Unleash the Power of Digital Storytelling -part 3

Be sure to Read: Part 1 or Part 2
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Dr. Maria Kaylor with Dr. Jo Anne Ollerenshaw and Miguel Guhlin

This article, the third in a series about digital storytelling, (Unleash the Power of Digital Storytelling - parts 1 and 2), describes reasons for using digital storytelling with students who have learning disabilities. In the second part of our series, Jo Anne Ollerenshaw (2006) wrote: 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.” This point becomes especially important when considering the acquisition of oral and written communication skills for students with disabilities, which can be delayed, among other things. Of all students in classrooms, those with learning disabilities require learning environments that are rich in all types of communication, both oral and written, in order to have situational contexts from which to gradually develop their language skills.

Written language and students with learning disabilities
When writing, students with learning disabilities tend to have difficulty in all stages: planning, creating the written product, revising, and finishing a completed piece of writing that adequately meets objectives (Roth, 2000). According to Brice, (2004), the writing process must incorporate several foundation skills: phonological awareness, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, and sequencing among others. She also states, “All of these skills can be demanding for students with LLD, as they may have difficulties with any single skill or a combination of the foundation language skills. Students are often expected to have developed knowledge of the foundation skills before learning the process writing approach. Consequently, students need to have mastered most of these foundation skills in order to successfully write narrative, persuasive, or informative essays for class assignments and statewide assessments.”
How do students with learning disabilities master these foundation skills? How do they make enough progress to successfully write? Through opportunities to practice, explicit instruction, and engaging lessons. Even so, this is a time consuming process and learning cannot stand still until mastery is achieved. That is where new techniques such as digital storytelling come into play. Using techniques that can teach all sorts of objectives while being interesting and engaging enough for the students to want to participate in is vital to the students’ continual progress towards objective mastery. Creating an oral story allows students to concentrate on content, flow, sentence structure, sequencing, and other foundation skills without focusing on the struggles that present themselves when practicing these same skills with pencil and paper or computer and keyboard (until they are ready). The situation is analogous to five team members wanting to play a basketball game. One can shoot, one can pass, one is a great defender, one dribbles well, and the other can run up and down the court with speed. Just because they are not all good shooters, passers, dribblers, and runners does not mean they cannot play the game. It means they need practice and opportunities to learn these other skills. Practicing these skills in isolation will make it difficult for them to apply them in a game situation. They need drills, they need game situations at practice, they need scrimmages, and finally preseason to put it all together before it really counts; before they step on the court for the regular season. Just as these basketball players need opportunities to master new skills as part of a game plan and meet their goals, so do students with learning disabilities.

Digital Storytelling for Students with LD
Using digital storytelling as a multimodal approach may have unparalleled results for students who have traditionally been left behind in the classroom because of learning disabilities. There has been discussion in research literature that examines the current view of multimodality in the classroom. Traditionally, we consider learning modes activities such as speech, gestures, sound, facial expressions, etc. With the introduction of computers to the classroom, we have introduced a new mode of teaching as well as learning (Jewitt, 2003). Students are now exposed to different ways to access information and demonstrate mastery of objectives. Seigel (2006) reports that students who are struggling or labeled as having a learning disability are the ones who show the most academic growth in a situation where a multimodal curriculum is present.
Teachers may engage their students in traditionally known literacy activities, such as decoding and comprehension, but the form that these activities take a new direction when using technology (Ware, 2006). Ware goes on to state: “… students do not always respond in predictable ways to the affordances of technology. The differences they bring to the classroom seem to be accentuated when storytelling moves from primarily oral (interactional) to digital. As educators, we do not necessarily need to concern ourselves with transforming (student1) into a child more like (Student2), or with encouraging (student2) to develop more facility with the forms of storytelling that involve shared tellership. Rather, we need to recognize that all children have stories to tell, and that the multiple venues for producing these stories need to be valued by teachers and by the classroom contexts in which stories are produced and shared.
Recognizing that all students have stories to tell can have a tremendous impact on students with disabilities. Combining the desire to share these stories with the technology tools to personalize them can validate a student’s style of learning and motivate them to reach new goals. This article by no means argues only for oral responses by students with learning disabilities (LD). The point is that when considering technological applications for students with LD, using digital storytelling that focuses on an oral model may provide just what a student needs. This includes a modality that could emphasize their strengths, attainable goals, personalized instruction, engaging tools, and real world technologies. An oral model may also be just what a teacher needs: adaptable for individual students, simple steps to use, practical measures for assessing learning and fun for students.

