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Does Digital Storytelling Really Enhance Students Literacy Levels?

By Rosemary Upson

Rosie Upson

on 8 January 2012

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Transcript of Does Digital Storytelling Really Enhance Students Literacy Levels?

Digital Storytelling What skills do students
develop with digital storytelling? Does digital storytelling really
enhance literacy levels in a
grade 4 classroom? Critical analysis of my context As an elementary teacher in a K-12 school I have the opportunity to impact students understanding and knowledge of new literacies and multi-modal texts. My school strives to teach students to be technologically capable by providing the classrooms with a large variety of technological tools such as smart boards, laptops, cameras, flip cams and ipads. A large sum of money has been spent on purchasing these tools, maintaining and upgrading them. However, little money has been spent on the implementation of these tools within the classrooms to enhance student’s knowledge of the technologies, new literacies, or multi-modal texts. Much of the student’s education about these technologies is through instinctive knowledge. They are able to use a lot of these technologies, better than their teachers in most cases, because they have an understanding of how most technologies work. This generation of students has a degree of understanding of these technologies because of their early exposure to it. However, little has been done to provide the teachers with pedagogical training, technological training or even resources on how to use these technologies.

The student body that I teach is upper primary. Within this environment most of our literacy is based on fiction and non-fiction stories; reading, writing, telling and viewing these stories. Within this Prezi I will attempt to explain how the teachers in my school can incorporate the technologies that are available to us to enable students to learn about new literacies and multi-modal texts.

My main focus for this Prezi will be digital storytelling, as that matches the curriculum I need to teach, engages the students and incorporates the user-friendly technologies available in our school. In this Prezi, I will focus on the implementation of digital storytelling in a classroom; the skills students learn and some of the challenges of implementation. I will attempt to uncover whether digital storytelling enhances the students literacy levels and how digital storytelling teaches students about multi-modal texts and new literacies.
Project Aims and Expected Outcomes •Identify and explain how students read, view and create multi modal texts through digital storytelling.
•Explain how digital storytelling teaches different literary skills than print based text.
•Analysis of implemented digital storytelling tools.
•How digital storytelling enhances literacy skills.
•How to implement digital storytelling and the challenges you may face.
Re-defining literacy Literacy was traditionally defined as the ability to read and write. This term has now been expanded into a new term, “new literacies.” In order for a student to become literate, there are more skills than just reading and writing that they must learn. Most texts, especially digital texts, are now multi-modal, and to truly understand these texts, there is a new set of literacies that a student needs to have.

Literacy is also coming to be understood as a social practice (Education Queensland, 2000). Our role, as educators, is to help students engage with texts to gain meaning about the reason why the text was created and written and what semiotic codes were used to add meaning to the text. We need to help students to become critically literate (Education Queensland, 2000). One method for helping students to become more literate with these multi-modal texts is by using digital storytelling to view and create stories.

What is digital storytelling
and why is it necessary to teach it? Digital storytelling is a new literacy that includes a range of modes to tell a story. Students include audio, static and moving images and video to convey their message and tell their story (Jakes and Brennan). Students can use digital storytelling to convey information in a factual report, to tell a personal narrative or to create a fictional story (Robin). A variety of technology tools can be used to create a digital story such as computers, tablets and cameras.

Why is it necessary for students to tell stories digitally not just manually? To educate our students for the future it is necessary that they become open to new literacies and use, manipulate and create multi modal texts (Vogel, 2007). These skills will be necessary for their future as many of the jobs available will require workers that can manipulate text and images, analyse resources, synthesize information and make meaning from a variety of multi-modal texts (Education Queensland, 2000). The way we teach literacy has to change to match the skills that students need to be successful in the future (Unsworth, 2001).

Students encounter multi-modal texts, through computer games, TV, Internet, i-pads, and kindles in their personal lives every day. However, when they come to school there is a mismatch between home and school literacies (Education Queensland, 2000; Unsworth, 2001). Within the school environment our curriculum should be helping students gain more meaning from these multi modal texts. Digital storytelling is one mode that can teach students some skills to help uncover meaning from multi-modal texts and also help to bridge the gap between home and school literacies.
Digital storytelling is as much about reading stories as creating them. To read and comprehend text fully Luke and Freebody created the Four Resources Model which are four stages of comprehension that a student must go through: code breaking, text using, text participating and text analysis (Luke and Freebody). Students use these skills in reading both digital and print based texts. In a study of my classroom I assessed my students using these four areas. They had to read a digital story from an ipad and a print based text. I assessed their knowledge in each of these areas and compared whether there was a difference if they were reading from a printed text or a digital story. My findings, from my small study of 23 children, were that there was no difference in their understanding in these four areas, whether using a digital or printed text. Students had the same difficulty reading a printed text and digital text. Although there were many more semiotic codes in the digital text that students needed to derive meaning from, they gained the same understanding.

