I would like to tell you a story. It is about my son when he was in fourth grade.
By the time Zach reached fourth grade he said he hated school. This wasn’t entirely true. All evidence suggested he loved gym, recess, lunch in the cafeteria, and the bus ride to and from school. Unfortunately, by fourth grade he didn’t like reading or writing or much of the academic side of school. These likes and dislikes were well-known to his teacher by the time the first round of report cards were issued. Around this same time, the teacher introduced the annual penny book project: telling the story of every year of his life.
How was I going to get him to do this?!
Thankfully, Zach’s teacher was as interested in Zach’s happiness and success as I was and when I presented her with a new idea, she agreed: While still meeting all of the curricular objectives and documenting all of his work, Zach would complete the project in a different way.
He collected pennies from each year of his life. He curated and scanned photos from family albums. He video recorded interviews with friends and relatives. He organized his ideas in a storyboard and created a digital movie of his life. It included every penny, his voice, a soundtrack and credits. I don’t think he was ever been so proud of any school project. This was in 2007.
When Zach brought his project CD and his box of pictures, pennies, and storyboards to school, the teacher played his video for the class. Then she called me to say that when she watched Zach’s movie she cried. “He had this in him all this time,” she said. His teacher asked if I would come to the school and show her how to make a movie like that. I politely declined, and suggested that Zach would be happy to show her anytime!
Telling Stories is Human
Finding meaningful ways to tell our stories is so important. Storytelling itself is a very human thing to do. Cave drawings are the stories of our very early ancestors. The printing press enabled the widespread distribution of stories. Some cultures have traditions of oral storytelling passed down through generations.
We share and listen to learn about ourselves and each other.
Telling Stories is Social
The scientific development of photography in the mid-1800s resulted in widespread making of daguerreotypes so people could leave them as calling cards when they visited one another’s homes. Business cards, school pictures, home movies. The list goes on of all the myriad ways we make ourselves known and build connections with other people, document our existence, and tell our story.
Social media platforms know how much this matters to us. They enable us to combine our pictures and words into the stories of our important moments. We and our students have been using social media to tell our stories ever since we subscribed to those platforms. The actual story format started in 2013 with SnapChat stories and other services have followed suit including Instagram in 2016 and Facebook in 2017. Those aren’t the only ways we tell stories; Skype has highlights and YouTube allows us to create reels. Technology may change, but our need to know and understand one another, build common ground, grow empathy, and work out differences is eternal. And we do that through our stories.
Empowering Students to Be Storytellers
When it comes to engaging our students in sharing their stories, the possible formats are endless! Within the Google Apps realm students can write and illustrate interactive stories in Slides, Docs, Sites, Draw, Maps or Tour Creator. If you live in the Apple world, there is Keynote, Pages, and iMovie. Regardless of platform, students can record themselves and publish to YouTube where channels and playlists host both videos students make and others they curate.
Beyond gSuite and Apple services, students can tell video stories in Flipgrid, they can annotate visual stories in ThingLink, and they can publish ongoing stories as podcasts. And when we consider the possibilities for synchronous and asynchronous interaction, students can share stories in Twitter chats, in private Facebook groups, and in Google+ communities. Building an audience for their stories by publishing them not only validates the importance of their experiences, it fosters interaction with new people which expands their horizons and their learning community and allows for authentic, embedded lessons in discourse and digital interactions.
Telling Stories is Transdisciplinary
Whether your discipline is ELA; Math; Social Studies; Science; World Language; Health; PE; Fine, Applied or Performing Arts; or Guidance and Counseling, students of any grade level can tell stories that connect their lives and experiences, their hopes and concerns, to the content and skills you are teaching. Imagine how students of math would tell the stories of their lives as a conic section! Students could use historical map imagery to tell the story of different generations of people who have lived in their neighborhoods. How about casting themselves as the hero on a journey to save an endangered species? Maybe they need the recipe for the antidote to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Whatever the subject, whatever the topic, their stories will be personal and the learning experience will be transdisciplinary.
Our Stories are Our Identity
By telling their stories, students develop a sense of self. So often, many of my high school students struggle with their college essay. Their frequent refrain: “Nothing really important has happened to me. I don’t have anything to write about.” Of course, this isn’t true. Maybe nothing tragic has happened to most of them, and for this they are thankful, but they have stories to tell, nonetheless. We have to empower them to recognize and give their voice to those stories.
It is through the telling of their stories that they share aspirations and inspirations which lead them to set goals and make plans. Through sharing their stories they find their place in their community. They begin to seek new connections in wider circles and apply themselves to improving those spaces for the good of us all.
Written by Jacquelyn Whiting, @MsJWhiting, firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author:
After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, Jacquelyn is now a high school library media specialist. She is a member of the #SWE17 Google Certified Innovator cohort, as well as a local activator for Future Design School. Jacquelyn is also the co-author of News Literacy: the Keys to Combating Fake News. She tells her stories on her blog and via social media.