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Digital Storytelling: At-Risk Students Find Their Voices

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Keywords: Digital Photography, Writing, Digital Storytelling
Subject(s): Writing, Technology, Video, Art, Reading, Photography, English/Language Arts
Grades 9 through 12
Original Author: Fran Fransen, Baton Rouge
The cameras and software products procured with this grant will allow us to instill confidence and a new understanding of literacy in a class of 25 underachieving 9th graders through the creation of digital stories. Digital storytelling combines the art of the personal narrative with multimedia resources, allowing students to synthesize ideas, relate personal narratives, and connect their present to the past.

Too often at-risk students do not believe they are readers or writers; they feel they have nothing noteworthy to say and even fewer resources to say it with. This project will prove that literacy abounds in each of us; we each have a story along with a sound predisposition to tell it. We just need the confidence that the right tools and a really good idea can provide.

A digital story consists of a series of still images coupled with a narrated soundtrack. Using the digital cameras, students will capture relevant images and follow a prescribed sequence of steps, from script writing-- necessarily brief to provide focus to the heart of a vignette from the student's life, to storyboarding using captured images and text. It is the images that will spell out the crux of the story, so the text will be carefully crafted and revised, thus training students in the economy of the written word.

Using a video editor, students will construct their digital stories. At this point students will use the image tools offered through this grant to maximize their captured images. Final touches include adding the narration and optional music soundtrack. The file is then rendered and viewable in the Windows Media Player.

It is our intention to replicate this project in succeeding semesters with other reading classes at our school.

A precursor to the implementation of this project is the reading of a variety of personal narratives from notable writers, including Gary Soto, Lucy Grealy, Walter Dean Myers, Ned Vizzini and Nathan McCall. We will purchase sets of titles from each of those authors. Students will be better prepared to write their own digital narratives using these stories as models for their own.

Inspiration for this project comes from Sara Kajder and Glen Bull of the University of Virginia. Their research into technology and literacy is discussed in Learning & Leading with Technology, Dec. 2004, "Digital Storytelling in the Language Arts Classroom."

Other biographies and memories can be used in addition to or instead of the above list. Use the student population background, age, and interest levels in determining appropriately inspirational selections. After having implemented this plan once, we decided it would be a good idea to have a flatbed scanner available for artifacts and access to copyright-free music for background sounds.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
Ideas abound for cross-curricular ideas. Social studies classes can create historical memoirs using family members' memoirs of historical events; journalism students can hone interview skills in telling stories of other people. Intergenerational stories can provide an excellent opportunity for youth to collaborate with the elderly in the community.
Materials: Flash/USB Drives, Batteries, Camera Bags, Point and Shoot, Word Processor, Worksheets
Other Items: 10 Vizzini, Ned. Teen Angst? Naah... A Quasi Autobiography, $6.00 each, total of $60.00
20 Myers, Waltern Dean. Bad Boy, $5.60 each, total of $112.00
10 Soto, Gary. LIving Up the Street: A Narrative Recollection, $5.40 each, total of $54.00
10 Grealy, Lucy. Autobiography of a Face, $10.40 each, total of $104.00
20 McCall, Frank. Makes Me Wanna Holler, $11.20 each, total of $224.00
Associated File: 6211.kid