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Use emojis in NAPLAN: kids’ literacy expert

NAPLAN could learn from the emoji icons made famous by smart phones, by including new digital literacies as a way to measure kids’ language skills, according to a children’s digital technologies and literacy expert.

Australian Catholic University’s Literacies and Digital Culture Professor, Kathy Mills, was speaking today on World Emoji Day, 17 July.

“Ten years after NAPLAN testing commenced we are finding Australian children’s literacy is not improving in any consistent way,” Professor Mills said.

“Taught with instruction on emotive language, selfies, gifs, memes and emojis are examples of every day literacy practices used by young people today that can empower and improve their language skills. We need to adapt NAPLAN to include 21st century, digital forms of communication in their assessment of literacy.”

The comments are backed up by international and Australian research at ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education.

Professor Mills’ own research in this area was called the SELFIE (Strengthening Effective Language of Feelings In Education) Project, which involved more than 200 primary school students across three low socioeconomic schools. The project used animations, photography, videos and emojis from smart phones, to rapidly increase the students’ use and command of the English language.

Strong literacy skills are associated with stronger employment opportunities, wages, social participation, health outcomes and longevity. The research ran for 2.5 years, successfully teaching upper primary school students how to express emotional language through the use of digital media and technologies.

Professor Mills said the outcomes of the SELFIE Project were very positive.

“We found that by taking advantage of children’s natural fascination with smartphones, iPads, and all things digital, their vocabulary and English comprehension could be improved,” Professor Mills said. “The Years 4 to 6 students in the SELFIE project went from using quite basic and simplistic emotional language to then being able to describe emotions in very sophisticated terms.”

Professor Mills said an online, digital literacy assessment had been trialed in one state of the USA with innovative outcomes – such a move in Australia may not be far away.

“Once NAPLAN becomes digital it will really lend itself to testing a broadened range of literacies that are now the new basics.

“Typically we think of books as a way to increase literacy but not all young people are motivated to learn in this way. Using digital technologies as the key, including emojis, we can transform NAPLAN to unlock children’s fascination with technology and increase their use and understanding of the English language.”

Media Contact: Liz Drew, 0419 506 690, liz.drew@acu.edu.au

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