Digital Storytelling

Instruction for Digital Storytelling

Introduction

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For all of our recorded history, mankind has been concerned with telling stories. Whether it's locating food or warning of danger, the need to convey information has always been with us. Today's classroom is far removed from the original fireside campsite. However, the need to move information has not changed. The modern student-centered classroom views teaching and learning information as different sides of the same coin. Students no longer simply regurgitate data learned in class.

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Students today are expected to know how to gather, organize, and then transmit the information they've acquired. As students learn, they're expected to teach others the new information they've assimilated into their knowledge base. The process of Digital Storytelling gives students a chance to reflect, re-assimilate, and reexamine the information. This assimilation process helps cement knowledge and increases retention. With proper guidance from the facilitating educator, this process also engages students in higher-order thinking skills. One way that students achieve this is through creating reports and stories based on their studies and learning.

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A distinction can be made between story telling and synchronous communicating information. Communication. Synchronous communication involves a two-way ad hoc exchange of information. Story telling and reporting are more formalized. It is often asynchronous, moving information in one direction from the presenter to the audience. This type of reporting allows a person or small group to create an information resource that will be useful to many others. Some forms of communicating, such as threaded discussions, message boards, social media and e-mail, may seem asynchronous. However, there's an opportunity for reply embedded in the technology. In story telling, the information flows in one direction from the creator to the consumer. It's more formal and constrained. For example, when preparing a report, students pay closer attention to grammar, spelling, presentation, style, and delivery. Since story telling is often asynchronous, students can carefully plan their presentation ahead of time.
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For many years, story telling and reporting in education consisted of traditional research papers, written stories, lectures, filmstrips, and other media. More recently, computer-related technologies have enabled teachers and students to use new presentation avenues. In story telling activities you'll learn how a variety of technologies facilitate the student in the process of story telling and reporting. This facilitation occurs when technologies are integrated effectively into the classroom using sound teaching methodology. You'll also be exposed to Bloom's Taxonomic and Vygotsky's Scaffolding theories. These theories help educators evaluate the level of understanding their students have attained. This provides a practical framework for designing activities to check student content comprehension. Several technologies will be discussed in the context of the story telling process. It's important to realize that these technologies may be used in all of the lessons, regardless of how we're classifying them. The technologies aren't tied to any one particular mode of information presentation.
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Digital Storytelling can be been divided into four presentation contexts: persuasive, creative, narrative, and expository. Persuasive Story telling aims to sway opinion. Expository Story telling seeks to inform. Narrative Story telling tells a story that typically focuses on actual events. Finally, creative Story telling tends to fictionalize. This lesson will focus more in-depth on each of these reporting styles. In-depth focus will give educators a practical framework for evaluating and implementing technology into the classroom. We'll begin with a short introduction to Bloom's Taxonomy and Vygotsky's Scaffolding Instruction.

