Storytelling and new media narrative
Part I - Storytelling, literacy and learning
Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning and Creativity. Learn more about Jason's book about digital storytelling and new media narrative in education. Read reviews, peruse the table of contents, or purchase the book. Would you like your copy "signed at a distance?" Then contact us to receive a bookplate you can add to the inside cover.
Orchestrating the Media Collage. This article appeared in the Feb-March 2009 issue of Educational Literacy, and addresses the many skills we need to be literate in the digital age, including the ability to tell effective stories.
Part I - Storytelling, literacy and learning
Hello and welcome to the part of the digital storytelling website that is devoted to the educational aspects of digital storytelling!
If you are reading this page, you are probably in one of my digital storytelling workshops, or are simply looking for resources about storytelling in education. Whether or not you are in a workshop, feel free to use any materials you find here.
Storytelling in four parts. I have divided my storytelling resources into four parts, each with its own web page.
This is Part I- Storytelling, literacy and learning. This site looks at the nature of storytelling, and how it can be used to advance learning and literacy within educational environments.
If you are attending a workshop, or if you simply want to know more about the many facets of digital storytelling, please read through this web page, as well as Parts II, III and IV:
Taken together, all three parts provide a fairly comprehensive overview of digital storytelling within an educational environment, from the big picture down to the details.
This site is geared toward the classroom teacher. I assume you have limited time and resources to spend on incorporating digital storytelling into your curriculum. That is why I tend to think in terms of low budget projects that can yield high academic returns in a short amount of time.
Feel free to contact me with any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
The DAOW of literacy in a storytelling environment
Digital, Art, Oral and Written literacies- the DAOW of literacy - are crucial for personal, academic and workplace success in the Digital Age and blend very well in a digital storytelling environment. In my digital storytelling workshops we address how oral and written storytelling, as well as storytelling using digital and art skills, are involved in the creation of digital stories, and how all these literacies and forms of storytelling can reinforce each other. This improves literacy and expression in all areas.
Why is oral storytelling important in digital storytelling?
Why is writing important in digital storytelling?
Why is art important in digital storytelling?
Why is digital literacy important?
Digital literacy = using technology effectively, creatively and wisely
The "D" in the DOAW of literacy stands for Digital. Our goal with digital literacy is to use technology "effectively, creatively and wisely." That is, we want our students to:
Media literacy as a subset of digital literacy
The wisdom we want our students to cultivate is both theoretical and practical. We want them to see and understand the persuasive power of technology and media, especially the power that flies beneath most people's radars. And there is no better way to "pull back the curtain and expose the wizard of technology OZ" than to have students create their own media. This is typically the domain of "media literacy."
Digital storytelling is a great media literacy vehicle. When students persuade with media, they see how media producers persuade them.
Digital storytelling provides a great means to teach media literacy. Both computer-based and green-screen performance-based storytelling "lift the hood" on media persuasion and show students how media makers use technique to influence what we think and how we feel. Media literacy has always carried the connotation of being wary of how media is persuading our perceptions. That is, beause media is so powerful, we need to be especially aware of its power to persuade.
Media literacy: Recognizing, evaluating and applying the methods of media persuasion.
I recommend you make media literacy an explicit goal of your new media project. In my opinion, students cannot understand how media persuades until they become media persuaders themselves.
Media fluency. There is yet another component of digital literacy that is worth mentioning here: media fluency.
Media fluency: The ability to use a number of media to create a coherent and compelling narrative.
In one sense, it simply means being very media literate. That is, it's the next step in language development that allows media developers to speak the language of media like a native.
But it carries with it a different connotation than media literacy. Eventhough media literacy addresses "applying the methods of media persuasion," it is usually associated with just reading media. That's because media literacy was born during an era when very few created media, while the rest of us watched it and were left to suspect what the media persuaders were actually doing and saying.
On the hand, media fluency is a response to being able to both read and write media. In an era of inexpensive, widely distributed digital tools, we can now produce media, not just watch it. This signifies an imporant evolutionary step in the production of information, media, and, above all, stories.
Media literacy allows us to read media; media fluency allows us to write it.
Media literacy and media fluency are both important. Media literacy is needed to fully parse and understand what the media fluent person can do. Media allows us to critically consume media; media fluency allows us to effectively create it.
