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Digital Storytelling: Helping Students Find Their Voice

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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While accepting his 2008 Academy Award for best director, Joel Coen took a minute to reminisce about his earliest days as a filmmaker, and it wasn't hard to picture him back in the late 1960s, lugging around a home-movie camera. Nor was it difficult to imagine his kid brother, Ethan, dressed up in a suit and carrying a briefcase in their early collaborations. As the elder Coen admitted, "Honestly, what we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then."

In some respects, today's aspiring filmmakers have it easier. Digital cameras and more accessible editing software have lowered some of the technical barriers to making movies. And for better or worse, getting a film into circulation has become as easy as uploading a file to YouTube or another video-sharing site.

But making a digital story worth watching still isn't easy. Doing it well takes not only practice and skill but sometimes also courage, BBC filmmaker and digital-storytelling proponent Daniel Meadows suggests on his Web site, Photobus.

Teachers who bring digital storytelling into the classroom are discovering what makes this vehicle for expression worth the effort. They watch students gain proficiency in writing and research, visual literacy, critical thinking, and collaboration. They see students take part in a range of learning styles. Of course, they also see students make authentic use of technology. Sometimes, they even hear students discover the power of their own voice.

Are you thinking about introducing digital storytelling into a K-12 setting or perhaps into an after-school or community-based program? Mabry Middle School, in Marietta, Georgia, demonstrates how this approach can be a springboard to engage not only students but also the wider community. The award-winning school hosts its own annual black-tie event to showcase the work of young filmmakers. (Take a look at the 2007 winners.)

Inspired yet? Here are some resources to help you get started:

Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling offers a range of resources and tutorials for educators, including a discussion about research and evaluation.

The Center for Digital Storytelling has been providing training on and sharing information about this art form for more than a decade, both in the United States and internationally.

Stories for Change is building a network of people who are involved in community-based digital-storytelling workshops.

Bridges to Understanding, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, works internationally with K-12 schools to promote cultural understanding through collaborative storytelling. The site includes a library of digital short stories made by students from around the world.

In an interview, teacher Marco Torres describes the benefits of multimedia projects for high school students growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood near Los Angeles.

How are you using digital storytelling with your students? Tell us about the projects that have captured their imagination.

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Comments (16) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Suzie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for sharing this link. In addition to cataloguing a wide range of Web 2.0 tools, Alan also reminds us how richly diverse the art of storytelling can be.

Tina Miller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently taking a course that introduces many different types of hypermedia, digital story telling is just one aspect. I can see so many uses for such a tool. While I have no first hand experience, except for a small course assigment, I am looking forward to including it in the library curriculum in th future. The resources posted here are fabulous and show just how much can be done using this technology. I only wish that I had more time in my schedule to really learn the ins and outs of the technology!

Thanks for sharing!


Suzie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Best wishes to you and all your talented filmmakers showing their work at this year's AHA Film Festival! It's a fantastic example of what can happen when teachers build a project-based program over the years. Sounds like your students not only learn from making amazing films, but also from planning and organizing the film festival. What a great model to share.

Nanci Dutkiewicz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My third and fourth graders just completed their Narrative Biographies/Autobiographies then published these via digital stories. The excitement in writing,drafting up to 5 revised drafts, was amazing! The children wanted to write great narratives in order to make great digital stories. It was a great 'publishing' tool to get those unmotivated writers and kids with special needs, to write.

Dawn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for sharing about digital storytelling. I am very excited to use it with my 3rd graders this year.

Katherine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I want to explore digital storytelling - can you please tell me how to begin? I have dont quite know where to start and how.

Hudson Don's picture
Hudson Don
Prematurely retired high school English teacher because of blindness (legal

I was a teacher for almost 30 years. In the middle of that time span I got into graduate school, Bread Loaf School of English, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT. Now I'm going to do some name dropping but its necessary, I believe, to tell this story.
I beat myself up for 15 years when I looked at how poorly I was doing my job. I did what I was told to but it had nothing to do with learning and literate behavior. I was tired, angry, and frustrated and about to quit teaching when I was accepted at Bread Loaf. These were my teachers at BL; James Britton, Nancy Martin, Ken Macrorie,
Donald Graves, James Moffett, NancI Atwell, Dixie Goswami, and John Elder. I tell people I've never won anything from a lottery or a prize contest. But it's hard to imagine a better group of writing teachers than these in 1985. For the next 15 years their intelligence, insights, and courage lived in my classrooms and saved my professional life. To be honest I was allowed to be in a special place at a special time. How does that happen?
Almost immediately after my first summer at BL I changed and my kids noticed it, They even came up to me and told me I was different, I had changed and they liked it.
The key to what I was looking for was literate behavior. The insight that writing is a process not a skill. And that writing is thinking, not thinking written down. Everyone can write the great American novel, it just takes us all a different amount of time. That has enormous importance.It changes the concept of time during the process of literate behavior. It opened the door and my eyes to the concept of literacy. And that there is a huge, unlimited range of literacies that operate differently than the standard pattern of literacy.
Now, today, we are talking about digital literacy. It's not hard to see the future of digital literacy and it's dominance of all cultural goals,
I think I did a good job of introducing my students to their various literacies. Right at the end of my career I and my students started to use video photography and integrate that into projects of lasting worth.
One of the obstacles for me when I returned to my school was availability. I'm guessing small schools, rural schools, isolated schools (reservation schools) still have the availability problem. These comments above by teachers on how they are adapting and cultivating technology into their classrooms and their philosophy of learning is inspiring but also daunting. Little schools are standing on the sideline watching the game progress but not participating because of availability. Creativity and generosity goes only so far, and so long. As I tried to make alternative learning styles and alternative intelligences available and integrated, availability was usually my biggest hurdle.
Is technology and digital literacy reaching the schools out in the "boonies"? Availability.

Rita Oates, PhD's picture
Rita Oates, PhD
Global PBL, student engagement in STEM, language practice

Read some concepts and ideas and see some digital stories created by students at:
See some digital stories from around the world too:
Post your student's best work, and see the work of other students in the Storytelling Media Gallery:

If you want to do a collaborative project involving digital storytelling, check out:

All of these resources are available without cost. Your students can view the work of other students without needing a username or password.

Kim M's picture
Kim M
K-5 Visual Art Teacher

One of my first grade classes just started working on digital story telling. I talk to the students about guidelines and what they could write about. I mostly got one sentence from each student. So when I am talk to their homeroom teacher, we decided next time to give them question to answer and fill in the blank sentences that they can use whilke writing their story. I think that students should also be able to take pictures with a digital camera and include the picture with their digital storys.

Chantal's picture

Many thanks for sharing these links. I am a preservice teacher and was looking for techniques and strategies to implement technology in the classroom, especially for writing. This will definitely help me to become a more creative teacher.

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