To create a digital story, especially a non-fiction text, research must be done which requires that appropriate Internet research skills are taught. One of the biggest implications for young students, reading and researching on the internet is helping them manage the information (Schmar-Dobler, 2003) and determine what is relevant. For young students this is difficult because skimming and scanning skills are still being developed, and they want to read the whole text, which takes them a long time as they meet vocabulary that is beyond their comprehension level.

The other implication for gathering information from the Internet is learning to understand and analyze the meaning that is being offered from the different modes on display, for example the blinking pictures and moving images (Schmar-Dobler, 2003). Students must learn to distinguish what information is vital to their research and remain focused on what they are researching for.

Another aspect of reading on the Internet is learning to understand the semiotic codes that the New London Group discuss. The New London Group developed semiotic codes that students encounter in different multi literacies. Some of them are visual meaning, audio meaning, gestural meaning and spatial meaning (Executive summary; Education Queensland, 2000). Students need to be taught how to recognize and identify these codes but also how to derive meaning from them. When composing their own digital stories students need to learn how to use these codes to bring meaning to their own digital stories.

These skills are new skills that we need to add to our curriculum. Within a static text, distraction by moving images does not happen, you can read the book from start to finish and you are not following multiple links to uncover new vocabulary or learn more about a certain concept (Schmar-Dobler,2003, Education Queensland,2000). Specific instruction needs to be given to students in these areas, just as we teach comprehension strategies for print text.

In the chart below I analysed what different skills a student used and learnt when writing a printed story or when they used iMovie to create a digital story.

This chart demonstrates the skills that a student learns when using digital storytelling is more than what they gain when just writing a printed story.
Analysis of Implemented
Digital Storytelling Tools How does digital storytelling
enhance literacy? Implications and Challenges Recently, I have focussed on implementing digital storytelling into my classroom program. I have used three different tools, although there are many others out there that I will continue to trial and evaluate. The three tools I chose were Voicethread, iMovie and an iPad app called Toontastic.

As I implemented, evaluated and analysed these three different tools I realized that all three tools motivated the students to tell their stories. Throughout all the implementation, the students were highly engaged in their tasks, unlike when they are writing stories. The level of engagement, however, did depend on how independent they could be with that tool. For example Toontastic and Voicethread were very user-friendly, so the students worked independently and needed little support. iMovie did require a little more support, which did lead to some restlessness from the students.

All three of these tools allowed for voice or music to be added to the story. Many of my students enjoyed telling their story in this way rather than writing the story down. When using Toontastic the students enjoyed creating animation and making their characters move in a certain way. One student said, “I enjoyed seeing the real image as I was telling my story, it wasn’t just in my imagination.”

When the students finished their stories they had a product that they could be proud of and easily share digitally with family and friends.

All three of these tools enabled my students to develop better technology skills. They also learnt that meaning can come from other modes, not just writing. Meaning can be created through pictures, animation and audio effects.
Digital story telling engages students who may not be engaged in writing or reading tasks (Vogel). I have a student named Bob (name changed for privacy reasons.) Bob is not interested in reading, struggles with dyslexia and even though he has in class support, and out-of-school tutoring, he is still far below grade level expectation. In writing he struggles to form sentences and even form the letters. In 45 minutes I may only get one paragraph out of this student. However if I use digital storytelling, Bob is engaged, he wants to be successful. He has the technological skills to use different programs and equipment. Although many of his literacy skills that he was lacking with print sources still transfer to the electronic skills, his motivation level and his engagement level is completely different. He still struggles to form a sentence but now he has a purpose (Robin, Maine Writing Project). In terms of creating the right visual effects to add meaning to his stories, he excels in this area, which he had no opportunity to do with his print stories.

When creating a digital story a variety of skills are being taught at the same time. Students are often competent multi taskers. At home they often use multi-modal texts for recreational purposes such as playing computer games or browsing the internet. When creating a digital story, students have to use research skills, which involve reading, analysing and synthesising. Students then have to use collaboration and communication skills if they are working with a group to discuss and debate (Vogel) over the layout, story, information, and message that they want to convey. Students also learn technological skills as they use new equipment and programs.

Viewing and creating digital stories allows the classroom teacher to teach students about the power of media. Vogel (2007) says, “Creating digital stories and understanding the impact they have on their audience will develop classroom discussions about the power of media and help students recognize the difference between their digital story and an advertisement.” Students will become critically literate as they begin to interpret the semiotic codes that are presented through a website.

When creating digital stories students will face certain challenges. One of the biggest lessons students will encounter will be about copyright (Robin). Students need to learn skills such as paraphrasing and citing in order to avoid stealing someone else’s property.