Different kinds of stories and storytelling
This workshop is about storytelling, as well as about digital storytelling.
Committing a bad story to digital media is like giving a bad guitar player a bigger amplifier.
I had a revelation many years ago in a digital storytelling class. As the technology became more powerful, some of my students' stories became weaker. What I discovered was that some of my students were focusing on the power of the technology rather than the power of their stories - "gratuitous technologizing," I called it. That compelled me to hire an oral storyteller to work with my digital storytelling students before we added the technology to the storytelling process. The results in my classroom from using oral storytelling as a form of pre-production was transformational. Everyone's work improved.
So, in this workshop we learn the fundamentals of storytelling first, then focus on how to use technology to support the stories you want to tell in personal, engaging ways. Having a grasp of traditional storytelling will not only enrich your digital storytelling, but it will also allow you to use storytelling in your classroom whether your classroom is high tech, low tech or no tech.
Story mapping vs. storyboarding
Story mapping shows the emotional flow, while story boarding shows the flow of motion.
To encourage students to focus on the story part of storytelling, I use story mapping to map the essential elements of a story, like conflict-resolution, character transformation, realization, and so on.
Story mapping is quite different from the more familiar "storyboarding," which is an excellent planning tool to use to chart the events of a story. But while storyboarding charts a story's events, story mapping charts a story's essence. Both are important, but they do very different things. The story development process goes like this: idea -> story map -> storyboard -> script. A story map typically fits on one page and takes the form of an annotated graphic that shows and explains the essential parts of a story. Teachers like the story map because they can tell at the beginning of student projects whether a story has what it takes to be successful, and challenge students when their stories are weak.
Would you like to know more about story mapping as a story planning tool? It is covered in detail in Part III.
Personal and academic stories
There are many kinds of stories and ways to classify stories. In my workshops, we usually address two kinds of stories: personal and academic. If there is time (which there usually isn't!), participants create one of each of these. If time does not permit, at least you will be able to plan, imagine and/or reflect on how you might create both kinds of stories. These two kinds of stories are loosely described in the following way:
I usually begin with exploring "the personal story" - a story about something that happened to you and changed who you are. From this, you will develop the skills, sense of story flow and emotions connected with creating an original story. Then if time allows we explore the use of storytelling in academic areas.
Can a personal story be an academic story? Sure. That is also addressed in the workshop.
Stories vs. reports - engagement vs. critical thinking
The use of the story form in education is exciting. But it is also problematic. One of the hallmarks of a good story is that you don't really reflect on it, at least not while you are listening to it. A good story is considered "good" precisely because you become engrossed in it and give yourself over to it. This begs the question, "What is the role of critical thinking in the pedagogy of storytelling?"
Alan Kay describes the tension between storing and critical analysis succinctly by comparing theater and political rallies. While they appear very similar in terms of activity and production values, they make two very different demands upon the viewer as learner: theater demands we suspend our disbelief, while political rallies demand we critically analyze everything we see.
Inspirational stories + critical thinking = pedagogy of digital storytelling
Our challenge as educators who want to use digital storytelling across the curriculum is to harness the tremendously persuasive power of the story form through a process that imbues it with reflection, problem solving and reasoned thinking. That is, we must use the story form as a vehicle for learning and critical thinking, while not relinquishing its ability to engage and inspire. As students blend storytelling and analysis, they will have the best of both worlds. And the more that students become producers of stories, rather than just consumers, the more powerful a learning tool storytelling will become. Digital storytelling offers great potential in this area.
Don't think about "story vs. report" in "either-or" terms -- most media projects are some combination of story form and analytical report. Every story is going to be a particular blend of story form and documentary or report, so it's more effective to think about media in terms of where it falls on a continuum:
When analyzing media, it's effective to have students identify where particular media pieces lie on the continuum. When planning student media projects, it can be helpful for teachers to identify a point on the continuum that they want students to aim for.
Teachers are more important than ever. As education, entertainment, art, technology and storytelling continue to merge, society will need the help of the educational community to make sure this merger happens in ways that work for everyone. Combining the story form and critical thinking is one of the most exciting and challenging frontiers in this merger, particularly in education and educational research. That frontier will be largely dominated by digital storytelling.
