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Judith Rance-Roney, Hudson Valley Writing Project

Judith Rance-Roney, Hudson Valley Writing Project

Written by Henry Cohn-Geltner
June 16, 2010

In over twenty-five years as a teacher of English language learners, Judith Rance-Roney, teacher educator the State University of New York at New Paltz and a teacher consultant with the Hudson Valley Writing Project, has sought to improve the field of ELL instruction using new literacies, associated with digital media technology.  Very early on, she discovered that digital storytelling allowed recent immigrants that were learning english “unpack their suitcases” and acculturate with the communities they were living in by developing the emotional capital to cope with large transitions.  She also had the opportunity to work with international students looking to reflect on troubling experiences with Americans and culture.  Both of these examples demonstrate her belief that individuals can better understand their identity and how they present themselves through the composition of stories using digital media.

The use of digital media technology is so important in the instruction of english language learning because students acquire language skills more rapidly and deeply when they pair words with visuals.  Often times, visual communication can aid more in comprehension of meaning and ideas with new english language learners than written communication, and this has tremendous power for students to develop the confidence and ability to express themselves and what they know.  Once they understand what the teacher is trying to communicate, they can begin to work on developing their voice and their writing.  In one activity, Ms. Rance-Roney has students gather images related to a topic or theme and describe the images to their peers.  This allows them to make connections between real concepts, ideas, and meaning, and the symbolic representations of these real things.  If teachers think of images as being “read”, or “viewed” by students, then students will have a much easier transition to the next stages in the composition process.

Voicecasts and accompanying handouts are an excellent way to scaffold comprehension through listening and speaking.  Ms. Rance-Roney would create an audio CD that contains the vocabulary and example sentences that students might hear during the process of creating digital narrative projects, which are also written on the handouts.  These CDs and handouts are distributed to the students to listen to several times out-of-class, allowing the teacher to communicate remotely, and students are able to understand meaning of words, hear the context for how they are used, and hear how they are pronounced.

When students get to hear their own voice speaking English, they become invested users of English instead of learners.  Students record their own voicecasts to serve as drafts of the scripting process, which they share with one another for constructive feedback on intonation, pronunciation, and grammatical accuracy.  These drafts will serve them in writing the final script for their voiceover and allows them to gain the confidence to develop a powerful voice in their final product.  In addition to gaining technical skills, the students work in “story circles”, in which they conduct read-alouds of their scripts, which help them to find the central idea they are trying to communicate and find the “heart of the story”.  The idea of the “heart of the story”, or the essential theme and mood, are very important because it allows the students to express who they are, celebrate what makes them unique and expose audiences to ways of communicating and representing ideas that may be unfamiliar, and allows them to take ownership of their projects by being able to control elements of the project.  

All of these benefits can only occur if teachers are willing to work with students to understand and value the knowledge and background they bring to the classroom, and think about digital media as a way to present new literacy skills in conjunction with teaching the traditional writing process.  One way to really understand the power of this kind of practice is to produce digital stories and Ms. Rance-Roney encourages her teacher-students to create themselves, in order to better help their students and reconnect to the reasons why they want to become teachers.

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