I love literature, and always have. According to Birketveit and Williams (2013, p. 7), “literary texts […] open up imaginative perspectives, interrogate values and assumptions, and lead to enhanced understanding of global cultures and differences”. Reading stories, but also producing stories and sharing them with an audience, allow pupils to create stories that resonate. “When a story resonates, it tends to stick with us long after we hear it” (Ohler, 2008, p. 23).
Digital stories combine images and narrated soundtracks to create a story, often enhanced by video clips, background music and special effects (Kajder, Bull, & Albaugh, 2005). Anita Normann (2012) discusses the benefits of using digital storytelling in the ESL classroom, including the success story of Julie, the girl who did not want to speak English in front of others. As digital storytelling allows for alternative ways of working with and presenting stories, it serves as an excellent tool for adapting learning methods to the individual needs of students. In this case, Julie could record and edit her own soundtrack and practice her English intonation before the final product was published. Acquiring a feeling of mastering spoken English, Julie even chose to give a PowerPoint presentation in front of the class, exhibiting impressive progress!
Normann (2012) outlines how reading and discussing literary texts may serve as an excellent starting point for students in developing their own digital stories. Reading this, I immediately started envisioning potential interdisciplinary projects involving literature in the ESL classroom and digital storytelling – my imagination just kept on churning. One of these ideas is summarized below.
The reading list for the course EDU 3083 Text and Culture in the Classroom contains a number of excellent contemporary texts for young readers, including the moving story of Alem in the novel Refugee Boy (Zephaniah, 2001). Reading and discussing this book (recommended for 16-18-year-olds), maybe in combination with the fantastic, wordless book The Arrival (Tan, 2007), might provide the basis for digital stories addressing the theme of immigration and the individual stories of refugees – topics high on the public agenda all across Europe today. Preparations might even include pupils interviewing refugees settled in their local community in English, or inviting refugees into the classroom to share their experiences. As many refugees speak English well, this would facilitate authentic and more spontaneous conversation in English – complementing the students’ narrative soundtracks that are prepared and rehearsed in advance. Follow-up work might include blogs, collaborative writing / essays, class debates on the topic of immigration and refugees, etc.
Well, this was just one of several ideas that kept popping up as I was reading about the versatility of digital storytelling. Such a multi-text, multimodal project would not only involve working with the competence aims of the national curriculum for English (communication, language learning, culture, society and literature, compound digital texts), it would also enable pupils to process and reflect upon the experiences of others, supporting the development of empathy and intercultural competence and understanding. Projects that revolve around personal stories told by other (in lowercase letters) fellow human beings will truly interrogate prejudice and assumptions about “the Other”.
Normann and Kopreitan (2012) characterize the work of preparing scripts for digital stories as a work method whereby pupils process subject matter and make it their own. They emphasize that a good story will affect both the author and the audience, enabling them to recognize and identify with the persons whose stories they are telling. The authors also underline the fact that the essence of storytelling is to create feelings of closeness (op. cit., p. 209).
Well said, in my opinion. Allowing pupils to create stories that stimulate empathy and identification with others go way beyond addressing stated competence aims. It helps them grow and develop in relation to their fellow human beings, and to make sense of the (often senseless) world in which they live. Storytelling is about creating and sharing narratives that resonate with us. To put it simply, it is about being human.
Birketveit, A., & Williams, G. (2013). Literature for the English Classroom. Theory into Practice. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.
Kajder, S., Bull, G., & Albaugh, S. (2005). Constructing Digital Stories. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(5), 40-42.
Normann, A. (2012). Det var en gang ei jente som ikke ville snakke engelsk – bruken av digital storytelling i språkopplæringa. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 185-197). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk.
Normann, A., & Kopreitan, A. O. (2012). Digitale fortellinger fra andre verdenskrig – om å lære om historien gjennom å fortelle egne historier. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 199-211). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk.
Ohler, J. B. (2008). Defining and discussing digital storytelling. In J. B. Ohler (Ed.), Digital Storytelling in the Classroom (pp. 21-38). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Tan, S. (2007). The Arrival. London: Hodder Childrens’ Books.
Zephaniah, B. (2001). Refugee Boy. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.