Friday, March 27, 2009

Targeting Literacy Skills with Digital Storytelling, and More!

The article by Robin, The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, seeks to inform us about what it is, the types, effective uses for teachers and students, types of student literacy, literacy skills gained from the creation and presentation of digital stories, challenges, considerations, and impact research.

While I found the article useful to begin understanding the nature of digital stories, it caused me to begin a deeper search into the impact on our classrooms, with their facilitation as teachers, and into the educational system as a whole. I am just beginning to realize the current situation or revolutionary transformation that I think all new and old teachers need to be aware of with regard to technology and teaching literacy skills; and that is that if we are going to really (and I mean REALLY) target the cutting edge, essential art of teaching literacy at present, we need to become technologically "literate" and understand why it is not only inevitable, but critical. There's no more room for "old school" strategies and technologies.

"Our students' brains have physically changed - and are different from ours - as a result of how they grew up", states Marc Prensky in his article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. Just to grab your attention a bit more, he quotes Dr. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine, "Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures." To read the article in its entirety, and it is WELL worth the 6 pages, click here. He is, well -- right on. I haven't read anything so precisely salient, and true like this, that has ever given me this kind of pause to stop and think while attending GMU and learning to become a teacher. This is absolutely blind-siding truth coming at me like a tsunami of Titanic proportion. Children think and learn differently than we did, and we need to rise to the occasion to meet their needs. Problem is, it's hard for us to do this. Our own schemas need to be rearranged and overhauled drastically, and in the process, it will be them teaching us. Our students are faster and better these days.

It's more than this. They're bored with the same old strategies that don't fit within their new advanced schemas of learning. Their new learning styles are different -- as Prensky points out, they're "foreign" to us. But, it is we as older, advanced learners, thinkers, and teachers that are the "immigrants" in a land that in which they are "native".

Prensky continues to assert that the new students of today are called "Digital Natives" and that those of us having to relearn new technologies to keep up and to implement in our classrooms are called "Digital Immigrants" because we still have our feet "in the past". He claims that "our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language ( that of pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language."

Prensky continues to talk about methodology, content instruction in terms of "legacy" and "future". He presents an example to do with CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs. I am quite familiar with this because I was once a CAD operator while working as an architect in a variety of architectural firms. My skills are virtually obsolete now as I have not used CAD for some 10 years now, and the software has transformed at least through 2-3 newer versions. The point is that software makers realized )with people such as myself) that they would have to invent the tutorials as "edugames" or "edutainment" in order to teach the "older dogs" the "new tricks"...and this is much how it is with our present day education system and teaching students. It is cutting edge. Technologies advance much more rapidly than us, as teachers, can keep up with them. The article even ventures to inform us that it will be our students teaching us, in the end, how to best teach them. Shouldn't we be listening to how things are changing in how to teach this new generation of digital learners?

It is imperative and essential that we learn to do all the things that Amie and George Mason University Department of Education and .....are striving to expose us to. It's our obligation to be good teachers to learn how to not only do blogs, wikis, and digital stories, but to do them well, and then learn other strategies, like using cellphones, ipods, podcasting, etc...Here's a really neat video on YouTube that I think is worth the 7.5 minutes. (As it states, just ignore the dramatic music, and watch it for the text...) I found the Prensky article and others from watching it. Click here.

Finally, with regard to multiple intelligences and styles of learning that Robin refers to in his article, I was most struck by his assertion (like others that have commented in their blogs) that the "use of multimedia in teaching helps students retain new information as well as aids in the comprehension of difficult material". I have often thought that as my young 3-4 year old daughter "took-off" as a rumbling 747 jumbo jet-liner into the skies of using the computer and mastering each new computer program, and as I sat back in "shock and awe", that perhaps this would damage her abilities when she entered a mainstream classroom. Now, after reading Robin, Prensky, re-thinking the old school theorist, Gardner, and after learning how to blog and wiki (not to mention i-tunes and learning to download music into my daughter's ipod and my new nano), I think, "why are we still resisting new methodologies with current technologies and teaching our youngsters like dinosaurs???? Why are we not abandoning the old strategies for the new?" We need to step into their world to teach them the way they are motivated and engaged in learning. No wonder we have such a high number of ADD children that can't learn traditionally, but CAN learn with cutting edge technologies such as blogs, wikis, and digital stories. Perhaps research suggests that new teaching strategies with newer technologies will eradicate problems associated with learning disabilities and language differences in the classroom.

Finally, Bernajean Porter author of DigiTales: The Art of Telling Digital Stories (, in her article Digital Storytelling Across the Curriculum: Finding Content's Deeper Meaning lists the following under "Building 21st-Century Skills" (in contrast to Robin's skill set):

1. Creativity and inventive thinking
2. Multiple intelligences
3. Higher-order thinking (lessons learned)
4. Information literacy
5. Visual literacy
6. Sound literacy
7. Technical literacy
8. Effective communication (oral, written, and digital)
9. Teamwork and collaboration
10. Project management
11. Enduring understandings

Click here -- if you want to read her article. It's a worthwhile read as well, and she quotes Roger Shanks (brain researcher) saying, "storytelling provides a memory structure and depth of context that engages learners in a sense-making of facts." Porter lists four ideas for types of communication that connect storytelling with curriculum:

1. Myths, legends, and tall tales
2. Docudramas
3. Describe and conclude
4. Advertising or Public Service Announcements

Of course, these are just a few headings, but the ideas within these headings are really cool!

