Sure, adolescents spend too much time “glued to their screens,” but why not turn that to your advantage — and theirs?
Students’ love of technology can be a powerful force in language arts classrooms thanks to the possibilities of digital storytelling. Students’ beloved smartphones can be essential tools for sharing their unique thoughts and experiences with the world.
What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling is a multimedia approach to sharing a narrative. It can be autobiographical, but it doesn’t have to be. Creators can combine video, photography, sound, text, music and often a narrative voice to share their stories in a digital-media format.
In the classroom, students can create digital stories in collaborative groups, taking on different roles such as the writer, director, editor and narrator. You can create a rubric that targets Common Core objectives for English language arts, digital literacy fundamentals and participation expectations.
The potential impact of digital storytelling
Getting students to integrate their smartphones into their language arts studies has four key benefits:
1. It encourages artistic students
Students who are already artistically inclined can use their talents and passions to get creative in their English class. Student musicians, actors, cartoonists, photographers, graphic artists, rappers and singers can contribute their skill sets to their group’s digital stories.
Their passion for the artistic aspect of this project might also motivate them to obtain new skills to ensure they succeed. For example, a student who can showcase her original song within a digital story about peer pressure might be more inclined to study sound editing, work with the scriptwriter to connect the story arc with her music, and collaborate with the director so the staging and lighting fit her song’s mood and theme.
2. It gives English learners a new way to communicate
English learners can effectively communicate their stories through digital media because it gives them time to articulate their thoughts. They can practice, record, listen to themselves and rerecord.
Often when they are put on the spot in class, they struggle because of the pressure to speak correctly. However, with time and a mixed group of beginning, intermediate and advanced English learners to help each other, they can find their voices, too.
Digital storytelling also shows students struggling with the language that everyone has a story to tell; it’s simply a matter of how you want to tell it. Language is one piece of the puzzle. Art, technology, teamwork and communication are also key factors.
3. It turns tech-savvy students into teachers
Students who are knowledgeable about different tools can help teach others about apps like iMovie, Vimeo, Animoto, GoAnimate, iMotionHD and Adobe Photoshop. If you’re unfamiliar with any of these (or others your students have casually mentioned), don’t be afraid to ask them to teach you, too.
This activity not only boosts their confidence, but it also helps everyone advance together as a class. Students can help lead workshops or mini lessons on these tools, showing the class that they all have different types of skills and knowledge to share with each other.
4. It creates a peer-centered learning environment
While your objectives will be a central point in the digital storytelling process, this project can create a powerful learning environment in your classroom. Digital storytelling mixes different media and skills, and that creates a powerful exchange of information.
Students work together, learn from each other and recognize the value of storytelling as an art form. They also learn from their peers by developing awareness and even empathy based on the digital stories they choose to create and share with each other and online.
Kara Wyman has a BA in literature and an MEd from University of California-Santa Barbara. She has worked with adolescents for a decade as a middle school and high school English teacher, the founder and director of a drama program, and a curriculum designer for high school and college courses. She works with 13- to 19-year-old students as a project manager of a nonprofit organization.