Guest Blogger: Digital Story Telling Advocate Kent Manning on Digital Story Telling in the Classroom

Greg's Note: A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of connecting withKent Manning. Kent is an educator with Ontario's Hastings and Price Edward District School Board and on top of that, a leading advocate of Digital Story Telling (DST) -- a brilliant teaching model that combines traditional literacy, digital media, and all sorts of learning benefits into one transformative project. Kent is the organizer of ISTE's Digital Story Telling Special Interest Group and was kind enough to provide us with a couple of excellent articles on video in the classroom and the learning potential of digital story telling. Regardless of whether you are a teacher or not, Kent's insights on the transformative power of video and story telling will enlighten and inform. Take a read!

Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

by Kent Manning

 Recently I had the pleasure of introducing Digital Storytelling to a classroom of Grade 7 and 8 students and their teacher. As part of the language arts programme of study,  writing a personal narrative is part of the curriculum. Little did I know that  in just one month the most in-depth writing of the school year would take place.

 Digital storytelling begins with the story. Getting to the point of writing the story can be challenging and takes a lot of lead up. There are digital stories and there are very good digital stories. Defining what makes a very good digital story is as follows:


What is a Digital Story?

 Good digital stories have more that one level. For instance, your digital story might be about something like bicycle riding. Another level in the same story might be the relationship you had with the person who rode that bicycle along side you. An additional level might be what you learned along the way. The journey on the bicycle if you will. These various levels are not easy to write, let alone teach. So to begin with you need to start with some examples.


The First Few Lessons

 Our learning goal was to give students an opportunity to work through some of the finer points in crafting an effective digital story in the form of a personal narrative. In about an hour period we conducted two mini-lessons Here is a description of both.


Turning Points Exercise

 It can be riskyfor students, particularly middle school students, to share personal, heartfelt stories aloud among their peers. So the teacher and I modeled by sharing reasonably personal (but not too personal) turning points in our lives. Changing schools as a child, a parent changing jobs, etc.


Then we distributed 10cm x15cm cue cards  so the students could jot down ideas in a 10 minute time frame. It didn’t take long for students to start offering their turning points aloud to the class. This was a very good start to having a discussion of what type of items students could include in the writing of their own digital story. We weren’t sure how this would go over, as trust has to be built for students to become comfortable in sharing their stories. Later, when we started to read some of the first drafts of the narratives, we did see evidence of turning points being described as events in the digital stories.

Interviewing – Recording Stories

 Another very effective method for gathering raw materials for  digital storytelling is recording an interview.

 The teacher and I dramatized an interview with me holding an iPod Touch, with a voice recording app. activated in my hand and asking a number of questions. We then brainstormed with the students on first who they could interview:  grandparent, mother, father, family friend or relative.

 Then we had them write possible questions on the back of the same cue card we had handed out for the first activity. We were delighted by the variety of questions the students were coming up with. Depending on who they were interviewing the questions varied from “Where are you from?” to more complex questions.

 After both exercises were complete we had the students start to write their personal narratives. We emphasized that they may wish to write a particular segment of their narrative. For instance the opening or a turning point. Some wished to wait until their interview was completed until they started to write.


The Stories

 The stories all had various topics but were all very personal in nature. There were stories about being bullied and stories about memories of moving as a child. There were stories about parents who had adopted children, or parents who had passed away or had accidents. These were not just your average run-of-the-mill stories. These were stories from the heart. Passionate, interesting stories. Ones that you would want to listen to the whole way through.


Putting it All Together

 After all of the students’ narratives were written, it was then the responsibility of the students to bring in digital photos to illustrate and provide visual representations of their stories. Some students brought in digital photos, others brought in older photos which had to be scanned. For those who did not have access to any photos we used Creative Commons images and gave credit to the original photographer.


We recorded voice files and then imported all the images and the voice files into video editing software. From there it was a matter of editing each frame for length and matching up voice files. This part of the process can be tedious, but once the students begin to hear their voices and images tell their stories, the room fell silent as the final editing was completed.


 Purpose and Audience


When writing digital stories students don’t always see the bigger picture on how important their personal story is. Depending on the topic, the writing of a digital story can be cathartic and transformational. It can be revealing and heartfelt. The lessons learned during the story and the situations described can have lasting effect on the writer. As well, when digital stories have been viewed by parents or guardians I have witnessed adults brought to tears as they watch the digital story their offspring has written unfold before their eyes.


 As a teacher, one never knows where one’s influence lies. Introducing students to digital storytelling which includes a heartfelt story, digital stills, video, audio and students’ voices, can provide an opportunity for our students to express themselves like never before.


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