Digital Learning

Students Tell Their Stories Digitally

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Author: Joel Elliott

Summary: When designing a digital storytelling workshop, it may be easy to forget that it’s really about the telling of stories and the writing practices that generate powerful narratives. This piece provides a good conceptual starting point and reminder that in such settings, students are more engaged, willing to work harder and write longer pieces–and all the while quite adept at figuring out the technology.This is important for teachers nervous about not knowing the latest digital tools.

Original Date of Publication: 2006


OAKLAND, Maine — They flitted like hummingbirds down the halls of Messalonskee High School, stopping for a quick close-up, panning across the big picture, changing angles—each self-guided, each recording a unique perspective.

One by one, they returned to hover over the row of laptops set up in a quiet hall, stored the images they’d collected, changed their batteries or recharged, then went back out for more. The freshmen from Dave Boardman’s English class were so hard at work it seemed as if they weren’t speaking at all.

But they were.

“They’re actually telling a story right now,” Boardman said Wednesday night, as first one, then another digital camera turned toward him before returning to the computer workstations or sliding off down the halls during the Community Technology Fair. His conversation was appearing in digital images across the row of screens in front of him before he’d even finished it.

As the various perspectives and images found their way back to the hall, students edited and pieced them together into a single, multifaceted narrative. While the focus might have appeared to be on cameras and computers, it was really about telling stories. The students figure out the technology on their own, leaving Boardman to teach writing, he said.

“What we’re finding is that with digital storytelling, they are willing to write long, and they’re willing to write hard,” he said. Boardman said the idea of producing their work digitally in a multimedia package seemed to encourage the students to work harder at their writing.

And they were eager to tell the stories they had written.

Meagan Charest, 15, of Belgrade, told the story of her struggles to earn a place on the dance team. She was turned down in the sixth grade, and then again in the seventh grade. In the eighth grade, she finally made the team, Charest said.

“It felt like such a huge accomplishment,” she said.

It was an experience she enabled her classmates to share with her by telling the story digitally. All of Boardman’s 60 students told their own stories to the rest of the class through photography, music, and narration. Kayleen Alkurabi, 14, of Sidney, shared onscreen her reminiscences of her father’s Augusta convenience store in “A Day at the Getty.” Nikole Bellavance, 15, of Rome was still working on her story, which describes a day with her family at Lily Bay State Park.

The tools that these students used as they honed their writing skills might have been different from those of Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen, but perhaps the art of storytelling hasn’t changed so very much after all.

“It’s taught me to write with description and make people see an image,” Bellavance said.

But won’t an image appear on the screen anyway?

“Well, yes, but you still have to make them see it,” she said.

Boardman’s students presented their stories at the Community Technology Fair, in which some 30 local businesses or organizations demonstrated the value of technology in industry and everyday life. The Fair was organized by Susan H. Perrino, program director of the Messalonskee Performing Arts Center.


Related Resources

Original Source: National Writing Project, http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/2348

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