Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lessons Learned: Adventures in Digital StoryTelling

In the month of February and March my students have been producing digital stories about immigration. This is a very important project for us as it combines what we have learned about writing, critical thinking and digital story telling. You can check out our planning template on our multi-media wiki.

We began by framing our critical question which was, simply put, "Who Should We Let Immigrate to Canada?" They were to research two separate immigrant stories (push/pull factors) and in the end, decide which story was the most compelling and would be first on the list to come to Canada. They would have to create a set of criteria to make their decision.

Here are two examples of our students' work:

This was a very rewarding process that took a lot of class time. I believed the students learned a lot about researching, communicating, critical thinking, writing and digital story telling.

In random order, here's what I learned:

1. Begin with a well-framed critical question. Teach and practice the process of critical thinking throughout the curriculum. The question should be engaging, relevant and realistic.

2. Good writing is the foundation of good digital story telling. Don't let anyone skip the steps of the writing process. Many students find digital story telling more engaging than writing. They are indeed nearly the same process. Good digital stories are structured in much the same way as good writing and they share most of the same elements (suspense, emotion, action, etc.).

3. Some students don't like technology!

4. Don't assume all students have intuition and skills for technology. They will teach one another for the most part, budget time to teach a little bit on the tools.

5. New technology (onetruemedia, jaycut, photostory, windows movie maker) is not that different from old technology (power point).

6. Using voice is a great idea and adds another layer of brain involvement for kids. In addition to that, if students would write it as they would say it, they would communicate more effectively.

7. Each of the media choices has strengths and weaknesses. Onetruemedia costs money to publish to the web, yet it has a library of music and is easier to embed to the web. Photostory doesn't allow inserting video, yet is user friendly. Windows movie doesn't allow voice recording, yet is intuitive and easy to use. Power point is not flashy and 2.0, yet enables you to do most of the same things as the others.

8. Children still need help reading and taking jot notes.

9. Critical thinking is a novel concept to many and needs to be taught and modelled. Occasionally you do hit the jackpot. I had two students not able to decide which group to let immigrate and had an argument on the phone for 45 minutes about it.

10. Spelling matters as much or more in digital story telling as in writing.

11. Storyboarding is a must. Students use their writing as a guide.

12. Looking for images after the story boarding extends learning about the topic and the creating of criteria.

13. Music really does provide 50% of the drama and emotional effect. Spend time choosing music carefully.

14. It is not all that hard to find great copyright free images and music.

15. Google advanced search has an option to search for basic reading level (grade eight).

I would encourage teachers to give digital story telling a whirl!


  1. Tim - I certainly enjoyed the task you created AND the example of student work- always the best part. I wish that more educators would take time for their own reflections - lessons learned is the bestest part! Thank you so much for sharing your storytelling adventure - yes yes yes to all your comments except the powerpoint doing most of the same thing as the others. But as long as the power of the story is developed as the heart of their work - I don't get bogged down in the final publishing tool. What next?

  2. thanks so much for your comments and being an integral part of the success of my students on this project. I thoroughly enjoy the challenges you present to us. I the relationship between our board and you is an enduring one.

    What's next?

    I am so looking forward to changing my classroom so that EVERYTHING the kids do is purposeful (a la Alan November) and all my students create meaning through thinking. I dream of a classroom that is driven by the students passions.

    Happy trails!