Part 2-Unleash the Power of Digital Storytelling

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by Dr. JoAnne Ollerenshaw, Dr. Maria Kaylor and Miguel Guhlin


“I’m motivated! Digital storytelling will help me encourage my students from kindergarten through 5th grade to become move motivated to read, write, and use more language literacy skills”, shared one participant from the Summer Digital Storytelling Academy, “because it is user-friendly. Teachers and students can use different technology tools to develop their digital storytelling. I cannot wait to start digital storytelling in my school this fall!” “There is clearly a new love affair with storytelling in a variety of disciplines, and this is resulting in emerging research trends and applications”, contends Figa (2004).

This article, the second in a series about digital storytelling, describes the professional development activities from the Summer Digital Storytelling Academy. Miguel Guhlin, Unleash the Power of Digital Storytelling - part 1, challenged you to become familiar with Photo Story™ for this article. I would like to encourage you even more with the oral- and digital- storytelling strategies that teachers used this summer during the Digital Storytelling Academies.

Three different academies were offered over the summer for teachers to learn oral and digital storytelling strategies. Teachers from contained k-6th grade, middle level and high school content, special education, and technology classrooms participated in three-day intensives. Each Digital storytelling Academy consisted of three intensive professional development days. You can find examples in the sidebar #1.

Each Digital Storytelling Academy consisted of three professional development days:

Day 1: Oral Tradition

This is a digital storytelling academy, yet day-1 required no computer at all. Why, because we focused on the traditional art of storytelling - the oral tradition. Teacher participants listened to stories, identified storytelling techniques, and then worked to develop their own storytelling using a storymap (Ollerenshaw, 2006), which is a combination of a concept map and a storyboard. They each orally edited and then shared their stories. Teachers downloaded a copy of their grade level Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills, then, searched the documents to find the content link of their storytelling with the TEKS. Time was spent developing rubrics, writing a conceptual statement, or as Popham (1999) states, “re-writing the [TEKS] concept as a measurable broad objective” to score the storytelling for content. The teachers used the rubrics to self-assess their storytelling and to critique other participants storytelling. The day concluded with teachers reviewing the events of the day by reading Storytelling: Eight Steps That Help You Engage Your Students (Ollerenshaw, 2006). Their homework assignment was to practice their story at home and share it story with anyone who would listen, even the house pet or bathroom mirror, if need be.

Day 2: Make It Digital

The oral storytelling strategies that we learned on the previous-day, would now be transferred to the digital format. The story evolves over time, in the oral tradition of storytelling, as the teller and the story get to know one another better. Because of this, using iAudio, teachers recorded their oral story that they practiced for homework. They then selected the TEKS for their story, and developed a rubric. Teachers used Movie Maker™ [or iMovie™] and downloaded the audio file. They selected images, edited the images and audio, and revised the rubric. Finally, teachers shared their digital stories, and used the rubric to self-reflect and critique other participants’ digital stories.

Day 3: Now, Make It Your Own

Often teachers attend a technology workshop and there is no time to create their own product. The last day of the workshop provided teachers with the opportunity to develop the digital story that they would use in their classroom at the start of the new school year in the fall. They had opportunities to review their technology concerns with iAudio, Movie Maker /or iMovie. They identified the specific conceptual statement from the TEKS then used the storymap to create their digital story. They identified and selected the images, cognizant of Internet and copyright issues with images and music. They imported the audio and images. Saved, Edited, saved, and Re-Edit, and saved, and Re-Edit, and saved, and made final edits. Teachers spent time trouble-shooting and moving files, and re-naming files. Finally they, publish, and shared their digital stories using the rubrics to self-reflect and critique other participants’ digital stories.

Fall 2006: Digital Storytelling in the Classrooms

Teachers have been teaching in their classrooms for over a month, at the time of this publication. Already, several of the participants from Summer Digital Storytelling Academies have implemented digital storytelling with their students. The teacher participants, their students, other teachers in the school, administrators, and parents are excited about the students’ digital storytelling. Time will tell if digital storytelling has an impact on students’ motivation to read, write, use more language literacy skills, and/or increase their test scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), Reading Proficiency Tests in English (RPTE), or State-Developed Alternative Assessment (SDAA).