Bloom's Taxonomy developed by Benjiman Bloom


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In 1948, Benjamin Bloom led a team of educational psychologists that met to discuss classroom activities. They considered what goals teachers should have in mind when designing activities for their students (Bloom, 1956). Bloom's group identified three main categories, or domains: the cognitive domain, the affective domain, and the psychomotor domain.
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The cognitive domain is the domain of interest to our lesson. It involves student knowledge. It also involves the development of intellectual attitudes and skills. Bloom and his associates ranked behaviors in the cognitive domain from plain and simple to the most complex. Bloom divides student cognitive abilities into six categories. These categories are knowledge, comprehension, Application, analysis, Synthesis, and evaluation. This ranking is known as Bloom's Taxonomy. This system is generally easily understood and applied.
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Bloom defines the lowest level of student ability as "knowledge." This category involves simple knowledge of dates, events, places, facts, terms, basic concepts, or answers. Students aren't required to use this information in any practical way. They're simply asked to recall previously learned material. Knowledge is the lowest level of the scale. It involves nothing more than information observation and recollection. Nevertheless, Bloom found that over ninety-five percent of the activities students encountered required thinking at only this level. Even today, much of the software used in schools is of the "skill and drill" sort. This sort uses repetitive, flashcard-like mechanisms to help students retain and regurgitate facts. Knowledge task words are "name," "define," "tell," "list," and "quote."
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The second level of student ability is called "comprehension." Comprehension requires students to demonstrate an understanding of the information. Students may show this by summarizing main ideas, translating a mathematical word problem to numbers, or by interpreting charts or graphs. Students go further with the information than simply recalling it. Comprehension task words are "predict," "summarize," "translate," "associate," "translate," and "estimate."
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"Application" is the third level of ability. It's observed when students use methods, theories, or concepts in new situations. Students don't simply interpret a graph. Instead, they may construct a new graph using the data. Or, they may use a learned formula to solve an equation. The key emphasis is that students use an abstract idea, theory, or principal in a new, concrete situation to solve a problem. Application task words are "solve," "complete," "calculate," "apply," and "illustrate."
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Bloom calls the fourth level of ability "analysis." Analysis requires the student to examine and break information down into parts. The student uses these parts to interpret and understand its meaning. This level requires students to "read between the lines," make inferences, and find evidence to support generalizations. This is a more advanced level. It mandates that the student see the big picture. The student must distinguish between facts and inferences while evaluating the relevancy of data. Constructing an outline from a reading passage is an example of analysis. Analysis task words are "separate," "order," "classify," "arrange," "analyze," and "infer."
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"Synthesis" is the fifth level of student ability. It deals with putting together parts to form a new whole. This may involve putting ideas together in a creative new way. It may also involve using old ideas to come up with new ones. Writing a poem, giving a well-organized speech, or proposing a plan for a new experiment would involve synthesis. The student takes information from several areas and combines it to create a new structure. Synthesis task words are "integrate," "design," "invent," "modify," "formulate," and "compose."
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"Evaluation" is the sixth and highest level of student ability. This level requires the student to perform two simultaneous tasks. First, the student must present and defend opinions. Second, the student must make judgments about the value of material and methods. Students compare and discriminate between ideas. They recognize subjectivity. They judge the adequacy with which conclusions are supported by data. The rubric, or evaluation criteria, may be given to the student. Or, the student may devise it. The evaluation level is considered the highest since it incorporates elements of all the other levels. It also requires the student to add a conscious value judgment based on clearly defined criteria. Evaluation task words are "assess," "convince," "discriminate," "test," "recommend," and "judge."
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Educators familiar with Bloom's Taxonomy have a useful tool for evaluating digital storytelling. Obviously, demonstrating higher levels becomes increasingly difficult for students. Without the guidance of an instructor, a student PowerPoint presentation or web page may amount only to the knowledge level.

At this point, teachers may be thinking that it's one thing to identify the levels of the taxonomy hypothetically. It's yet another to actually get students to do the higher order work in the classroom. Classrooms are typically diverse. They have a wide range of analytical abilities and backgrounds represented in the student body. Some students easily achieve the evaluation level assignment after assignment. Many others struggle to attain anything beyond knowledge and comprehension. How can a teacher encourage and assist students to break these barriers? There is no easy answer. But, "scaffolding" instruction is one of the best modern approaches to this problem.

Scaffolding Instruction


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Jerome Bruner first used the term "scaffolding" in his book Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Scaffolding describes the assistance a teacher gives a student. Through scaffolding, the teacher helps the student take risks and reach higher than the student could on his or her own. Teachers can help students assimilate information through a variety of approaches. However, this doesn't ignore the fact that many students will not immediately understand a difficult lesson. Howard Gardner, speaking of education in general, states:

"First of all, when you are trying to present new materials, you cannot expect them to be grasped immediately. (If they are, in fact, the understanding had probably been present all along.) One must approach the issue in many different ways over a significant period of time if there is to be any hope of assimilation (1989:158-9)."
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Students should be informed about this aspect of learning up front. Their frustration needs to be validated (Walqui, 1992). When students realize that a learning curve is natural and expected, they can better deal with perceived failure in an emotionally healthy way.

Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) theory states that some learners may only enter certain areas of growth if provided with the right kind of assistance (Vygotsky, 1978). Scaffolding instruction is a way to provide support mechanisms to allow learners to handle complex tasks.

Methods of Scaffolding Instruction


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This methodology uses six basic scaffolding strategies. These are Text Representation, Metacognitive Development, Schema Building, Contextualization, Bridging, and Modeling (Walqui, 1992). The goal of these scaffolds is to support students when building understanding. These scaffolds have been used primarily with second language and special education students. Still, these methods may be used in information reporting. This review will be a brief explanation of each scaffold. It will include some tasks appropriate to implementing them.
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Text Representation


Text representation invites students to extend their understandings and apply them in novel formats (Walqui, 1992). For example, students may have difficulty reading an article about the agricultural migrant experience in the United States. They may understand the main idea and the cultural significance of the article. But, they may be confused by the unfamiliar words they encounter. Reading the article as a group would make the article user-friendly for the students. Then, smaller groups of students can create a collaborative poster. They can include on their poster a symbol from the article they believe has the most significance. The students may then look for a quote from the article that goes along with the symbol. In this activity, the text is presented in a new way. This may help some of the students understand the contents of the article more clearly. The ultimate goal of all scaffolds is student independence, without the need of scaffolds (Krashen, 1983).
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Metacognitive Development


Metacognitive development supports students' internalization of strategies. It does this through a conscious focus on the implementation of plans of attack. Metacognitive development fosters student autonomy through self-monitoring and self-assessment (Walqui, 1992). An example is teaching what a "good" reader does as he or she reads. The actual steps could be outlined to the students. This way, the students can copy the steps themselves as they read. Students can stop from time to time during their reading and examine whether they're getting the main idea, understanding the theme of the article, etc.
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Schema Building


Schema building helps students establish the connections that exist between and across concepts. These connections may otherwise appear unrelated. This helps students gain perspective of where ideas fit in the larger scheme of things (Carrell, 1983). Schemas are interconnected clusters of meaning. Schema, or background knowledge, is built before a topic is introduced. Students need to be able to process material from the top down. Top-down processing gives students general knowledge of the broad picture before studying the details. They also need to be able to process material from the bottom up. Bottom-up processing is the ability to understand vocabulary, syntax, and rhetorical style (Carrell, 1983). This observation applies equally to oral discussions, reading comprehension, and writing activities. Graphic organizers, a picture of important information in the lesson, also offer excellent frameworks for developing background knowledge (Parks and Black, 1990).
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Contextualization


Contextualization creates a clear experiential environment that familiarizes unknown concepts (Rigg & Enright, 1986). Visualizations, focus questions, and manipulatives are all helpful. Input becomes comprehensible through manipulating the content teachers use in their lessons (Terrell, 1982). One of the biggest problems many students have in content-area classes is reading the textbooks. Textbooks are usually very linear, dry and dense, with few or no relevant illustrations. Embedding this language in a context by using manipulatives can help the student comprehend the lesson. (Van Lier, 1991).
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Bridging


Bridging provides a personal connection between the learner and the theme of the class. It taps into the student's prior knowledge relevant to the class theme (Walqui, 1992). Brainstorming about a topic prior to a lesson is an example of bridging. Another example is a quick-write. A quick-write is a focused three to five minute activity. It requires a student to write as much information as possible about a given topic in the allotted time. This activity helps provide a personal connection between the learner and the theme of the lesson.
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Modeling


