Design Your Wild Self Avatar: Getting to know one another through mulitmodal composition

post by Bridget

Avatar design could be said to be a new literacy. When playing digital games and social networking, kids often select and customize avatars to represent themselves. They offer opportunities to experiment with different identities and take on roles within the specific context of the game or community. They also offer the opportunity to design with different media and think symbolically about how to represent ‘character’.

This past summer, I used an avatar design activity to launch a Digital Writers’ Workshop with urban middle school students who were participating in a summer school program. Collaborating with a group of doctoral students (Blaine Smith, Christian Ehret, Summer Wood, Tyler Hollett and Robin Jocius), we used the avatar design activity to help us all get to know one another and to introduce kids to the notion that they are multimodal designers and could communicate with different symbol systems (a key theme of the workshop).

Across a series of composing activities, we tried out a scaffolded approach to multimodal composition: Demonstrate, Create, and Share-reflect-respond, or DCSrr for short (Dalton, 2011). Below, I describe this process and share some examples of students’ work, along with their design reflections.

Getting started: Finding the “Build Your Wild Self” avatar design website

The first challenge was finding an avatar design tool online that was free, appropriate for young adolescents, and which ran on the lab computers without glitches. Blaine and I spent a few hours searching, finding some very cool sites that we had to reject, typically because they required registration with a commercial enterprise (something we wanted to avoid), the images of females were highly sexualized, or there were few multicultural options.

We hit pay dirt when we found the “Build Your Wild Self” website sponsored by the New York Zoos and Aguariam and the Wildlife Conservation Society ( Of course, the first thing I had to do was design my own avatar to explore the tool and think about how kids would use it. Here is the home page, which displays my avatar.

avatar home page

Here I am on the “Build Your Wild Self” avatar design website

screen shot of PPT introducing avatar activity

screenshot of Blaine's avatar design

image of avatar design

Serina’s avatar:

Antennas: I picked the antennas because I can search out things and I also need glasses to see. Those are kind of my little glasses.

Rabbit ears: So I have the rabbit ears, if that’s what they are, so know that I can hear you

Wings: …because I thought they were cool, they looked all right and also I can fly,

I can do anything I want to do and see stuff and if you mess with me, I’ll stick you.

image of avatar design

Serina’s avatar: I can do anything I want to do

Parting shot: Fun? Yes! Multimodal composition? Yes!

Try designing your own ‘wild self’ and then try it out with your students. I would love to hear how it goes (post a comment, please!).

Cultivating An Online Community of Literacy Learners in Your Classroom

A Post from Jill

The RAND Reading Study Group (2002) drew attention to the importance of reading comprehension as a social activity and asserted that text, the activity, and the reader are all situated within a larger socio-cultural context. The social context, in particular, influences how learners make sense of, interpret, and share understandings.

Over a period of years, Rafael, Florio-Ruane, & George (2001), Daniels (2002), and Guthrie & McCann (1996) guided teachers’ implementation of social reading activities such as book clubs, literature circles, cooperative book discussion groups, and idea circles. No matter the structure these reading activities take in an individual classroom, the purpose is the same – to create a community of learners who construct understandings together.

Group participation motivates students to read and write for a range of purposes, utilize knowledge gained from previous experience to generate new understandings, and actively engage in meaningful social interactions involving literacy. These activities tangibly illustrate to students that sustained reading and writing has an authentic, social purpose and are more than solitary, self-fulfilling activities.

Socially-oriented learning activities fulfill an important need since many students, especially adolescents, are driven by social interaction. One such indication is the proliferation of teen activity on social networking sites (Lenhart, Smith, & Magill,2007). Many adolescents spend their time connecting with friends by texting on cell phones, instant messaging, and using websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter and are highly skilled in creating their own communities and establishing affinity groups within those networks to connect with others and exchange ideas.

Despite the proliferation of skilled Internet use among adolescents, the majority of students attend schools where they are required to “disconnect” (Selwyn, 2006) and rely solely on face-to-face communication as the primary means of sharing ideas.  This paradox brings to mind several important questions:

1)    What benefits to literacy and learning could be realized if students were encouraged to merge their powerful social networking skills to support their academic pursuits?