Oral vs. Digital Storytelling

Because all school districts are driven to increase students reading and writing scores, students must write. The more they write the better they write. But, I would like to share a position that diverges from the digital story format of writing the story first. My research (Ollerenshaw, 1998) with 4th grade students and their teacher illustrates the importance of the oral story, not written story first. Two groups of fourth grade students were compared. The teacher implemented oral storytelling with one group [treatment], however with the other group [comparison], the teacher did not implement oral storytelling as part of their physics of sound science unit. When the teacher asked the students to write, he gained new insights about his students because of their journal entries. Following are the teacher's observation of the remarkable difference between the two groups after Journal 2.

Yesterday we did the journal assessment for Lesson 2. The comparison [non-storytelling] group did OK but their responses were short, and not very detailed. I gave the same direction to the students in the treatment [storytelling] group and they wrote two pages. They had to ask for extra paper. They provided much more than the required explanations. I was shocked and somewhat pleased. Using storytelling we focus on discrimination of the thought process. They get to think more about science throughout the day. When we do storytelling [during language arts time] they think about science.

A word count was not formally analyzed for this research, however, a casual counting the of words for Journal 1 and 2 indicated a significance that surprised the teacher. Journal 1 indicated that the treatment groups wrote an average of 300 words compared with the average of 233 words for the comparison group. Journal 2 also showed this difference; the treatment group wrote an average of 457 words compared with an average of 127 words for the comparison group. Students who participated in the oral storytelling wrote more and used science terminology in the context of their science lesson descriptions. The teacher's reflections, and the quantity of the students' writing provide a new insight into some aspect of the student’s understanding of the science concepts from the physics of sound unit. The statistical difference between the treatment and control groups suggest that oral storytelling did make an impact in the treatment groups' writing and understanding from science Lessons 1 and 2.

My position about digital storytelling diverges from the mainstream position on digital storytelling, because I support the oral story instead of a written story for the digital storytelling. [Read and listen to the debate from Sidebar #2.] Since we are working with students in school, our purpose for digital storytelling differs from the Digital Storytelling camps, e.g., the Center for Digital Storytelling. I strongly suggest: do NOT write your story out first, since you are modeling for your students. Especially: do NOT ask your students to write out their story first. Encourage students to use the storymap and then develop their story orally. Students develop oral language naturally (Vygotsky, 1978; Snow, 1977; Engel, 1995). If students are provided with an opportunity to tell their story orally, then when it comes time for them to write, they will write. Students will have something to say, and will want to write, like the 4th grade students from the physics of sound research study. F. Scott Fitzgerald (2006) stated that, “you write because you’ve got something to say”.

Oral language communication

Ananny (2002) contents, “In short, children do not learn to read and write spontaneously and in isolated and overtly pedagogical contexts where text is primary. They instead gradually learn to create and comprehend written language while they are still deeply immersed in social and collaborative contexts in which oral language is the primary means of communication.” Storytelling construction is a way for students to identify their complex interpretations and their perceptions of the world. Students who are provided with opportunities to choose how they will develop their story will then use negotiation strategies as they will use make meaning from the storytelling. When students share and think about their interpretations of the story, they will organize a new story from their interpretation of the story, tell and revise a new story, and re-tell the story. “The primary function of speech, in both adults and children, is communication and social contact (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 34)." The revising and re-telling are the essential processes often absent from classroom activities due to unavoidable time constraints. Learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people and his environment and in cooperation with his peers (Vygotsky, 1978)."

Storytelling: is there any learning?

Storytelling is a tool for teaching and learning. Vygotsky (1978) contends, “that the student's mind will have a radically different structure if new tools of thinking are available.” When planning for teaching, teachers using the story form model provide students with better tools for learning (Egan, 1986). The essential element, however, in all teaching, is the observable behaviors students demonstrate as an indication that learning has taken place. If storytelling is a tool for learning, what observable evidence is there for this claim of success? When students develop competence to negotiate the story structure, their interpersonal skills, for example, communication, listening, and discourse, show increased improvement (Baker, 1979; Cooper, 1985; Miller, 1991). Storytelling assists students with the transition from auditory language to visual language (Dwyer, 1988; Temple, 1996; Trousdale, 1994). Students develop awareness and cultural understanding through storytelling activities, whereas, students in multicultural, ESL and bilingual classrooms demonstrate increasing language proficiency and personal self-esteem (Chiang, 1993; Davies-Gibson, 1994; Lie, 1994). And overall, teachers and researchers report, the students feel good about their work, and learn ways to act, and deal with reality, and develop reasoning and problem solving skills (Baker, 1981; Cooper, 1989). What follows is an increase in student self-confidence and self-esteem (Cooper, 1985).

