Reading across the digital divide: A sociolinguistic analysis of networked literature discussion between urban and suburban 5th graders

  • Andrew Ratner City College of New York


The article reports on a six-month literature-based, computer network collaboration between 5th grade classrooms in Harlem and a suburban town in the Florida panhandle. As the classes conducted book discussions in response to two novels they read together, conflicts arose between participants concerning expectations for the content and use of language in the electronic messages exchanged between students. Halliday and Hasan's (1989) social linguistic concepts of field, tenor and mode are used to analyze the email texts and explore what led to these conflicts.  The findings reveal how as a relatively new mode of discourse in classroom settings, computer-mediated communication invites misunderstandings and potentially unsettling shifts in traditional teacher and student roles. Rather than seeking to avoid or overly regulate conflict and confusion in networked literature discussions however, the author encourages teachers to regard these potential outcomes as opportunities for reading and writing instruction grounded in authentic communication contexts.