also Journey North Classroom Lessons (www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/Lessons.html), a Teacher Discussion area (www.learner.org/cgi-bin/netforum2/jn-talk/a/1/), and a Teacher Tips area (www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/tips/). This project teaches many things in science as a community of observers correspond together over the Internet, sharing their discoveries and their reports. It's a wonderful way to greet springtime in your class.

Poetry Post. Fifth and sixth graders developed this project site (www.mecca.org/~graham/day/poetrypost/) at Grahamwood Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. Here, your students may read poems submitted by children from around the world. Use the poems to introduce your poetry unit and then submit your students' work for posting at this site. Already, students from Canada, Israel, Australia, the U.K., and other countries have had their poems posted at this location.

My Hero Project. This project site (myhero.com/home.asp) celebrates heroes and heroines. They include such people as U.S. Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks and zoologist Alan Rabinowitz, who started the first jaguar preserve in Belize to protect this endangered species. Your students can read about the many heroes and heroines nominated by others around the world as they come to understand what it means to make a difference. Then your students can write about their own hero or heroine and post the description at this site.

Book Raps. Do you use literature discussion groups or literature circles in your classroom? Well, here is an Internet project that will let you conduct literature circles with classrooms around the world. Visit Book Raps (rite.ed.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/projects/book-rap/), a great site run by Cherrol McGhee, a teacher at the Hillview State Primary School in Queensland, Australia. Here you can visit the schedule of upcoming books that will be discussed via e-mail (www.pa.ash.org.au/rite/projects/book-rap/form1/displayrec2.asp) or you may sign up to coordinate an e-mail discussion of a book your class will read. It's the perfect way to broaden the conversations on books you and your class are reading throughout the year.

Travel buddy projects. Mix together a stuffed animal, e-mail, new friends from around the world, and a great work of literature and you have the makings for a travel buddy project. In this project, your class sends a stuffed animal (often one representing a character in a favorite book you have read in your classroom) to other classes around the world. When your stuffed animal arrives, the host classroom sends daily e-mails, describing the adventures of your animal at their location. This is an exciting way to introduce the Internet to the youngest classrooms. It is very similar to the Flat Stanley project but gives you all kinds of opportunities to connect the experience to your own curriculum and your own reading selections. One of the best locations for contacting other teachers who are interested in participating, and to query teachers already experienced with the project, may be found in Australia at Travel Buddies (rite.ed.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/projects/travel-buddies/index.html), another great resource developed by oz-TeacherNet (rite.ed.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/).

Gino Sangiuliano's and Rebecca Surreira's multiage class. An increasing number of teachers use Internet Project to engage their students in social action projects, projects that seek to make the world a better place. Sangiuliano and Surreira in Rhode Island, USA, have developed a literature and read-aloud tape project for their Grades 1-3 classroom. This is a slightly different variation of Internet Project, but a very important one. The goal of this project is to provide exceptional works of children's literature and a read-aloud tape to at least 100 children's hospitals in the United States. Small groups select a book; practice reading it; record an oral reading on tape; and then send the book, the cassette, pieces of artwork, reader photographs and biographies, and letters to children at hospital. Area businesses contribute in the purchase of these books. It is a wonderful social action project that you may wish to use in your classroom. You can find out more about this important model of Internet Project by visiting Books on Tape (booksontapeforkids.org/).

Temporary projects

A second type of Internet Project involves temporary projects developed by teachers for a specific curriculum need. Teachers who develop a temporary project post it at locations on the Internet to attract collaborating classrooms. After other teachers express their interest in collaborating via e-mail, students in each classroom complete the project together and share their work. These collaborative projects provide special opportunities for your students to communicate with others in classrooms around the world about issues of common interest.

Temporary Internet projects have many variations. Generally, though, they follow these procedures:

1. Plan a collaborative project for an upcoming unit in your classroom and write a project description. The description should contain a project summary, a clear list of learning goals, expectations you have for collaborating classrooms, and a projected timeline for beginning and ending the project.

2. Post the project description and timeline several months in advance at one or several locations, seeking collaborative classroom partners.

3. Arrange collaboration details via e-mail with teachers in other classrooms who agree to participate.

4. Complete the project, using Internet Workshop (Leu & Leu, 2000) as a forum in your own class for working on the project and exchanging information with your collaborating classrooms.

The first step requires you to do some planning at least several months before you wish to begin the project. A clear description with explicit goals and timelines will make it easier for everyone to understand what will be expected.

The second step is to post the project description and timeline at one of several locations of the Internet where teachers advertise their projects, seeking collaborating classrooms. This should be done several months in advance so that other teachers have time to find your project. Project descriptions may be posted at several locations, including the U.S., Australia, and Canada:

Figure 2 shows an example of a temporary project, The Tooth Tally Project, developed by Lynda Smith at Wilburn Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. Many other wonderful experiences for your students may be found at any of the registration locations listed above.