Fall 2006: Digital Storytelling in the Classrooms

Although we can argue for the use of digital storytelling and present research that supports the idea that oral digital storytelling appears to be one technological approach that may have positive outcomes for students with learning disabilities, we need to study these outcomes in order to demonstrate their success. The Digital Storytelling Academies that we held over the past summer have prepared teachers to use the oral model in their classrooms with students with learning disabilities. Teachers have been in their classrooms for a little over three months at the time of this publication, and several of the participants from Summer Digital Storytelling Academies have implemented digital storytelling with their students. The teachers, their students, other teachers in the school, administrators, and parents are excited.
What is fascinating is the way that teachers are modifying the professional development plan (refer to sidebar #1) to fit the individual needs of their students. They are holding true to the purpose and tools on which they were trained, but they are able to easily navigate other aspects of the professional development model to fit scheduling, student needs, curriculum, and grading periods. For example, one special education teacher has partnered with a regular education teacher to use oral digital storytelling to meet a writing objective for a Benchmark test to be held in January. The purpose of what we have presented is oral storytelling, but their students’ oral stories are created and eventually turned into written stories. Teacher comments indicate that students are more engaged when creating their digital story and that when it does come time to write, they actually complete the assignment without the typical complaints. Plus, they transcribe their oral story and to keep pace with the style they adopted as an oral storyteller, they write more and what they write is more detailed. Although the professional development model teachers were taught to use has not been followed in exact sequence, the pieces of the model come together to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
These students have an individualized education plan and the professional development model can be individualized as well. This is an important factor when considering implementation of oral digital storytelling in the classroom. For this project, springtime 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), and/or the State-Developed Alternative Assessment (SDAA). We excitedly await the results.

Sidebar #1: Resources & Links

For more about our project, visit http://mguhlin.jot.com/WikiHome and click on Digital Storytelling Series

SAISD's and UTSA's SCRIBE Initiative: Digital StorySwap - http://itls.saisd.net/scribe


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.
Brice, R.G. (2004). Connecting oral and written language through applied writing strategies. Intervention in School and Clinic 40(1), 38-47.
Jewitt, Carey. (2003). Re-thinking assessment: multimodality, literacy and computer-mediated learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, and Practice, 10(1).
Ollerenshaw, J., Kaylor, M., & Guhlin, M. (2006). Unleashing the Power of Digital Storytelling in Your District, Part 2. TechEdge, Fall Edition.
Roth, F.P. (2000). Narrative writing: development and teaching with children with writing disorders. Topics in Language Disorders, 20(4).
Siegel, M. (2006). Rereading the signs: multimodal transformations in the field of literacy education. Language Arts, 84(1).
Ware, P.D. (2006). From sharing time to showtime! Valuing diverse venues for storytelling in technology-rich classrooms. Language Arts, 84(1).

About the authors
Dr. Maria Kaylor, is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at the University of Texas San Antonio. She is s former special education teacher with experience at the elementary and high school levels. Her research focuses on the use of technology in pre-service teacher education and the implementation of technology into special education classrooms. Access Dr. Kaylor’s blog online at CyberRoots.net or e-mail her at maria.kaylor@utsa.edu

Dr. Jo Anne Ollerenshaw is the oral storytelling consultant for the project. You can reach her at science_storyteller@yahoo.com or log onto her storytelling blog: http://jolle.edublogs.org/about/ 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 http://itls.saisd.net
for the San Antonio Independent School District. Contact him at mguhlin@yahoo.com or explore his writings at http://www.mgulhin.net