Modeling clarifies procedures through direct experience. It provides concrete examples of what a student's finished product should look like (Walqui, 1992). Any task introduced for the first time should be modeled. Students need to be given clear samples to imitate. Increased student participation and peer interaction enhances knowledge retention better than teacher-directed activities (Dougherty & Pica, 1986.) Teachers should hold high expectations for their students. Teachers should deliberately promote critical thinking skills through the use of temporary scaffolds. This may help the students succeed in academic courses. Research on teacher expectations (Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968) indicates that when teachers were told certain randomly selected students were gifted, those students gained significant intellectual growth. This suggests that teacher attitudes and expectations play a significant role in student achievement. Despite the teacher's best efforts, the reality is that some students won't be operating at the evaluation level of Bloom's Taxonomy. Teachers should not become frustrated. Instead, they should consider their role to help every student reach the highest level of achievement possible.
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We've dealt with Bloom's Taxonomy and scaffolding instruction. Both are practical ways to develop students' higher-order thinking skills as they prepare to present their stories. In addition, digital storytelling will often be more than a written product. Investigators involved in ongoing research suggest that there're multiple intelligences engaged when students present information (Gardner, 1993). Artistic projects such as sculptures, dioramas, dances, and music are also effective ways for students to tell stories to their peers. We'll now deal with the four categories of digital storytelling: expository, narrative, creative, and persuasive.

Expository Storytelling


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We're involved in expository storytelling in our everyday lives. Watching the news, reading a business report, or writing a research paper for a class are all examples. Expository storytelling is an unemotional attempt to simply inform an audience. It deals with explaining how to do something. It's also used in writing step-by-step instructions in technical manuals. The presenter often discusses the positive and negative aspects of a topic. He or she may also analyze and explain a cause and effect relationship. New or unfamiliar terms related to the topic should be clearly defined. There should be a clear, reasonable explanation of each important idea in the presentation. Any relevant background necessary for understanding the topic should be provided. Usually this type of information presentation is more formal. Still, helpful hints and illustrations to explain difficult concepts can be included. Expository storytelling usually ends with restating the main idea. This reemphasis should be made with fresh language, a metaphor, or an example that echoes a key idea from earlier in the presentation.
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Most students are familiar with this storytelling style. Many have been required to use this method since grade school. Teachers use the expository method as a test of student comprehension. There's also another, more subtle reason. When students try to summarize information, they must identify the components of their presentation. They must organize the information in their own words. This often causes students to have a much greater "buy in" to the information. They have to construct their own framework of understanding. Students must first understand the information before creating a synopsis to present to the class. Assigning expository storytelling practically assures that the information will be assimilated much more than through a simple textual reading. In addition, research (Dougherty & Pica, 1986) suggests that students learn best from each other rather than from an authority figure. However, the lecture is not to be discarded, rather, findings point to the greater effectiveness of a student-centered learning approach. From this approach, the teacher functions more as a facilitator of knowledge. He or she may coordinate and guide the educational process in a Socratic role. We're living in an age of information overload. Being able to synthesize, analyze, and evaluate information is becoming ever more important. A typical web browser may display thousands of matches to any one particular query. This essentially drowns students in a hodgepodge of sometimes relevant and often irrelevant information. Students need practice at wading through information. They need to practice picking out main ideas, central themes, and coming up with "the big picture." This skill, while difficult, is honed when students practice storytelling.

Recent software developments have made storytelling in the classroom much more simple. Programs such as PowerPoint, Prezi and Wikis allow students to present information in a sequential series of slides. These slides can incorporate pictures, text, sound, and even multimedia video footage. The advantage to this media is that it can cater to virtually all learning styles in a visually appealing manner. Students may also choose to create graphs and charts summarizing information in a spreadsheet. An example is Microsoft Excel. These software programs allow students to communicate information through their presentations that can then be easily stored, shared, and archived. Students may choose to display their presentations on a website. They can even pipe their presentations to a videocassette for playing on any VCR.