Sidebar #1: Resources & Links

Sidebar #2: Digital Storytelling: oral vs. written debate

Digital and traditional storytelling retrieved on September 6, 2006 from [[/]]

Oral storytelling tradition vs. written storytelling process retrieved on September 6, 2006 from [[/]]


Ananny, M. (2002). Supporting Children’s Collaborative Authoring: Practicing Written Literacy While Composing Oral Texts. A paper presented at Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, Boulder, CO.
Baker, B. L. (1981). Functions of Folk And Fairy Tales. A Paper Presented at the Conference for the Association for Childhood Education International, Washington, DC.
Baker, B. L. (1979). Storytelling: Past and Present. A Paper Presented at the Conference National Association of the Education of Young Children, Atlanta, GA.
Chiang, L. H. (1993). Beyond Language: Native Americans' Nonverbal Communication. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Association of Teachers of Educational Psychology, Anderson, IN.
Cooper, P. (1989). Using Storytelling to Teach Oral Communication Competencies K-12. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, San Francisco, CA.
Cooper, P. J. (1985). Oral Communication Across the Curriculum. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Central States Speech Association, Indianapolis, IN.
Davies-Gibson, M. R. (1994) Storytelling in the Multicultural Classroom: A Study in Community Building. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, New Orleans, LA.
Dewey, J. (1930). Human nature and conduct. New York, NY: The Modern Library.
Dewey, J. (1950). Reconstruction in philosophy. New York, NY: Mentor Book.
Dewey, J. (1991). How we think. Amhurst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Dwyer, E. (1988). A Pleasant Journey into Classroom Storytelling. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Reading Association of the International Reading Association Chattanooga, TN.
Egan, K. (1986). Teaching as storytelling. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Engel, S. (1995). The stories children tell: Making sense of the narratives of childhood. NY: W.H. Freeman.
Figa, E. (2004). The Virtualization of Stories and Storytelling. Storytelling Magazine. Vo. 16, No. 2, p. 34 - 36.
F. Scott Fitzgerald quote retrieved on September 6, 2006 from
Guhlin, M., Kaylor, M., Ollerenshaw, J. (2006). Unleash the Power of Digital Storytelling (part1). TechEdge, 25(4) p. 22-24.
Lie, A. (1994). Paired Storytelling: An Integrated Approach for Bilingual and English as a Second Language Students. Texas Reading Report 16(4) p. 4-5
Miller, J. L. (1991). Storytelling: The Original Narrative. A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association Atlanta, GA.
New, J., (2005) How To: Use Digital Storytelling in Your Classroom. EDUTOPIA, retrieved on September 6, 2006 from
Ollerenshaw, J. (2006). Storytelling: Eight Steps That Help You Engage Your Students. Voices from the Middle, 14(1), p. 30-37.
Ollerenshaw, J. (1998). A Study of the Impact of a Supplemental Storytelling (Oral Narrative) Strategy on Fourth Grade Students' Understanding of the Physics of Sound (Dissertation). Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa.
Piaget, J. (1926). The language and thought of the child. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace.
Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. (1969). The psychology of the child. New York: NY, BasicBooks.
Popham, W. J. (1999). Classroom Assessment: What teachers need to know, 2nd edition, p. 88. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Snow, C. (1977). The Conversations Between Mothers and Babies. Journal of Child Language, 4, p 1-22.
Temple, C. & Gillet, J. (1996). Language and Literacy: A Lively Approach. Glenview, IL: Harper Collins College Publishers.
Trousdale, A. M., Woestehoff, S. A., & Schwartz, M. (Eds.). (1994). Give a listen: Stories of storytelling in school. Urbans, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

About the Authors

Dr. Jo Anne Ollerenshaw, Dr. Maria Kaylor and Miguel Guhlin are collaborating with the Digital Storytelling Academies. Dr. Jo Anne Ollerenshaw is the oral storytelling consultant for the academies. You can reach her at or log onto her storytelling blog: Dr. Ollerenshaw taught k – 6th grade science for twenty years. She used storytelling to teach science, and used storytelling to assess students understanding of those science concepts. These classroom experiences lead her to narrative inquiry research methods, which she focuses on students’ and teachers’ use of storytelling to teach, learn, apply, and assess science concepts.

Miguel Guhlin is the Director of Instructional Technology Services
for the San Antonio Independent School District. Contact him at or explore his writings at

Dr. Maria Kaylor, is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Texas San Antonio. She will present the third part of this series in the winter 2006 TechEdge issue. Access Dr. Kaylor’s blog online at CyberRoots or e-mail her at