Saturday, November 3, 2018

To Story Is Human

Note: This post was generously cross-posted by EducateLLC.

I would like to tell you a story. It is about my son when he was in fourth grade.

By the time Zach reached fourth grade he said he hated school. This wasn’t entirely true. All evidence suggested he loved gym, recess, lunch in the cafeteria, and the bus ride to and from school. Unfortunately, by fourth grade he didn’t like reading or writing or much of the academic side of school. These likes and dislikes were well-known by his teacher by the point in the year that the first round of report cards were issued and it was time to launch the annual penny book project. For this project Zach had to find a one penny minted during each year of his life, he had to attach that penny to a piece of paper and on that paper write a story from that year of his life. Then, he was to assemble all the pages into his penny book. You might be able to imagine my parental response to learning about this project! How was I going to get him to do this?

Thankfully, Zach’s teacher was as interested in Zach’s happiness and success as I was. I presented her with an idea: Zach would create a different project, he would meet all of her curricular objectives, we would document all of his work so she could see that everything was authentically his, and he would submit it on time. She agreed.

So Zach set out to collect pennies. He reminisced with all of our photo albums to find the perfect story from each year of his life. He digitized on our printer/scanner all of the photos that were important to each story. He took a video camera and interviewed anyone he could find about their memories of those stories. Then, he collected all of his ideas into a storyboard which he used as a guide to create a digital movie of his life. He showed each penny, he narrated the stories in his voice, he chose the soundtrack, and made a final screen of rolling credits. I don’t think he was ever been so proud of any school project. This was in 2007.

When Zach brought his project CD and his box of pictures, pennies, and storyboards to school, the teacher played his video for the class. Then she called me to say she cried. “He had this in him all this time,” she said. His teacher asked if I would come to the school and show her how to make a movie like that. I politely declined, and suggested that Zach would be happy to show her anytime!

Telling our stories is so important. It is a very human thing to do. Cave drawings are the stories of our very early ancestors. The printing press enabled the widespread distribution of stories. Some cultures have traditions of oral telling of stories passed through generations. The scientific development of photography in the mid-1800s with the daguerreotype resulted in widespread making of tin types so people could leave them as calling cards when they visited one another’s homes. Business cards, school pictures, home movies. The list goes on of all the myriad ways we make ourselves known and build connections with other people, document our existence, tell our story. Technology may change, but our need to know and understand one another, build common ground, and work out differences is eternal. And we do that through our stories.

Social media platforms know how much this matters to us. They enable us to combine our pictures and words into the stories of our important moments. We and our students have been using social media to tell our stories ever since we subscribed to those platforms. The actual story format started in 2013 with SnapChat stories and other services have followed suit including Instagram in 2016 and Facebook in 2017. Those aren’t the only ways we tell stories; Skype has highlights and YouTube allows us to create reels.

When it comes to engaging our students in sharing their stories, the possible formats are endless! Within the Google Apps realm students can write and illustrate interactive stories in Slides, Docs, Sites, Draw, Maps or Tour Creator. They can record themselves and publish to YouTube where channels and playlists host videos students make and others they curate.

Beyond gSuite, students can tell video stories in Flipgrid, they can annotate visual stories in ThingLink, and they can publish ongoing stories as podcasts. And when we consider the possibilities for synchronous and asynchronous interaction, students can share stories in Twitter chats, in private Facebook groups, and in Google+ communities. Building an audience for their stories by publishing them not only validates the importance of their experiences, it fosters interaction with new people which expands their horizons and their learning community and allows for authentic, embedded lessons in discourse and digital interactions.