So, to conclude, I think it might be really worthwhile in our class Wiki, or in our own Teachers' notebooks from Dr. Malloy's class to take more seriously the ideas that we generate in following SOLs and in coming up with ways to use the technologies in the classroom.

Digital stories shouldn't be used as just as a hook or anticipatory set. We will fall short if we think only this far. The stories should also be seen as part of the process; as the steps, perhaps in the unit or as the unit, to arrive at the attainment of the achievement goals and frameworks set forth for the overall development of skill sets.

Thanks for reading! - Jill


  1. Jill, you've written an in-depth entry here...what a deep thinker! You make an excellent point about the CAD programs you used in the past. You may want to read Daniel Pink's book A WHOLE NEW MIND where he talks about our new era called "the conceptual age." Pink believes that this new age calls for a different kind of person with a different kind of thinking. Pink believes that successful individual will combine their left brain and right brain thinking to create "a whole new mind" (the title of the book!)

    A fascinating entry, Jill!

  2. Wow. Interesting indeed. I thought it was interesting that you said, “There’s no more room for “old school” strategies and technologies”, followed later by, “Why are we resisting new methodologies with current technologies and teaching our youngsters like dinosaurs?” I’m not sure if you meant we’re teaching like dinosaurs in general, which should end, or once we decide to use technology, the way we do so is too far behind today’s “natives”, which we must catch up on. Perhaps a mix. Either way, I feel that a combination of traditional methods, supplemented with newer technologies for sure (presenting material in fun ways which are also relevant to their lives), would work well.

    Comments/responses to the article:

    1. "Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV). Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives."

    -Less than 5,000 hrs reading? Is he celebrating that in part? Conceding that reading books is a thing of the past, and fortunately so? Also, are we not reading whenever we are online, emailing, playing computer games, etc, etc?

    2. "What does “dial” a number mean, anyway?"

    -This reminded me of a famous digital immigrant who is not a teacher who made some interesting, related comments recently:

    (Regarding rotary dialing) - This guy has two "0's" in his number? *#!* him! :) … Kidding aside, I think it’s very sad that people are this way now (must have everything immediately, etc).

    3. "Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work. (Does any of this sound familiar?) … But Digital Immigrants typically have very little appreciation for these new skills that the Natives have acquired and perfected through years of interaction and practice."

    -Is "thriving on instant gratification" really a skill and/or a good thing? I'm not sure about that.

    4. "As educators, we need to be thinking about how to teach both Legacy and Future content in the language of the Digital Natives. The first involves a major translation and change of methodology; the second involves all that PLUS new content and thinking. It‟s not actually clear to me which is harder – “learning new stuff” or “learning new ways to do old stuff.” I suspect it‟s the latter…My own preference for teaching Digital Natives is to invent computer games to do the job, even for the most serious content. After all, it‟s an idiom with which most of them are totally familiar."

    -I was glad to see him say that we need to be thinking about how to teach both Legacy and Future content, but not so much when he said he wants to invent computer games to do the job. Again, as a supplement, absolutely in this day and age, but to rely on computer games is very different, and scary in my mind for some reason.

    5. "In math, for example, the debate must no longer be about whether to use calculators and computers – they are a part of the Digital Natives‟ world – but rather how to use them to instill the things that are useful to have internalized, from key skills and concepts to the multiplication tables. We should be focusing on “future math” – approximation, statistics, binary thinking."

    -Binary thinking existed before there were calculators...precisely because there were no calculators.

    6. "In geography – which is all but ignored these days – there is no reason that a generation that can memorize over 100 Pokémon characters with all their characteristics, history and evolution can‟t learn the names, populations, capitals and relationships of all the 101 nations in the world. It just depends on how it is presented."

    -I loved this, as well as the ideas about teaching the Holocaust/Schindler's List!

    All in all, quite an article. He makes such interesting points. But again, as Wendy asked a few weeks ago, what happens when the power goes out? Could anyone imagine what the next wave of "natives" might be in reference to (what will the next, new, universal language be? what will today's natives be immigrants to tomorrow?).

    Regardless, life's greatest lessons cannot be learned, felt, appreciated, and passed on digitally.

    I, for one, am so glad I am a "Digital Immigrant". Learning new ways to do old stuff is fun, but how thankful I am that I know some of the "old stuff" as well could never be understated.

    Lastly, isn't it interesting that Prensky was writing this back in '01? Also, I can’t quite tell which MTV he is referring to when he says today’s kids watch MTV. Is it the one from the 80’s that actually played “music” videos, or what MTV has become since (not music television, but rather, a reality channel almost, featuring almost exclusively, celebrities of such strong character). In any event, I feel the world today, in ’09, is almost unrecognizable from '01 even.

    It saddens me to consider to what extent so many people would be completely lost, not knowing what to do with themselves or how to accomplish x,y,and z if their computers were no longer working. Let alone actually talk to the people who may be in the next room, actually go to a museum, literally smell the Sistene Chapel, etc.