We are the stories we tell. And we always have been, ever since we first started grunting our tales of the day’s hunt to one another around the campfire. But stories that once started as conversations and cave paintings have evolved into Snapchats and interactive videos.
Sure, the technology has changed, but the overriding need to tell our stories certainly hasn’t. And this urge is especially crucial to kids. Stories are a child’s personal curriculum: a way of processing the world around them while simultaneously defining themselves. And while today’s technology is a far cry from the usual pen-to-paper, it needn’t interfere with the storytelling process. In fact, technology opens up exciting new opportunities for students to create rich, dynamic, and meaningful stories and express themselves like never before.
The Critic: Mulling Over Media Literacy
Telling your story in this age of digital media requires media literacy. Tweens and teens are digitally saturated—spending six to nine hours daily, respectively, on devices of some kind—making it critical that they have the skills to distinguish digital wheat from chaff. This, of course, involves the ability to detect fake news. But it also requires the ability to discern more subtle ways of crafting information: in video, for instance, where lighting, the use of sound and music, framing, and camera angle all transmit information and intent.
Just as deeper reading creates better writers, this skill helps students to break down narrative as media consumers so that they may become more skillful creators. Students must navigate, interact, and critique the text they encounter on-screen. There are hyperlinks, annotations, sticky notes, and a host of other digital-specific distractions that could impede comprehension if not fully understood.
How do we teach this skill? For a start, find high-quality examples of blogs, book trailers, and online discussions to share with students to help them discern what makes for a fulfilling digital learning experience. Teach students to closely read images and video just as they are expected to with a piece of text. Remember that strong traditional readers aren’t necessarily skilled digital readers, as reading digitally is a different experience from reading print.
The Creator: Interlinking Literacies
Even more powerful are when multiple literacies are woven together. For instance, a movie might merge writing, performing, illustration, music, editing, and camerawork to impart information and influence a viewer’s emotions. Students see many examples of this on social media, with music, imagery, and words appearing in a Facebook video to have the maximum emotional impact. Ask students to explain the convergence of these different mediums: why use all three? What effect does it have?
Equally powerful is the realization that we as learners might prefer intersections of media. If students are reading online, have them take notes on paper. If they are reading on paper, students can track their thoughts on a device. Afterwards, discuss what made reading successful—either in print or on screen—so students understand how comprehension can be affected across platforms.
Digital tools promote equity, as not every storyteller is adept at traditional writing. Technology allows students to tell a story in the way that makes sense to them, be it through words, video, audio, art, or even interactivity. Most importantly, they learn that their voice truly matters.
Technology amplifies their stories so that students anywhere and everywhere can connect their experiences. Once a story—be it written or, filmed or recorded—is shared online beyond the classroom, viewers and readers can provide feedback, with the student revising and refining their understanding. Digitally publishing a work can also be tremendously satisfying, as students can produce stories that are consumed by people from all over the world.
In the end, it’s about a focus on the process, not the tool: anything that gets students reading, researching, writing, watching, questioning, creating, and sharing! Allowing students to express different modes of storytelling engages them on a deeper, more personal, and ultimately more satisfying level. It also moves us beyond 20th-century views of literacy and equips students for a future workforce that values creative use of multi-modal storytelling! In this way, we encourage a creative mindset that makes anything possible, fueling students’ confidence and creativity.