Persuasive Storytelling


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The chief goal of persuasive storytelling is to get people to agree with the storyteller's specific point of view. The intent is to convince the audience to either take action or see a new perspective. The presentation topic is generally debatable, ending with a call to action. The presenter grabs the audience's attention right away. This is usually done with a startling fact or interesting anecdote. Getting the audience's attention is an attempt to make the audience feel something. Feelings evoked may include fear, anger, joy or shame. The presenter tries connect with the audience emotionally in order to get them to think a certain way. The tone of the presentation is critical. The information should be presented even-handedly, in a rational and thoughtful manner. Arguments should be from facts, not merely opinion. An expert's opinion may be presented as evidence. Any statements should be clarified. Information should be logically organized. Detailed supporting examples that take the target audience in mind should be included. It's a good idea to try to anticipate the opposing arguments. Through anticipation, the presenter can build an answer to those points into the presentation. It's acceptable to make light of an opponent's views. It's never acceptable to attack the opponents themselves. Traditionally there are at least three main, well-elaborated reasons given to support the argument. The strongest point is typically saved for last. The conclusion should follow logically. It should seem to be the result of common sense. Political themes and controversial subjects typically fall within persuasive storytelling.

Narrative Storytelling


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Narrative storytelling appeals to our desire to tell stories. Ever since the first campfires, mankind has had the urge to share personal narratives. This form of communication has a strong story line. It has defined characters, a plot, and a developed setting. Narrative stories are usually based on actual events placed into a timeline. Sometimes, the purpose for the narrative may be simply to entertain. The focus of narrative storytelling is on events, details, and descriptions. It usually answers the questions "who," "what," "where," "why," and "how." It asks the presenter to put events and actions in a certain order that lead to a complication or problem. This may include dialogue that builds toward a suspenseful conclusion. It may also include a climax in which the problem is solved in a satisfying way. Often, the conclusion may also offer an assessment of the situation. However, all narratives don't necessarily make a story. Writing about an event could also be considered a personal narrative. The focus here is on actual events or situations that students may choose to present. An example of this is an oral history project. For the project, students can interview senior family members. Based on their interviews, they can prepare a family tree that explains their family's origins and personal history.

Creative Storytelling


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Creative storytelling is a familiar category. It often isn't as formal and stylized as other storytelling categories. Typically, creative storytelling deals with reality projected through a fictional tool. For example, a student may express the inner city experience through the creation of a script or poem. This may still be storytelling and may deal with a theme that is grounded in actual research. However, the student may choose to use fictional characters and story elements to communicate a perspective. Students may use tragedy, comedy, or drama to get a point across to the audience. Or, a legend or myth may be composed around a central theme. Again, this type of storytelling is not necessarily written. An artist may choose to communicate information through a satirical caricature or political cartoon.

Conclusion


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With the invention of the Internet, society is exposed to greater volumes of information each year. Much of this information is unreliable. Increasingly, academic success will hinge upon a student's ability to exercise independent critical thinking skills. Students must wade through, process, and present reliable information pertinent to the task at hand. It's our responsibility as educators to encourage every student to learn how to do just that. The typical public school classroom is very diverse. Classrooms have a generous spread of abilities, attitudes, and motivations represented within the student body. Therefore, these students have educational needs that challenge their educators.

In this lesson we've considered some ways a teacher may help students report information. We briefly looked at the various levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. We pointed out the six levels of educational objectives for students in the cognitive domain. We talked about how teachers can encourage their students to achieve higher order thinking skills through scaffolding. This scaffolding comes from Vygotsky's theory of the Zone of Proximal Development. Finally, we discussed the four divisions of storytelling. These four divisions are expository, persuasive, narrative, and creative storytelling. In the activity section of this lesson, you'll practice designing storytelling for your students. These activities will use various available technologies, such as word processors, spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and web pages. Keep in mind that the modern teacher often acts more as a facilitator of information. Lecture is still necessary from time to time. But, knowledge acquisition and storytelling emphasizes encouraging students to take a more active role in their education. Modern educators strive to promote intrinsic motivation and learner autonomy while keeping high expectations.

ELPS 760 Integration of Educational Technology | KU Ed Tech Programs