Using Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

storytelling
 
“People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don’t have their own song.”Neil GaimanAnansi Boys

I spent much of my youth on the laps of relatives listening to stories that shaped my being. I was mesmerized by my great-great-grandpa Charlie’s tales of painting comics on the sides of WWII bombs. He smiled and recanted the bombers’ puns, constantly puffing away on his non-filtered Chesterfields. And then there was Grandpa Al. He was a fisherman with half a thumb missing. Every story would result in a different ending for his severed thumb. Sunday’s story would expose how it was lost when he was a hoodlum, lighting off illegal firecrackers in the alleyways of Hell’s Kitchen. By Friday, the story morphed into his thumb’s unfortunate run-in with an angry horse that he hi-jacked while hobo-ing across the midwest. Aunt Nancy was another favorite source of stories. She always had the most uplifting ones, and I would swarm to her for validation. She liked to reminisce about good times, simpler times, and in her recollections, present time became simpler as well. Good storytellers can do that – make time simple.

I was shaped by these stories, my essence becoming its own narrative, and sharing these stories with my kids is easy because the narratives are part of me. My own daughters now squirm on my lap, waiting for me to weave a narrative that tends to squirm as well. We, my daughters and the narrative, form a connection that is tightly conjoined, if not inseparable to the moment in which we breathe. This connection is why storytelling fits nicely, easily, into learning environments. When learners can connect new information to existing, ingrained information, learning becomes a part of who they are, not a separate, outside event. Stories internalize, as should learning.

What is digital storytelling?

Digital storytelling isn’t new to education, but technology makes it appear so. In fact, it originated in American community theater in California sometime in the late eighties. (See the early works of performance artist Dana Atchley and actor Joe Lambert.) Later, digital storytelling was popularized by the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS), a source worth exploring. Education quickly adopted the method’s ideas of combining storytelling with digital multimedia, including graphics, text, audio narration, video and music. Over the past twenty years, the art has continued to evolve, resisting any sort of definition because of continuous technological advances and approaches.

Why use digital storytelling in the classroom?

The emphasis of technoliteracy.org is embedded in learner literacies, as is digital storytelling. Multiple researchers in the literacies fields, particularly Brown, Bryan and Brown (2005) have labeled digital storytelling as an important tool to meet 21st Century Learning Literacies:

  • Digital literacy – the ability to communicate with an increasingly expanding community to discuss issues, gather information, and ask questions;
  • Global literacy – the ability to read, respond, and contextualize with a global perspective;
  • Technology literacy – the capacity to use new tools, both digital and non-digital, to improve learning and performance;
  • Visual literacy – the ability to understand, produce, and communicate with visual images;
  • Information literacy – the ability to find, evaluate, and synthesize information.

When learners relay or create narratives, they are given the opportunity to generate dynamic thinking in each of the 21st Century Learning Literacies. The focus of classroom activities connects what they already know with what they should know, embodying narrative form and elevating cognitive awareness. In other words, when learners create their own meaning by connecting new knowledge with existing knowledge, they are also generating a story of learning, therefore, the broad and dynamic practices used mirror the literacies that the 21st Century demands they master in return.

How do you use digital storytelling in the classroom?

Dr. Jason Ohler is considered the guru of digital storytelling and has developed 8 Guidelines for Teachers to promote skills associated with digital literacies:

  1. Shift from text centrism to media collage. Look beyond the book.
  2. Value writing and reading now more than ever. Writing = Thinking. Writing starts with an idea, not a thesis statement. Read to generate ideas. Write to think.
  3. Adopt art as the next R. Just as important as the traditional 3 Rs, digital literacy demands the necessity of understanding new media. Digital art, which can include any mode, should become the new R in education.
  4. Blend traditional and emerging literacies. See my previous post on Picking Up Technology Without Putting Down Books.
  5. Harness the essay and story. Metaforms of narratives are needed as new media emerge. Both essays and stories can harness learning potential of students.
  6. Practice private and participatory social literacy. Merging student expression into the domain of public narrative meets the needs of both conventional literacies and 21st Century literacies.
  7. Develop literacy with digital tools and about digital tools. Access to citizenship is a function of literacy. Jefferson stuck to this principle and it is highly relevant today as media literacies demand more of learners.
  8. Pursue fluency. Fluency is the ability to practice literacy at advanced levels. Elevate communication and learning will elevate as well.

For thorough explanations of Dr. Ohler’s 8 Guidelines for Teachers, visit his resources page. (The above information was taken directly from his work published in Digital Storytelling in the Classroom, also worth a read.)

In future posts, and as my own storytelling gets underway, I’ll provide additional resources, including my syllabus for using digital storytelling in First Year Composition (FYC) and rubrics for assessment. I continue to look for resources to further my own understanding. If you have any that are beneficial, please send them my way. You can connect with me on Twitter (@shieldsmolly) or by posting a comment below.

-@shieldsmolly

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