2)    In what ways could social networking skills, and the strong desire students possess to develop vast social networks, be used to positively impact literacy learning and academic achievement?

Integrating the resources shared in this post into your classroom can help cultivate an online community of literacy learners who collaborate, problem-solve, and negotiate multiple perspectives as they learn today’s important skills for reading, writing, and communication.

Developing an Online Community of Readers in Your Classroom:  Ideas for Implementation

The Epistemic Games collaborative (see is an innovative collective that is made up of researchers, educators, and game designers who create games in which players learn ways of thinking that matter in the digital age.  One of the games they’ve developed is a simulated journalism community called (see Participants in work as reporters publishing online news magazines on community-based topics.  Within the game, they work with professional journalists, learning skills like interviewing and copyediting and become part of a simulated professional community. By participating in, students develop an awareness of community happenings, discover local scientific issues, and extend their writing, reviewing, and critiquing skills as they begin to see the world as journalists, all while capitalizing on the thrill of publishing their own work to inform the public.  Creating an online classroom newsletter as a space for students to report on what’s happening in your classroom, school, community and beyond serves a similar purpose (and is both fun and easy to get started).  Visit TeXt, a  free eZine and Blogging Tools for Schools to get started.

Edmodo is a platform you can use to create a secure, school based social learning network for your classroom.   Edmodo provides a safe and easy way to connect and collaborate offering a real-time platform to exchange ideas, share content, access homework, and promote learning related student-to-student communication. Accessible online and from any mobile device via free smart phone applications, through Edmodo students can be connected everywhere they go – whether using a computer, phone, iPod, or tablet. Capitalize on the fact that technology is an integral part of kids’ lives and extend learning by implementing an educational network like Edmodo in your classroom.

Twiddla is a tool for co-browsing the Internet with other learners. This tool allows collaborators to co-browse websites in a shared, real-time whiteboard, while marking them up, sharing files, and chatting along. It’s called co-browsing; all the cool kids are doing it. It’s perfect for school use because you don’t need an account to use Twiddla. No plug-ins or downloads, are needed and students whom you invite to collaborate do not need to login to any system to share content in real-time with you.

Wridea – Wridea makes it easy for students to become a part of a learning community.  Here students can collaborate and share ideas within a shared space. This brainstorming tool organizes and categorizes ideas onto different pages, provides unlimited storage, and allows users to comment on topics and ideas.

GroupTweet– GroupTweet is designed for Twitter users who want to be able to communicate and collaborate privately.  A perfect option for networking a classroom community to promote reflection and learning.

A Fundamental Shift From Page to Screen

The Internet has become today’s technology for literacy and learning, offering classrooms a wide-range of online reading, writing, and communication options that extend new opportunities for social interaction and collaboration. Developing communities of literacy learners online in your classroom broadens students’ perspectives and exposes them to different ways to approach and solve problems.  The tools featured here, when chosen thoughtfully and fully integrated into your classroom, can become fertile ground for students acquiring the skills necessary to communicate and collaborate in the 21st century.


Daniels, H. (2002). Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Guthrie, J. T., & McCann, A. D. (1996). Idea circles: Peer collaboration for conceptual learning. In L. B. Gambrell and J. F. Almasi (Eds.), Lively discussions! Fostering engaged reading (pp. 87–105). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Lenhart, A., Madden, L. Smith, A.  Macgill (2007). Technology and Teens. Pew Research Center Publications.

Raphael, T. E., Florio-Ruane, S., & George, M. (2001). Book Club Plus:  A conceptual framework to organize literacy instruction. Language Arts, 79(1), 159-168.

Rand Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Towards an R&D program in reading comprehension. Retrieved from

Selwyn, N. (2006).  Exploring the digital disconnect between net-savvy students and their schools. Learning, Media and Technology, Vol. 31, No. 1. (2006), pp. 5-17.

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