Talking (and tweeting) about Digital Storytelling

I am honored and excited to be hosting #engchat this Monday (Feb. 14 – at 7 pm) as we talk about digital storytelling across secondary curricula.  “Host” seems to be a tricky word to use here – especially as I think  of the speedy flow of engaged discussion that grows out of each #engchat session as some of the best learning and thinking I do all week.  So, perhaps I get to take on the role of loudest learner in the group.  It doesn’t sound as elegant as “host,” but if I’m being honest with you and with myself, I can’t imagine inhabiting a different role.

All of that said, I’ve been playing with some questions that might help to get us thinking prior to our discussion…

1.  Digital storytelling has been a part of my work in schools and in my “real” life now for the better part of 10 years.  My “tinkering” lead me to work directly with Joe Lambert and the folks at the Center for Digital Storytelling at UC Berkeley, both as a writer/learner and a teacher who was hungry to elevate some of the writing students were doing within out personal narrative/memoir units.  That experience led me to have a very particular definition in mind for a digital story.  As I was working in very web 1.0 teaching contexts (web 2.0 had yet to really permeate our digital lives and practices), these were 2 to at the most 5 minute digital videos in which students wrote (both with their words and images) a story that emerged from their unique lived experiences.  I thought of this as “pre-test” writing as we were all required to submit a five-paragraph memoir as a part of the yearly writing assessment, and students whose writing grew out of a digital story demonstrated incredible growth in purpose, description, precision and, perhaps most important of all, voice.   Similar to what I’d always known as a teacher, some stories came from rich and raw places (i.e., Rachel, an eleventh grade student who worked through the loss of her mother to breast cancer) and others were reminders that our students are also kids at play (i.e., Bryson’s sixth grade story about his attempts to “booby-trap” his suburban Pennsylvania backyard for any approaching lions).  We were unified across classrooms in that we were always scrapping around for tools – an outdated version of iMovie here, a new Dell with MovieMaker there, and, in the best of cases, a copy of Final Cut or Premiere.  Okay, as we’re friends – the truth was most likely that we also had all of those versions in one computer lab that held one computer for every two or three students in the class.  (I’m sure you never experienced that – right???)  All in all, the experiences I had crafting these digital stories with students were some of the most incredible I have had as a teacher and a learner.  I learned the importance of seeing each student in order to really be able to learn together.  I learned the importance of opening up what counted as “valued  communication” in the classroom and valuing the literacies that students brought.

But, something began to change as more and more teachers and students were engaged in “digital storytelling.”  I saw the term start to morph and apply to powerpoints, videos of class mock trials, etc.  And, as the explosion of content creation/web 2.0 tools hit, that expansion of the term grew even larger.  That’s all a long way into my first question:

What IS a digital story?  How are you using that term with your student writers?

2.  In reading over what I’ve just written, I don’t want to create the impression that I’m not a big, big fan of what Levine calls “web 2.0 ways to tell a story.”  In fact, I use Voicethread, Storybird, and Flickr in a variety of ways to support the storytelling of kids with whom I work.  Those are pretty “known” tools/writing spaces – and I’d expect that to especially be the case within the #engchat community.  So, that said…

What are the web 2.0 spaces that you are using to work with your classroom storytelling?  Are you leveraging the community/collaborative/2.0 nature of those spaces and tools ?  How has that impacted/changed writing in your classroom?  (or, has it…)

3.  No matter if you’re working digital storytelling into a unit on creative non-fiction writing or another on phases of the moon (as is happened for one of my sons), we all have to wrestle a bit with how we meaningfully assess these kinds of  multimodal compositions – and, if you’re leveraging the collaborative capacities of some of the tools, multimodal compositions that might be collectively composed/created.  I’ll never forget meeting David, a seventh grade student writer who had written a brilliant, though lengthy (72 slides!) VoiceThread to capture a travel narrative.  Where he was the only student in the classroom to do a digital (read here as not print-based) project, his work was still evaluated using a rubric valuing topic sentence construction over some of the ways he was using images to do narrative work.  Epic fail.  In my practice, I have tinkered with rubrics for individual assignments, regularly working to bring the best of what we look for in a print-based writing task (i.e., a memoir) alongside what a multimodal composition affords (i.e., choice of media, alignment of mode and content with purpose and audience, technical effects).  Each time, I’ve gotten “close” but have jotted multiple notes for revision and re-thinking.   I co-construct rubrics with students each term, but we still find that the creative capacity of what we create (and share) shifts even as we work within the project. There are multiple layers to this question, but…

How do you evaluate/assess digital stories differently from print texts?  Has that informed or influenced your teaching in other ways?

4.  As this post is getting a little out of hand, I’ll list a few additional questions, invite you to add yours to the comments, and, more importantly, invite you to join us tomorrow night at 7.

How is the writing process different when composing a digital story?  How do we respond to that as teachers so that all students have different (and needed) scaffolds in place to help them find success?

How do we make sure that STORYTELLING doesn’t get overshadowed by the “digital” parts of this work?

It seems that everywhere I look, we are thinking about (and playing with) mobile devices.  What does digital storytelling look like on a mobile phone or an iPad?  What are your “apps for that?”

P.S. If you are looking for some advanced reading, I’ve written about digital storytelling in English Journal (2004), Learning and Leading with Technology (2004 & 2005), and in Bringing the Outside In (chapters 2 and 4).  I’d also recommend Troy Hicks’ now seminal text, The Digital Writing Workshop,  and Joe Lambert’s Digital Storytelling:  Capturing Lives, Creating Communities.  And, in the meantime, I’ll round-up some examples we can unpack and talk about tomorrow.


6 responses to “Talking (and tweeting) about Digital Storytelling

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Talking (and tweeting) about Digital Storytelling | Real Reasons to Write --

  2. While I’m not well-versed in digital storytelling, I really enjoyed creating a digital story in our Teaching Composition class. I’m very much interested in incorporating digital stories with my students, and I’m curious to hear what everyone has to say on the subject. Any intriguing, user-friendly resources would be greatly appreciated.

  3. I think I might have been one of those people in the past who tried to stretch the term “digital storytelling” into places maybe it didn’t quite belong (ie, claymation, etc.) because I had no term for what I was doing (and maybe still don’t) and I didn’t know that Lambert and company had already pigeonholed the term to mean something along the lines of “personal narratives that combines audio, image and music in a media format” or something.
    I like all the questions you raise here. I’ll have to think some more about it, I guess.
    Thanks, Sara!

  4. Looking forward to this evening’s conversation.

  5. I love this topic – and how we’re trying to understand and define a genre that continues to evolve. I think that storytelling implies that we’re talking about narratives – more than just personal narratives. Digital means that it is created in digital spaces with additional opportunities for non-linear, multi-sensory creations. Digital also implies that it can be posted for a public audience via the internet. I’m still processing the whirlwind of conversation, but I’ll keep my post here short as this is what I was thinking after I read this in the morning. Looking forward to the follow-up post! Thank you so much for hosting #engchat!

  6. Pingback: On Digital Story: Reflections | dochorsetales

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