Saturday, July 16, 2011

Digital Storytelling in Classrooms

Storytelling is such an important device that builds communication between other people.  As we advance further into the "digital age"  there are more opportunities for classrooms to build on and develop their storytelling skills through a diverse range of  Information Communication and Learning Technologies (ICLT's).

When using ICLT's in  the classroom, I believe they need to be seen as " invisible devices."  Just like the well used pencil and paper, ICLT's should not take away from the learning that is happening, rather, they should promote, challenge and refine the learning and the learner.  I also believe that age should not be a problem when it comes to using ICLT's as a tool for learning.

I teach prep (we're 4 1/2 to 5 years old, there are 26 of them and 1 of me; we are all capable learners). In our classroom, we have used a range of ICLT's to promote digital storytelling.  The class favourite is "Little Bird Tales."  Little Bird Tales is a free internet based program that allows students and teachers to create digital stories that replicate some structure as a real life book.

In the classroom, we explored a range of curriculum competencies that relate to the creating of texts for purpose and audiences.  Prior to using digital technology, we reviewed a diverse range of picture books and rated them on a class graph in terms of which book the class liked best.

We evaluated which parts of the books we liked best and why. For example there was a preference to books that were funny with pictures that were bright and colourful.  The children also liked books that had less text on each page but were long in length as opposed to books that were short in length and had large amounts of text on their pages.

In class we set out on an adventure to write our own picture books.  We storyboarded the events that were going to happen in our texts.  We investigated characters and their personalities, we became characters for hours on end; acting out our favourite stories.  We even explored if it was possible for characters in different books to meet each other and what they would say and do when they did.

After we each had a completed storyboard of our picture book I asked the students what we could do with them.  We talked about publishing our books.  We explored how real books are published and sent to shops so we could buy them.  It was only a matter of time until our discussions were on how some books can be downloaded and read on computers.  We decided that making books on computers was an excellent way of telling stories, because it was a lot easier for everyone to have access to our stories.

After long discussions, brainstorming, creation of word walls to develop our subject relevant vocabulary, we then set our eyes on exploring the similarities and differences between printed texts and digital texts.  We wanted to answer questions such as:

  • Is storytelling the same on the computer as it is if we read a printed book?
  • Is it easier to read a printed book or a book on a digital device?
  • Which is better for the environment, printed books or digital books?
The classroom turned into a research laboratory.  I provided students the task to research how storytelling is different on digital devices and printed books.  The outcomes were fascinating students explored how to find digital books.  They asked questions like if we find books in the library at school, is there a digital library on the internet?  Can we download an app?  And my all time favourite, "Ask google, he knows."  

In the end, the results were about even.  My class had negotiated with each other that digital storytelling is lots of fun, some books have moving pictures, some have sound and some you can click on different things and you can find hidden items or characters.  However, what amazed me was most of the class realised that holding a book is very important to them. The told me that sometimes the characters voices weren't what they thought they would sound like.  Sometimes the picture moved and it was hard to try and read the text.  Sometimes there were loud sound that made you jump when all you wanted to do was read a nice quiet book.  

Suddenly, this small project was now a major focus in my students learning, technology had influenced their thinking and was assisting them to ask valid questions of what they were viewing.  They were evaluating the purpose of different texts.  They were giving different stories both digital and printed, ratings on their validity of being a good book.  All throughout this experience, the ICLT's used were invisible to them, they were a tool for learning not a tool  to be learned.  The students were the learners, I was their teacher and technology was the tool and that only changed when somehow I became the learner and they were the teacher.

After our research came to and end, we wanted to use our hand written storyboards and make them into digital books that were good digital books that we could share with everyone.  We had purpose to our learning and had objectives in our mind, that's where Little Bird Tales came to our aide.

As a class we explored the features of the website and looked at how the features assisted us in developing our digital stories.  We gave the website a rating of 4 stars out of 5 on its practicality and ease of use.  We decided that there were a lot of buttons and it would be best if we made a class chart to remind us what the buttons meant and what they did if we pressed on them.  You can find a copy of our final version  by clicking this link: Little Bird Tales Prompts.

Over the course of 3 weeks we slowly worked on our stories, my students made their own schedule of who did what and when they did it, who had access to the computers and for how long for.  We constantly discussed what we liked about the website, what was easy to do, what was hard, we even explored concepts of how we would make the website better if we were to make it.

Overall, the students don't really remember making their digital books as the best part of our investigations, they constantly talk about how they found out how books were made (both digital and printed), how they found out answers to their questions and how they made digital books that didn't have hard to read get or how their books didn't have silly loud noises or how their texts were made to share with others for free not for money.

As a teacher Little Bird Tales allowed my students to further the learning that was already happening in the classroom.  It fulfilled its purpose as a tool for learning,  it was never the teacher.   The tool itself is easy to use and best of all free! It allows students to add text, voice, images and drawings to the pages of the books.  It allows students to have ownership of their work and If you're really keen, you can create a teacher account and add each student to give them a personal log in code.  We did this and each student had their access details on a lanyard which we called our research passes.  And if you're really, really keen, you can print little QR codes that the students can scan on the computers webcam that takes them directly to their account.  This was "Very Cool" and simulated the feeling of being a real researcher to the students.

Since it's implementation in the classroom, we have used Little Bird tales countless times to tell a story, sometimes it is teacher initiated, other times, students feel they have a story to tell and they know that Little Bird Tales is a tool that helps them do that.  Below is the link to our first ever tale (click the duck to have a read).  The students each had jobs, some drew the pictures, other directed the voice recordings, others made sure that the appropriate buttons were being pressed and that most importantly the save button was pressed frequently.  My students didn't need my help to make this story, they made it themselves.  They are extremely proud of their work and I am proud them.  It is 100% student created.

How are you promoting digital literacy in your classroom.  Do you believe ICLT should be invisible?  Comment below, maybe your insight can help the learning of another.

One Response so far.

  1. amiee says:

    I loved reading about your experience using Little Bird Tales. It feels great knowing our site is helping children determine the pros and cons between printed books and digital books and also helping them with collaborative story telling!

    Mostly, we are pleased to see the results of your hard work. "Duck" is adorable and I LOVE hearing the children's voices!

    Thanks for sharing your experience and for sharing Little Bird Tales with your students!

    Amiee Klem
    Co Founder of

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