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Digital Storytelling Projects Help Improve Reading and Writing

by Hani Morgan
April 16, 2014

As a faculty member for the K-6 teacher education program at the University of Southern Mississippi, one of my roles includes teaching students how to integrate technology into the curriculum. Every year I research new technological trends that may benefit pupils in K-12 classrooms. This year, one of my topics is digital storytelling.

p: J Paxon Reyes via photopin

Using technology effectively in school has many benefits. In addition to helping students improve in reading, the use of technology often motivates students, helps them function well in their digital world, and facilitates the learning of subject matter. Technological tools allow students to perceive and create content through various formats including graphic images, audio, video, music, etc.

What is Digital Storytelling?

Digital storytelling is a method students can use to tell a story by adding images, photographs, music, narration, and text to make a movie. The first step in creating a digital movie involves writing the story in print format. Later, students combine the text from their stories with technological features that complement the words. The steps include:

  1. Writing a story.
  2. Sketching scenes to match the narration on a storyboard.
  3.  Numbering sections of text to correspond with scenes on the storyboard.
  4. Collecting graphics that complement the scenes, such as photographs and clip art.
  5. Recording the narration.
  6. Combining the files into a movie with a video-editing program such as Movie Maker or iMovie.
  7. Adding a title frame.

When researching how digital stories benefit students, I read an excellent article in The Reading Teacher entitled “Digital Storytelling: Extending the Potential for Struggling Writers” by Ruth Sylvester and Wendy-lou Greenidge. This article mentioned Joe Lambert’s model for creating good digital stories; educators may wish to use his model for guidance. It includes seven elements:

  1. Point of view—Defining the author’s perspective
  2. Dramatic question—Asking a question that will capture the viewer’s attention
  3. Emotional content— Focusing on serious issues involving powerful emotions to tell an effective story
  4. The gift of your voice—Using one’s own voice to personalize the story
  5. Soundtrack— Using music that is congruent with the story
  6. Economy—Using the right amount of information without overloading the viewer 
  7. Pacing—Progressing at the right pace in order to maintain the audience’s interest

Guidelines for Starting a Digital Storytelling Project

Teachers who have never done a digital storytelling project may be afraid of looking unprepared in front of their students and may avoid this kind of project for this reason. The good news is that these projects are relatively simple to make, and there are several strategies that’ll help teachers who are unfamiliar with this teaching method get started. The first strategy is to familiarize oneself with the appearance of  digital stories. 

The following websites provide excellent examples:

Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling
This website was designed as a useful resource for educators and students who are interested in integrating digital storytelling with educational activities. It was created in 2004 at the University of Houston College of Education and includes numerous digital stories on various topics.

Creative Narrations
Creative Narrations is an organization that uses storytelling for self-discovery and strengthening relationships. It was founded in 2001 to support organizations with multimedia tools to document perspectives of change and includes a gallery of digital stories.

The East of England Broadband Network
The East of England Broadband Network (E2BN) is organized by the government of England to improve teaching and learning by the use of broadband technology. This site presents numerous digital stories produced by children.

Another strategy that can help educators learn how to create a digital story involves free tutorials on the Internet that offer step-by-step directions on various components of creating digital stories. I did not know how to create a digital story myself, but after viewing a few tutorials I found on YouTube and practicing on my computer, I made some very nice ones. 

The following tutorials may be helpful:

How to Create a Digital Story in iMovie
This short video presents instructors or students with the basics of creating a digital story using iMovie. It contains information on opening iPhoto and iMovie, importing photos, adding narration, fixing mistakes, and exporting and saving the movie.

How to Create a Digital Story Using Windows Movie Maker
This video teaches instructors or students many aspects of making a digital story using Movie Maker, including opening the program, importing images, recording and importing audio, adding titles, and adding or changing color.

Teachers can use digital storytelling projects to help students improve in fluency and vocabulary and to help reluctant readers become excited about reading. When students lack motivation to read as a result of being poor readers, they often avoid reading and consequently fail to improve as much as those who read more.

Teachers can also use digital storytelling circles (DSCs) to encourage students to engage in dialogue and discussion, which are crucial components of comprehension instruction. To use DSCs, break students in small groups (three to five students per group) to read the same text, and have students create a digital story of the text.

Digital storytelling projects can also help struggling writers because when students create a storyboard, they often gain a better understanding of the story sequence. Additionally, the use of graphics and photographs allows students to express themselves more easily by allowing them to use visual detail to convey ideas often omitted when writing the traditional way.

In my presentation at this year’s IRA conference, I will offer more detail about how to use digital storytelling to help students make academic gains in reading and writing. I will also provide guidelines and strategies for instructors to implement this method into their teaching.

Come see Hani Morgan present “Helping Struggling Learners to Improve in Literacy with Digital Storytelling” at IRA’s 59th Annual Conference, May 9-12, 2014, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Hani Morgan is Associate Professor of Education at the University of Southern Mississippi. As a faculty member for the teacher education program, he researches various topics, including the use of technology to improve instruction. He regularly presents his research at national and international conferences and also publishes his findings in peer-reviewed journals. In previous years, he has presented two sessions at the IRA annual conventionone on multimodal e-books and one on read-alouds.

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