Questions about storytelling in the classroom for teachers:
What to bring to a workshop
I have moved this information to Part II - Digital Storytelling Technology, Techniques and Resources. Click on the links below to access this information:
Examples of digital stories
Here are some examples of personal stories:
A Good Dad. A young man's digital story about a dramatic event in his life. He created this story in the context as part of his therapy. It is low tech but has high impact. It was created in only 12 hours. It is a testimony to the fact that glitz and polish are not necessary to produce narrative that is personally meaningful that resonates with others.
Here are some good examples of digital stories with an academic perspective:
How to make a ball roll. Students put this animation/movie together to show the math involved in getting a ball to roll. Note that the process they captured, which involved documenting a problem they encountered and resolved, gives their project a story flavor. Without the problem-resolution element, it would have been "just a report."
School train. Fourth graders created this unique video to explain their understanding of the literary concept "metaphor" by comparing going to school with riding on a train. This piece challenges conventional notions of story, and might better be called "new media narrative."
Special thanks to Glen Bledsoe (email@example.com), a computer teacher from Mollala Elementary (http://www.molallariv.k12.or.us/~mes/contact_us.html) who helped the kids create these.
Combining personal/academic stories, using green screen technology
An example of this kind of story is The Fox Who Became a Better Person, told by Hannah Davis, a fourth grader. It combines the study of local cultural values, while telling a story in "the third person magical," in which the teller speaks through animal characters in the first person while also narrating the story in the third person.
Using the green screen. Hannah's story is also a good example of a particular kind of digital storytelling I call green screen storytelling, or "digitally enhanced oral storytelling," or DEOST. In this approach, tellers tell their stories in traditional oral fashion in front of a chroma background, in this case a green wall, and then add original artwork in post-production using chroma key editing.
Hannah's work is part of a larger project - the Tlingit Native Literacy program in Juneau, Alaska - involving 20 elementary students. Hannah received coaching from Native elders and educators in the process of creating and telling her story. She created all the pictures that appear behind her with simple materials (crayon and 8 1/2 X 11 paper), except for the opening picture of the fox, which Hannah found on the Internet; it is used with permission from CSIRO.
Are you interested in the process I use to help students create green screen storytelling projects? Go to for a step by step pictorial guide to doing a green screen storytelling project in your school. The materials at that website are based on a project completed at Nome Elementary School in December, 2006.
If you are looking for more technical details, then I suggest going to Part III of the digital storytelling site for details.
Right now you have one way to access Hannah's story:
The best way to understand digital stories is to experience them. In much the same way that artists will spend days at an art gallery to immerse themselves in artwork -- and writers will read voraciously in order to immerse themselves in the work of other writers -- I recommend you immerse yourself in other people's digital stories. It is a great way to understand the depth and breadth of digital storytelling, and to pick up ideas -- both conceptual and practical -- about how you can tell your story.
Here is a list of a few digital storytelling places to visit:
Digital storytelling resources
Check out the following books to broaden your horizons on digital storytelling:
This is a description of the University of Alaska Geography Program's Stories of Culture and Place.
Visit the main Stories of Culture and Place (SOCAP) website for details about the program. SOCAP specializes in helping teachers and students use digital storytelling and new media narrative in personal and academics projects. Access to a number of examples of student work are featured on the site.
The World of Digital Storytelling , Education Leadership Journal. Through creating electronic personal narratives, students become active creators, rather than passive consumers, of multimedia. They combine oral, written, digital and art literacies as they become heroes of their own learning stories. This article has also been Translated into Spanish. For more information about storytelling in education, visit Jason's storytelling website. Contact Jason if you want to how to obtain a copy of the article. Also, visit Jason's storytelling site for free materials about using digital storytelling in the classroom.
1-page quick reference of the "virtual portrait of a story" (VPS) story map that I adapted from Brett Dillingham's work, and which I use to help students map the emotional flow of a story.
A rubric to help teachers assess student work in the area of writing and telling stories.
Education Leadership article and website that provide the rationale for making art the next literacy. Many educators have used this article to support requests for increased art funding in their schools and districts. It always makes me happy when they do.
© 2014 jason ohler