As Robin and Ohler describe “bad storytelling using digital media will simply lead to bad digital storytelling” (Robin, Ohler). Using digital storytelling in our classrooms will not solve all our problems. Students still need to be taught the features of good writing and how to compose a good story, whether digital or not. Creating and presenting a bad story digitally will still be bad if it was not a good story to begin with.

Many schools struggle with enough access to technological tools (Robin).This becomes an issue when creating digital stories and trying to integrate technology. The ideal would be for classrooms to have access to a mobile computer lab or a lab of ipads. But in school environments where there is not the financial capability to do that other strategies need to be considered. Often classrooms may have one or two computers in them. There may be an opportunity for you to send your students to other classrooms to use their computers. When time with the actual technology is limited then it may be important to develop the story on paper first, and storyboard what each scene or page will look like so that everything is ready when you start using the technology.

Writing, creating, producing and presenting digital stories takes time, and more time than just writing a story would take. So we must ensure the time is spent well. Are the students gaining enough skills and knowledge by spending the time creating these digital stories, or could the time be better spent doing something else. In considering the amount of time one has to think about what technology they will use. Students need to be scaffolded into using different tools and programs. For example, at the beginning of the year I teach my class how to use Voicethread. Now they use that often for digital storytelling and it is not time consuming because the students have the literacy necessary to use this tool effectively. It saves me time because I do not need to listen to each of the stories during the school day when my time with the students is at a premium, but I can do this at another time. But when I did stop motion stories with my students the process was too complex and was not a good use of the time (Robin).

Digital-storytelling allows for a role reversal of the student and the teacher. The teacher will become a facilitator, while the students figure out the technology. Most students nowadays have an instinctive capability to figure out the technological skills necessary. Teachers do not need to know all about the technology before they use digital literacies. Teachers need to provide the technology, the environment and some simple instructions and allow the students to figure out the technology and start teaching and helping each other. This builds an environment of trust as the teachers learn from their students as well (Maine writing project).
The boundaries of the term literacy have increased dramatically. Literacy is no longer just reading and writing, there are many more skills that need to be taught and assessed in the classroom. Digital storytelling is one mode to immerse students in new literacies and multi-modal text. By reading, writing, researching, creating and presenting digital stories students are learning a vast range of new literacy skills that cross the border between print text and digital text. Students enhance their technology skills, communication, and collaboration skills.

Digital storytelling in the classroom is a relatively new process. More research needs to be done on the actual impact it is having on the literacy levels of the students. In this essay I have outlined the skills that students learn when they are using, creating and viewing digital stories. However, more data is necessary to actually determine the benefits of digital storytelling. From my limited evidence, it is clear that digital storytelling allows students to develop a wider range of skills than just print based reading and writing. They are becoming more literate through digital storytelling because they are manipulating multi-modal texts and learning strategies to do that.
References Education Queensland (2000). Literate futures: Reading (pp.1-26).

Executive Summaries. Retrieved on 18 December 2011, from

iMovie (Image). (2012). Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/support/imovie/

Jakes and Brennan. Digital Storytelling, visual literacy and 21st century skills.
Retrieved on 27 November 2011.http://www.techlearning.com/techlearning/pdf/events/techforum/ny05/Vault_
article_ jakesbrennan.pdf.

Luke, A and Freebody, P. (1999). Further Notes on the Four Resources Model.
Retrieved from http://www.readingonline.org/research/lukefreebody.html

Maine Writing Project (2007) Literacy through technology: the power of digital
storytelling. Retrieved on 27 November 2011, from

Ohler, Jason. (December 2005/January 2006). The World of Digital Storytelling
(electronic version). Educational leadership, 63(4), 44-47.

Robin, Bernard. R. The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling. Retrieved 27
November 2011, from

Schmar-Dobler, Elizabeth. Reading on the Internet: The link between literacy and
technology. Reading online, September 2003.\

Toontastic (Image). (2012). Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/toontastic/id404693282?mt=8&ls=1

University of Houston (2011)

Unsworth, Len .Teaching multiliteracies across the curriculum Changing contexts
of text and image in classroom practice. Open University Press,
Buckingham, 2001. Accessed at http://mcgraw-
hill.co.uk/openup/chapters/0335206042.pdf on December 11th 2011

Vogel, Janet. (2007). Digital Storytelling. Retrieved December 11, 2011, from

Voicethread (Image). (2011) Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/voicethread/id465159110?mt=8 .

Zalesak, Lynne. (2010). Digital Storytelling in the Classroom (Video). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ufVnMDVskLo Resources Practical tools and suggestions for implementing digital storytelling into your classroom:


Examples of digital storytelling in different subject areas, resources and practice videos on how to do digital storytelling:


A guide for how to make digital stories, links to articles about digital storytelling and workshop opportunities:


CONCLUSION By Rosemary Upson
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