by Greg McVerry
As curricula and classrooms transform to address the Common Core State Standards, our students will be better served with an increased focused on informational texts. In addition, I have written that when we discuss composing with digital texts and tools, the focus is too often on narrative texts.
Yet now I find myself, in the wake of a concentrated effort to limit the use of stories in schools, to come to the defense of the narrative. This, of course, includes the use of digital texts and tools.
Bruner defined literature as “an instrument of freedom, lightness, imagination, and yes, reason. It is our only hope against the long gray night.” I agree. There is no better approach to understanding the human condition than through literature. I do not, like some national consultants who authored the Common Core, want to prepare students for the “real world” where “no one cares what you think or feel” (quote adapted to remove expletive).
Instead I use literature to shape my students’ understanding of themselves and their world. I use literature so students can connect with the conflicts that capture the essence of humanity. I use literature in my classroom because it teaches my students what it means to be. We need to stand in defense of narrative texts. It is our only hope, “against the long gray night.”
Introducing Plot Structure with Online Composition Tools
I often use online composition tools to introduce plot structure to my students. I find this can add a fresh look to an issue many readers and writers struggle with.
Google Search Stories
For older students, who may be exploring how characters, events, and setting affect conflict and resolution, I use Google Search Stories. This tool allows you to create a short video by simply inputting text into a story maker. The tool then spins the tale and populates the story with images of search results from a variety of tools.
I have my students begin by first choosing a conflict and resolution. We then create a search story together. I then have them complete your standard plot organizer for the story we just created. Finally they brainstorm their own story, complete a plot organizer, and then adapt the story to the search story maker.
My Story Maker
For younger students, my favorite tool for composing online narrative texts is My Story Maker from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The tool is a great way to introduce digital narratives to emerging readers and writers.
Basically the story is authored with your students. They choose a character and a conflict. Then the authors can manipulate the characters on the page. As they add elements, the sentences are written for the students. It is a great tool to model plot structure. More importantly, the students can get a special access code to an online version of their story and share it with friends and family for up to a month after it’s been created.
Greg McVerry is in the Department of Education at Southern Connecticut State University.
This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).