Two weeks that altered my teaching

This is going to start off as a tale about digital storytelling, then it is going to detour down a few side tracks. The tale will end with my ah ha moment that will shake and shift my teaching philosophy. I took an intensive two week grad course for digital storytelling. During this time frame I also read for my professional dialogue group and attended a committee meeting for 21st century learning. Each task had a powerful idea. The ideas together formed the catalyst for my personal change.

I loved the Digital Storytelling class, and this I’d saying a lot since I was up past midnight working on it while still teaching. I discovered new tools (Kerpoof, Vuvox, imageloop) and discovered new ideas and uses for tools I already knew about (Animoto, Photo Peach, GoAnimate). We also had thought provoking discussions about what made a good movie. I compared the 7 Elements of Digital Storytelling to the visual design principles from my previous media design course. One of the obviously, but brilliant, statements made was that we know when something is good, and we sense when it is bad. Even without knowing the design principles, we still can judge accurately. The design principles just provide common language for verbalizing why something works or falls short of the story goals. This concept of self-awareness of producing ties into my favorite quote from the reading with my professional dialogue group.

“The good artist or thinker produces continously good, mediocre, and bad things, but his judgement … rejects, selects, and connects” ~ Friedrich Nietzche

If we are not encouraging students to self-reflect, or not giving them the foundations for purposeful reflection, we are doing them a disservice. Currently it seems like grades drive motivation. This really has nothing to do with learning. We need to shift the students motivation to pride in work and let them produce freely. This connects back to the grad class. We watched a video that described programs in the Philadelphia area that have really excited students about producing and publishing their work, they also provided basic support and a almost mentor-like relationship with an adult. Their work is touching. There was one key fact that stood out: they were all after school, grade free programs. Kids were producing for themselves, not doing the minimum requirements of an A. They are practicing the 4C’s of 21st century learning. This leads to the 3rd major event during the two week period, the committee meeting for 21st century learning.

Our district technology vision:

Is to seize the potential of digital resources to transform teaching and learning to prepare students for success in the 21st century. Students will develop ‘digital fluency’ that ties to the Three C’s of Digital Citizenship and includes: information fluency, solution fluency, creativity fluency, collaboration fluency, and media fluency.

During the committee meeting we discussed what this looks like, how we need to communicate the goals and expectations to both students and teachers, and how technology within the district is going to shift in the very near future (starting next school year). Next year the district is transitioning the high school from having select 1:1 classrooms to having a BYOD policy for all students. The families will be told the minimum specifications for the device, but the final product choice will be up to families. It would not be reasonable for teachers to be masters of every tool or program that the students have access to on their own device. Students will have to learn to problem solve their own tech issues. Luckily, Google and YouTube are not blocked within our district, since both provide answers and tutorials if you know how to search. Search techniques are something that could be modeled and taught, while the working detail of every possible program can not be feasibly taught.

Back to the tale of digital storytelling: the reason digital storytelling is important is the way students interact with what they are learning and creating. You really have to understand something to be able to create a digital story (or any other media piece). Students learn early on how to fake posters, but digital stories take comprehension and synthesis to a deeper level. By being authors they are owning the work, and by being the audience of their classmates work they are making personal connections to the content.With more content to cover and more tests to stress about, teachers wonder if there is a place or time for digital storytelling. To create a great story it takes hours (like 5 based on my experience), and time is limited in the classroom.

I do not think the issue/solution is how to find time during the hectic school year for students to create digital stories in class. I think the solution is to foster the creativity so students want to create and synthesize media outside of the classroom. Teach them some basic tools and have them excited about the creation process. Without the confines of a rubric, they can create freely and without fear of failing. When students share work, praise it (if worthy) and make it available for other students to see. I think the solution the webcast presented was best: they highlighted groups that existed outside of school to promote media creation. I’m sure the students who have thrived and enjoyed creating media have not kept that talent hidden. They probably find ways to incorporate the skill into school tasks. But sometimes out of school things are seen as more desirable than the exact same task in school. The test culture of schools puts unnecessary stress on students. They would feel that a digital story was just one more source of anxiety if it was for a grade. If we as teachers want the students to express their understanding of learning through creative mediums, we need to give up the control in dictating how it looks. We need to let the students be kids and be creative on their own.While I am still processing all this, I know it is going to alter my teaching now and in the future.

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About Lisa Butler

Middle school teacher of Social Studies and Spanish, tech trainer, Flocabulary MC, Nearpod PioNear, and Edcamp Hershey Founder. I have embraced the power of blogging and reviewing products. If I am not doing something with ed or tech, I am probably reading, baking, running, or traveling.
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