Digital Storytelling in the classroom affords so many opportunities for transformation – whether it be in skill level, self-confidence, attitudes, or in building a sense of community. Here’s some key moments of transformation in my adult English Language Learner classroom.
Transformational Moment 1
It’d been a bit of a challenge tech wise and my student was frustrated and wanting to give up.
Then seemingly out of no-where, a moment that changed not only how this student saw herself, but also how her peers’ viewed her.
A moment that also lead to a shift in how she viewed digital storytelling in the English Language classroom.
It was a simple, no frills address to camera – she spoke in a raw, personal tone of her love of mountains and how they related to life itself.
It was deeply revealing and captivating – her feelings etched in her face, her eyes holding firm.
You could not mistake how much nature meant to her.
There was utter silence in the room – all eyes fixed to the screen. Something was happening right here, right now.
As the video ended, students began speaking to her – telling her how beautiful her video was – how they could see the joy in her eyes and her face.
They could see how much she loved the mountains.
More than a few tears were shed in this moment of community and connection. It was such a genuine, incredibly special and affirming moment.
Speaking to her afterward, I said, ‘Did you see how much your video affected everyone?’
Obviously affected herself she nodded, saying that she couldn’t believe it.
From here on, she was firmly committed to digital storytelling in the classroom, working so, so hard to improve her skills and confidence on camera.
And as she confronted her fears and nerves about speaking on camera, there was always encouragement from her peers, and spontaneous cheers as she nailed extended spoken word pieces to camera.
As we talk later about the moment we just experienced, one student speaks up. She says that:
through the videos we see more of everyone, more of their personality, more of who they are.
‘People are often more reserved in class’, she says.
But through making videos – they’re more confident. We learn more about them.
I can’t help but smile – as we all are.
As we’ve been making digital stories, I’ve encouraged students to show their personality – their quirks, their mannerisms – whatever makes them who they are.
That’s required building a space that welcomes difference in all forms – that welcomes and applauds them for daring not to be rigid, stuffy presenters, devoid of personality.
And as we’ve clapped and cheered students who’ve dared to break out – more and more students have dared to be themselves on camera.
I can’t adequately express how happy this makes me feel.
What touching moments for us as a class community – when one by one we begin to shine.
Transformation Moment 2
A student chats to me at the end of the day.
After our first class, I said to my wife. I don’t understand why we’re making videos in an English class. It’s a waste of time.
After a few weeks though [he stops speaking here and gestures – showing his hands interlocking – connecting].
He’d got it.
He could see how much he (and everyone else) was learning about speaking English through making videos.
It’s his light-bulb moment – he gets the connection.
It’s a realisation that’s commonly expressed to me over the semester.
My students haven’t experienced digital storytelling in the classroom previously so they can’t see how it’ll help them improve their English skills. Although I provide a rationale for digital storytelling, and make connections between what they’re doing and the learning of English, I now know this isn’t enough.
What transforms students’ attitudes is the accumulated experience of creating digital stories for real audiences and real purpose. And when I say audiences here, I mean audiences that actually engage with, and respond to, the students’ stories. This is absolutely necessary.
Have a look at the video I created with my students. I asked them what they’d learnt from making digital stories.
A couple of them talk about making the surprise connection that they CAN improve their English skills through making movies or digital stories.
Watch it all but especially from the 3:34 minute mark (‘We Are Confused Then Amazed’).
Transformation Moment 3a
A challenge I often face as a teacher is my self-expectations.
Probably like a lot of you I expect too much of myself and can be pretty tough on myself when I don’t meet my lofty standards.
When using tech in the classroom, I can often feel like I’ve gotta know it all and do it all.
If there’s a problem, I need to solve it. If something needs to be set up, I should set it up.
I know this is unrealistic and I know it leads to stress and utter exhaustion. And a couple of key classroom moments are helping me to shift my practice.
The first moment occurred in a high level English Language Learner classroom.
I was having lots of difficulties whenever I tried to share students’ videos with the class. Some computers in the lab would play the videos while others wouldn’t.
Now normally, I do a bit of investigating outside class, working to solve the tech issue or devising a work around.
This particular day I decided to throw the problem to a couple of students. We chatted about the tech issues we’d experienced.
I asked them to devise a solution that:
- would enable all students to see each other’s videos;
- would save me time as a teacher.
That was it. Off they went exploring and testing different alternatives till they came up with a solution that worked on the PCS in the computer lab: setting up a class Google SITE (website).
They set up folders for each student on the website. They devised a site name and password. Then they set about teaching their class-mates how to upload their videos to their folder on the class website.
As I watched them in action – I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities when:
- we not only step back and support our students to problem-solve real issues;
- we afford students’ opportunities to take leadership in the teaching and training of each other.
Here there was a real and authentic purpose for using English.
Here was skill development through real-world tasks.
Here were Employability Skills – which we so often stress in decontextualised, inauthentic learning situations – in action, big time.
Transformation Moment 3b
The second moment occurred in a low level English Language Learner classroom.
We’d been having a bit of trouble recording voice-overs for our filmed videos. Turns out that a few of the headsets aren’t working.
Ughh I thought, I’m gonna have to test them all. THEN I reconsidered.
Each time when we face a tech problem I often call over students to show them how we might fix that problem. At times too, I’ll ask some students to come up with possible solutions.
I’d shown a few students how to check if a microphone was plugged in, how to check its recording level, and how to raise the volume level if it was too low.
A couple of students had taken this knowledge on board and had been checking their computer’s headset. So I asked them to help me to check the rest of the classroom.
I created a list with the headings – MICROPHONES WORK | MICROPHONES DON’T WORK
As they checked, they wrote the computer number in each column.
And as I watched them, I saw students growing in confidence as they engaged with their classmates on the tech issues.
I saw how other students recognised their peers’ skills in checking their computers. And I saw more and more possibilities for teaching and learning.
Firstly, I could teach them conversational skills, pertaining to the checking of someone’s computer. For example:
- ‘Excuse me….I just need to check the headset on your computer for a few minutes.
- Thanks for your patience, I’ve found that your headset is working well/isn’t working. We’ll… (explain the future action that will be taken).
Also, I could teach them about Occupational Health and Safety.
Noticing that they were continually bending over the computers, we discussed how that practice could affect their back. We talked about healthier work approaches when checking a computer.
And I’m sure there’s a whole lot of other possibilities for teaching and learning here as well.
Too often we can underestimate our students, especially at the lower levels.
When we step back and support our students to step forward and lead – we can create real, authentic learning situations.
We can get a glimpse of possibilities that we hadn’t imagined. And we provide opportunities for students to break out beyond the ‘business as usual’ learning in the class. They can start to see themselves in quite different ways.
It’s a winner on so many levels.
So often we can get caught up in such of the bureaucracy of teaching, the piles of paperwork that does little for the quality of our teaching, the expectations from above that have little to do with our students’ needs and interests.
More and more I’m coming to realise the importance of appreciating these special moments in the classroom.
For they can often creep up on us, or too quickly pass us by, unremarked upon or noted.
Yet these are the moments that make me want to keep teaching, and definitely continuing to teach digital storytelling.
How about you?