Why use digital storytelling projects in the classroom?
Teaching digital storytelling projects:
- reinforces traditional literacy skills (researching, writing, problem solving, and presenting).
- develops 21st century multiliteracies (digital, information, visual and media literacies).
- provides opportunities for transformative, identity constructing activities.
- can make for powerful collaborative experiences.
- is tremendously engaging at all age levels across disciplines.
How to teach a digital storytelling project
- Design the digital storytelling unit to support curriculum goals. Don't skip this! This project will only be as effective as your plan to incorporate it as a relevant tool in your overall curriculum. Check these links out: A pedagogical framework, relevant standards, & an excellent lesson design example.
- Create appropriate assessment tools. Here is an example rubric for assessing various parts of the project. (See More Tools on Further Resources page for more examples.)
- Make sure you have the needed hardware/software requirements.
- Hardware: For the most basic projects using Web 2.0 tools, all you need is a computer running a relatively recent operating system. For more advanced projects, access to a scanner, digital camera, video camera, and a microphone comes in handy. (See Ohler's advice on hardware.)
- Software: There are many professional options, but I will only include free resources here. Use iMovie (my personal favorite) which comes with all Macs, Movie Maker 2 for PCs, or PhotoStory3 for use with Windows XP.
- Apps: If you have iPads, try Story Kit, or for younger kids, Toontastic or Puppet Pals. There is also an iMovie app, but it is not free.
- Web 2.0 Tools: Check out Animoto (limited free use, but very easy), Digital Storyteller, Aviary has free image and sound editing tools, Audacity (sound editing), and Xtranormal (choose from cartoon backgrounds and characters that can speak). These are just a few of the many free, web-based tools out there. More are created and disappear again everyday. If you find one that interests you, try assessing it with this rubric for its use in the classroom. Consider important factors like the ability to create educational accounts that protect student privacy, cost, ouput options, etc.
- Try not to get hung up on the technology! It can seem overwhelming, but just pick what works for you, and get familiar with it. Employ your student tech whizzes to help you. Focus on the process, and try not to get lost in finding the perfect product.
2. Start with the Stories
- Inspire great storytelling. Even with snazzy technology, without a good story, the results will be unwatchable and the assignment meaningless. Set the scene for a successful project by inspiring students to tell great stories. Show examples of great stories. Talk about what makes a great story. Ask them about their favorite stories and analyze why they're so great. (See Excellent Examples sidebar.)
- Introduce your rubric. Frame it as a checklist for including all the elements they will need to create a good story. Joe Lambert, a pioneer in the field, recommends including seven elements, James Ohler focuses on a basic problem-solution-transformation approach. Adapt yours to whatever learning outcomes you want to focus on.
- Write the story. Here's where you set the student's imaginations loose. (Remember, too, this can be an individual or a collaborative process.) Once they've written a rough draft, ask them to self-evaluate against the rubric, and then use more economy in the words they choose, thinking about how they can "show" the story with images as opposed to telling it with words. Lambert suggests using only about 250 - 375 words and fewer than 20 images for a two to five minute video.
- Storyboard and script it. Once they have a good story, have students lay it out on a storyboard and script the narration. This doesn't have to be anything fancy. You can use post-it notes or index cards. Small space helps to keep it brief. (See storyboard template examples in More Tools on Further Resources page)
3. Digitize the Stories
- Gather all the pieces. Scan and upload photos, draw or animate original content, produce original video clips, make original music (a la Garage Band).
- Discuss copyright issues. Students are used to operating in a "remix" or "mash up" culture. If they want to include songs, images, or video they did not create themselves, they must be aware of the concepts of copyright and fair use. On the Further Resources page, I have included a section on Tools to Teach Copyright. Under More Tools, I have also listed websites that include content licensed as Creative Commons, which means students may use them however they want (but should still credit the sources).
- Edit it all into a cohesive story. Here's when they put all the elements together using the software you've chosen. Use the tutorials included with the software, or find or create your own screencast or educast on how to use it, or walk them through how to use the technology in a group presentation. Remind them that less is more! Too many fancy effects and transitions distract from the story. The pace of the images and narration should be three times as slow as they think it should be. Again, have them self-assess their projects against the rubric, or have students assess each other during a final presentation.
4. Share the stories
- Decide where you want to share them. Create a blog and post the stories there. Embed them on a page of your school's website. Post them to a site like YouTube or SchoolTube. Burn them on DVDs or save them on a USB flash drive so students can take them home and share them. Make sure to minimize the file sizes of the videos as much as possible before attempting any of these steps. It's important to note that many Web 2.0 tools make it difficult or impossible to share the created content freely, so make sure you have access to whatever level of output options you want in the app you choose.
- Celebrate! Make a big deal of these stories. Have students at least present them to each other in class. But you could also host a presentation party and invite parents, administrators, more teachers and their classes. Be proud that you've helped these students tell their stories and give them and yourself the credit they deserve.
- Share your knowledge. If you've enjoyed the process, help other teachers repeat it. Reflect on what worked and what you'd do different next time. Share your resources and what you've personally learned from the project. Keep telling stories!
MLIS Student, San Jose State University
A school principal's story
(Video by Misty Her retrieved from YouTube)
"Practice Makes Perfect" - A third grade boy tells a story of preparing for a piano recital.
"Picture Me Black" - A pre-teen boy discusses feeling sterotyped.
"Bare White" - A college student discusses her identity as a white woman.
"The Power of One" - A young woman demonstrates the power of one vote.
"Sweatshops" - A powerful portrayal of the problem.
"Almost Paradise" - A woman struggles with her immigrant mother's expectations of her.
"Managing Change" - A group college project addressing climate change (too long, but shows how groups can use DS to tell a story related to current events or social phenomena).