In my classroom, digital storytelling looks like chaos and sounds like excitement. In one corner a group of students are laying on the floor with a camera, trying to get exactly the right angle on their shot of Cinderella (a Barbie) as she falls from the desk above. Two groups of students are sitting at their desks, still discussing the plot on their storyboards. Another group is in the hallway huddled around a laptop and a mike as they encourage one of their ESL classmates to say his part more loudly. There is a group intently editing their story, having already taken the photos and recorded their voices. And yet another group is chatting quietly while they work on creating backdrops for their story. The room hums with noise and energy as 30 adolescents create their digital fractured fairy tales.
Educational blogs and journals are all “atwitter” about digital storytelling and have been for awhile. Why? At its base, digital storytelling is a modern (and very cool) way of doing something we’ve been doing for our entire existence on earth. Telling stories. The stories may not have changed much, but the tools at our disposal have changed drastically. Using simple digital tools, our students can create stories about the world around them and the world inside them.
“Great,” you say. “How do I start?” Easy! The first step in digital storytelling is one that we, as teachers, already do. Help your students create a good story. I spend quite a bit of time on this planning stage and have my students create a plan, a storyboard and a script of some kind. Remember that stories can cross subject boundaries. A story about the life cycle of a butterfly is just as valid as a fractured fairy tale or the story of human migration out of Africa.
The next step is collecting the images for the movie. This step can be as simple or complicated as you and your students want and are comfortable with. There are lots of great, inexpensive digital cameras and camcorders out there and there are also lots of great copyright free images online. I usually have my students create their first movie with still pictures (either of themselves, of drawings they’ve done or of images from the internet) and move to actual video after they’ve mastered the first.
There are lots of programs for creating movies, from simple slide show-creating tools to programs like iMovie, PhotoStory3 and Moviemaker. Once the kids have loaded the images or video into the program, it’s time to add the audio. I’ve discovered it works best to use a plug-in headset for this. It helps eliminate much of the background noise caused by a room full of kids!
Whether or not you choose to add music to the movie is really up to you and the computer skills of your students. I generally don’t do it, unless the kids have created the music themselves.
Once your movies are created, you need to decide how you’re going to share them. This will depend on the policies of your district and school. Invite parents to come to a “World Premier” night of your movies. Share the movies with other classes or at student-led conferences. Put them on your class blog. Celebrate all the hard work you and the kids have done!
With some forethought and a little tech know-how, digital storytelling can be done with any grade and across the curriculum. Dip in your toe or jump off the deep end, but give it a try – you’ll be glad you did!