Language, literature and literacy during COVID-19 and beyond

By Annette Wagner

SCIS speaks to Story Box Library’s Annette Wagner about language, literature and literacy during COVID-19.

Childs hands touching iPad

Over the last few months, learning has moved to the digital space, changing the perception of online learning tools. Annette Wagner, Creative Director of Story Box Library, discusses how teachers have embraced digital learning practices and online tools, including storytelling tools.

During isolation, educators have used digital tools to help to maintain a focus on language, literature and literacy for students. Teachers across Australia have integrated online learning tools with their school’s chosen platforms. Some used communication apps, such as Edmondo, to provide school log-in details and direct links to assigned stories. Others used the share-screen function in Webex meetings to view stories as a class. They also worked with classroom management platforms, such as Google Classroom, to assign text response tasks and asked students to upload their text responses to online journals and portfolios through apps such as Seesaw and ClassDojo.

Many teachers selected shared multimodal texts to be viewed by students at home. There were new opportunities for students to independently develop and use comprehension strategies, examine text structures and language features, and share their personal opinions and responses to shared texts.

Astrid Kriening of Oberon Library says: ‘low literacy levels have long been a part of the local community and the value of story time in all formats is widely recognised as an important social benefit in promoting children’s literacy’.

Hillcrest College Teacher Librarian Michelle Nye says that the college has always had a strong focus on digital learning, and during isolation readily adopted online methods and looked for additional ways to connect. Hillcrest looked for new ways for students to access stories. Nye says: ‘Relaxation has to be one of the main [focuses] right now in this new education paradigm’. She shares that, alongside their existing subscriptions to Story Box Library and Overdrive via the SORA app, Hillcrest College connected readers to free book delivery through their local library. They planned to offer a similar service at the college, making certain that students could access stories despite the limitations in location.

The value of story time in all formats is widely recognised as an important social benefit in promoting children’s literacy.

Digital storytelling

One tool used by Australian teachers during isolation was Story Box Library, a subscription-based educational website, created for children to view stories by local authors and illustrators being read aloud.

Annette Wagner of Story Box Library describes some of the innovative work that teachers and librarians have been doing during isolation.

She points to Ruth Thatcher, Library Teacher at Orchard Grove Primary School, who set up the school’s online library with their e-book library and a link to Story Box Library. Thatcher used Story Book Library with Google Blog, Google Classroom and a Google site while remote learning.

Thatcher says: ‘In Year 1/2 our students have watched Anzac biscuits. I have asked them to create a Story Sensory Wheel, and find descriptions from the stories, or words that reflect the five senses. The Year 4s have done a similar activity, using a Story Sensory Wheel to reflect on The happiness box and Alfred’s war. They have looked for descriptions from the authors that reflect how the main character feels, sees, hears, smells, tastes from their war experience and shared their ideas with their class on a discussion board.’

Thatcher says, ‘We encourage parents to use Story Box Library free choice. Some classroom teachers watch together with their class, choosing stories’. She adds that: ‘Parents, especially in the junior years, love using Story Box Library with their children’.

Beyond COVID-19

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to change, there are ongoing opportunities for students to extend their imaginations through online learning, ensuring connections with stories and each other are not lost. Annette Wagner is hopeful that the benefits of digital engagement will continue. She says that moving towards a new stage of ‘normal’, Story Box Library will continue to extend story engagement, and to support teachers and librarians who have established new appreciation of digital learning resources.

Please note: Story Box Library titles have recently been added to the SCIS database with a ’series title’ of ’Story Box Library’, allowing educators to locate and integrate all SBL titles into their library management systems.

Annette Wagner

Creative Director

Story Box Library