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Camp Digi-Lit: Using Transliteracy Tools to Counteract Summer Reading Loss

by Lisa A. Lenhart, Jeremy Brueck, Pamela Oviatt, and Shelley Houser
July 29, 2014

What brings a crowd of children running to our university campus each summer to read and write for a week? Camp Digi-Lit, of course! For four years, eager campers ready to engage in the reading and writing processes have overrun the College of Education on The University of Akron campus. Youngsters take over the Center for Literacy, the computer labs, and the entire campus because it serves as their classroom during this engaging and fun-filled summer reading camp aimed at keeping kids immersed in literacy learning over the summer. By the last day, each Camp Digi-Lit camper has written an e-book, recorded a reading of that e-book, and presented it to family and friends during a ‘meet the authors’ reception at the close of camp.

Summer reading setback, summer reading loss, summer slump, summer reading gap—no matter what you call it, this concept has been well-established for more than 100 years (W. White reported on it in 1906). Studies continue to show that summer vacation can have a negative impact on reading development. Students experience summer learning loss when they aren’t engaged in educational activities, which is especially true for children of families with low socioeconomic status, according to D.T. Burkham and his colleagues in Sociology of Education. Camp Digi-Lit offers a curriculum, staff, schedule, and environment adaptable to campers’ varying personalities and skill levels. Staff who are experienced camp counselors and educators skillfully incorporate quality, effective literacy learning into a learning-oriented, yet relaxed, environment. Campers play team games using an iPad app to scan codes, find clues in a scavenger hunt, send out tweets, and blast seltzer rockets then write the instructions for others to replicate.

Camps can be effective providers of summer learning opportunities especially when designed to maximize authentic reading, writing, and presenting opportunities tied to a theme. Camp Digi-Lit includes an ongoing storyline where campers try to figure out a mystery or create a story for private publishing and production with the Camp Digi-Lit Design Company. The camps are designed for different age groups, and camp activities are closely aligned to Common Core standards for the appropriate grade levels. One-on-one support works with whole group, small group, and individual instruction designed to teach and reinforce skills needed to create the e-book, presentations, or activities adapted to campers’ individual skill levels.

Planning the curriculum, keeping it relaxed

In a 1996 meta-analysis, H. Cooper and his colleagues found high-quality summer programs with the most effectiveness were small, individualized programs including parental involvement. Both in a solo study and in a joint study with T.G. White, J.S. Kim concurred, reporting that it is not simply access to books that matters but reading guidance to insure children understand what they have read. At Camp Digi-Lit, books are matched to children’s reading level, and interest and instruction is scaffolded just as it is in school.

Camp Digi-Lit is packed with authentic reading and writing activities throughout the week to keep the children actively engaged including a weekly mystery story that is presented in daily e-book segments. Campers read the daily installments and figure out the day’s clues through a variety of activities. Campers have been known to enlist parents with help decode clues, provide background information and wait a few more minutes at the end of the day while the camper finishes just one more sentence, paragraph, or page. Parents of campers report that many campers go home and continue to read, create props, and actively talk about ideas for the developing story. Past campers have even asked parents to take them to the library for research!

During Camp Digi-Lit guest speakers regularly engage campers with a range of topics. Past speakers include a high school student who has her own web-based business, illustrators, authors, a radio station manager, web-based news reporters, a comic book creator, and a police detective who always has great information to add to campers’ forensic research.

Transliteracy tools in daily curriculum

The newest generation of campers expects a learning environment that integrates today's digital tools, accommodates a mobile lifestyle, adapts to individual learning styles, and encourages collaboration and teamwork. To meet the changing demands and interests of our learners, this camp focuses on nurturing the skills necessary to become proficient in mobile learning and well-versed in transliteracy skills.

Being transliterate (able to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media) is becoming an essential disposition in modern society. With an increasingly wide range of communication platforms and tools available to anyone, what it means to be “literate” is rapidly evolving. A focused transliteracy initiative can help provide a foundation for a new type of student learning experience that leverages digital tools to create innovative learning communities and creates a new vision for literacy learning with technology.

Daily activities include a plethora of both reading and writing tasks which include decoding QR codes messages in order to crack the case, reading a variety of materials and media, researching and following directions online to complete forensic science experiments, and of course compiling both written and oral reports. Campers write skits, plays, and more as each camper figures out a suspect. All campers use a digital toolset comprised of iPads, iPods, digital cameras, and computers in combination with a traditional literacy tool kit that includes paper, markers, and pencils. Using this blend of new and traditional tools allows campers to create well-polished e-books, posters, videos, directions sheets, and more.

Each camper writes an original story and then incorporates digital storytelling resources to bring their story alive online. Students begin by using PowerPoint and subsequently transfer their knowledge and understanding of this tool to other digital applications. Pre-service teachers and camp counselors work with students as they transfer the pencil-paper story starters, graphic organizers and artwork to PowerPoint slides. Campers learn to edit with guidance, and then are encouraged to ask other campers to review their story. This relaxed approach to peer editing has been very successful and has added to campers’ excitement at the end of the week when each story is presented.

Campers are also responsible for creating an e-book edition of their story including all digital content necessary to tell their story. These multimedia e-books often contain photos, videos, audio, and text components and are exported in a file format that allows others to read them on a variety of tablet and smart phone devices. A small suite of apps including Book Creator, My Story, Pic Stitch, Photo Crop, and a variety of other apps are available on iPads and iPods made available for campers to use for digital media creation. Campers present their e-books at the Camp Digi-Lit closing ceremony during which each is projected onto a large screen so peers, siblings, and proud parents can enjoy the end product.

Camp Digi-Lit is fun, engaging, and collaborative, and included a variety of authentic reading and writing experiences that can help alleviate summer reading loss in populations of students who need it the most. Campers experience a relaxed, encouraging, creative learning environment in which individuality and out-of-the-box thinking is embraced.

Lisa A. Lenhart is a professor of education at The University of Akron and the director of the Center for Literacy. She holds a PhD in curriculum and instruction from Kent State University.

Jeremy S. Brueck serves as associate director of the Center for Literacy at The University of Akron where he provides professional development for pre-K-16 teachers. He holds a PhD in elementary education from the University of Akron.

Pamela Oviatt is a literacy coach at The University of Akron's Center for Literacy. She has a Master’s degree in education.

Shelley Houser is a literacy coach at The University of Akron's Center for Literacy. She has a Master’s degree in education.

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