Coding: Where Does It Fit In? Integrating CS into ELA and Literacy


It’s no secret that computer science is just about everywhere. We’re using it to create art, push the boundaries of medical science, and even find ancient cities hidden in the jungle. As technology advances, educators are working hard to ensure that our kids can take full advantage of the opportunities coding can give them. But in a school day already crowded with traditional studies, it’s a big ask for teachers to find time for a subject they might not be familiar with themselves. To figure out how to get coding to fit, not just in the schedule, but in the curriculum itself, more schools are turning to integration. 

The specifics of integration can vary from classroom to classroom, but in a basic sense, it involves teaching computer science in a way that connects it with the content, skills, and practices of another discipline, such as math, science, social studies, or language arts. While integration gives educators more flexibility in how they allocate instructional time, the biggest advantages are to the quality of the teaching and learning. Authentic connections between disciplines promote student interest and help them apply new cognitive skills across domains. Putting new subjects in a familiar context can give new-to-coding teachers more confidence to leverage their existing expertise and teaching strategies. 

So where does coding fit in?

Given that it has natural connections to almost every discipline, it could go anywhere. In fact, the Hour of Code website boasts over 500 activities that are categorized as integrating math, science, language arts, social students, and the arts. Many computer science programs lean into their STEM connections, but as the impact of emerging technologies on today’s society becomes more prominent, some programs have started looking toward connections with the humanities, encouraging students to reflect on their relationship to the technologies that they use and create. 

Interweaving CS and ELA: Uniting Disciplines for Learning

One of the most motivating connections between coding and language arts, for example, is the role of creativity and expression in each. Both involve creating and expressing ideas using language, whether it is natural or artificial, and both require imagination, originality, and innovation, as well as technical skills. For language arts educators participating in Hour of Code this year, here are a few easy ways to support language learning, using skills you already have! 

1. Highlight parallels in the coding and writing processes 

Just as brainstorming and planning are important parts of the writing process, they play a key role in coding. Many of the Hour of Code activities (which are all free!) encourage students to plan their code as part of the software development process. Some of them, such as the CoderZ Code Farm activity, even have videos dedicated to this topic. As students learn about these steps in software development, take a few minutes to make the connection between the planning they should do for writing. A teacher who can convince a student to outline before beginning to write is a teacher who can convince a student to plan before beginning to code. You might even be able to use the same graphic organizers!  

2. Use ‘debugging’ to help motivate editing 

One of the best things about teaching coding is that it’s not on the teacher to tell students that their code won’t work. The computer will do that for you, and there’s no way to convince it that it ‘should’ understand buggy code. Coders have to debug their code for the computer to execute it, leading students to attend to precision and take responsibility for clarity of communication. These lessons can be brought into the language arts classroom, where students should take on the task of ‘debugging’ (editing) their own writing, rather than risk miscommunication. Teachers can use coding to help set the expectation that it is the writer who should communicate with clarity and precision, rather than the reader who should puzzle it out. 

3. Incorporate authentic written tasks 

Like most professional jobs, software development itself involves quite a bit of writing, especially when it comes to usability. Students who are working on more extensive coding projects may be asked to consider who will use these projects and write user profiles or case studies to help them better understand and articulate how their program will be used. This can be as simple as writing a story of someone using the program, including information on who the person is, why they are using the program, and what context or environment they’re using it in. These activities support literacy goals around understanding character, motivation, and plot, as well as computing goals around user-centered design. As a reflection on their Hour of Code experience, students may be asked to imagine a program that they would like to create, and to write a narrative that describes someone using the program, and what the program would need to meet that person’s needs. 

4. Research and analysis 

Other extension activities ask students to reflect on the technology that they’re already familiar with, or to research new technologies that will impact society. Younger students may be asked to think about an app or website that they use in school and write about positive and negative aspects of it, or ways that they think it could be improved. Older students may research emerging technologies and consider their social impact on various communities, or they may compare and contrast different applications that have similar goals. Asking students to think critically and consider multiple points of view is a key goal of both computer and language arts. 

5. Presentations and reflections 

Students who have completed creative projects as part of their Hour of Code could be asked to do short presentations on their work.  Depending on the activity or the goals of the class, students may explain their design decisions, talk about challenges they faced and how they overcame them, or reflect on important things they learned in the process. Presenting work not only allows students to reflect on and celebrate what they have done, but it provides a way for teachers to assess student work and learning on coding activities. These presentations also mirror authentic presentations of products and their features, as well as the reflective work that professionals do on their processes in the workplace.  

These are just a few of the many ways that teachers are integrating coding into current curricula. As experts in teaching and learning, not to mention the current school system, educators are the best positioned people to find ways to make computing fit. Don’t be afraid to lean into what works for you, whether that’s language arts, social studies, STEM, or the arts. You’ve got this! 

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