Figure 2
An example of an Internet project posted at the Global SchoolNet Internet Project Registry
(www.lightspan.com/common/pages/linkout5.asp?loc=gsh.lightspan.com/pr/index.cfm&setInternal=true&_prod=GSH)
[URL updated for this online reprint]

Project Title: The Tooth Tally Project
Project Begin & End Dates:
2/01/00 to 4/28/00
Project Summary:
First-grade students and teachers will use e-mail to collect and exchange data about something most first graders have in common: Lost teeth! They'll use this data to create graphs and charts, solve math problems, and write stories. Complete details are on the project Web site.
Project Level: Basic
Curriculum Fit: Health and Physical Education, History and Social Studies, Information Technology, Language, Mathematics, Technology
Technologies Used: E-mail
Project E-mail Address: ljsmith@wcpss.net
Registration Instructions: Send e-mail to the Project E-mail Address
Registration Status: Open
Registration Acceptance Dates: 1/12/00 to 3/01/00
Number of Classrooms: open
Age Range: 5 to 7 years
Target Audience: Anyone
Project URL: http://schools.wcpss.net/Wilburn/tooth00.html

Full Project Description:
Each first grade class will be assigned to a group when they join the project. The teacher will write an e-mail message introducing his/her class and send this message to each class in the group. The number of classes per group will depend on the number of registrations received. The teacher will assist the students in keeping an official count of how many teeth are lost. By posting these numbers on a bulletin board graph in the classroom the class can practice graphing skills. This data can be used to do math problems involving teeth as well as providing a springboard for writing. Examples of problems and stories will be shared among the teachers in the groups. Once a month each teacher will send an e-mail message to the other classes in the group stating the official number of lost teeth that month.

Project Contact Information
Lynda Smith—ljsmith@wcpss.net
Technology Coordinator-Wilburn Elementary School
http://schools.wcpss.net/Wilburn/
Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Used with permission

The third step in a temporary Internet project is to arrange collaboration details with teachers in other classrooms who agree to participate in the project with you. Internet projects require close coordination. It is important to confirm procedures and timelines with everyone involved.

Finally, you complete the activities in the project, exchanging information with all of the collaborating classrooms. This fourth step provides you and your students with opportunities to read, write, and critically evaluate information related to the project. Internet Workshop often provides a supportive forum for organizing and developing much of your classroom's efforts on the project.

If you are just beginning your Internet journey, it is usually easiest to join a project developed by another teacher. Participating in several projects like this will help you to develop a better idea of the challenges and the opportunities in Internet Project before developing your own. Or, visit the classroom of a teacher who is a master of Internet Project, Susan Silverman (kids-learn.org/). The location contains links to many outstanding projects Silverman has developed during the past several years. It will also provide you with many new curriculum resources to use in your classroom.


Preparing Students for Future New Literacies

There are many benefits of Internet Project. It creates a window to the world as you engage in exciting, collaborative learning activities with classrooms in different countries and different cultures. Internet Project also creates new definitions of authentic reading and writing experiences. With it you and your students communicate daily with others in our global village, and your students make new friends and share new insights about the world around them. At the same time they develop the new literacies of Internet technologies.

In addition, Internet Project prepares children for information projects that will be critical to their success in the workplace. During Internet Project, your students help to identify important problems, gather and critically evaluate information, use the appropriate information to resolve the issue, and then share their solutions and interpretations with others. Throughout this process, they will be using the new technologies of the Internet and learning from one another about the literacies of their future.

I hope you have an opportunity to explore the use of Internet Project. It will make an important difference to your students. You will also discover a wonderful group of colleagues engaged in making our world a better place.


References

Leu, D.J., Jr. (2000). Literacy and technology: Deictic consequences for literacy education in an information age. In M.L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. III, pp. 743-770). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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Leu, D.J., Jr., & Kinzer, C.K. (1999). Effective literacy instruction (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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Leu, D.J., Jr., & Leu, D.D. (2000). Teaching with the Internet: Lessons from the classroom (3rd ed.). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
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About the Author

The editor welcomes reader comments on this department. E-mail: djleu@uconn.edu. Mail: Donald J. Leu, Jr., Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut, 249 Glenbrook Road, U-33, Storrs, CT 06269-2033, USA.

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For an index of Exploring Literacy on the Internet columns available at this site, click here. To print this column, point and click anywhere on the main text; then use your browser's print command.

Citation: Leu, D.J., Jr. (2001, March). Internet Project: Preparing students for new literacies in a global village [Exploring Literacy on the Internet department]. The Reading Teacher, 54(6). Available: http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/elec_index.asp?HREF=/electronic/RT/3-01_Column/index.html




Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Published March 2001 in The Reading Teacher
Posted simultaneously in Reading Online
© 2001 International Reading Association, Inc.   ISSN 1096-1232