Fall2017 Part 3: Let the Kids be Creative!

After spending the two weeks of winter break mostly on the couch with a nasty cold (that still hasn’t let up!), I’ve realized that I never completed my Fall 2017 reflection series, and Spring 2018 is creeping up on me!

My third, and final, class of Fall 2017 was called Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling, in which I learned about what is (and is not) a digital story, and I created a couple of my own. 

My first digital story was much like my blog, in that it was highly reflective. However, this one was reflective of the whirlwind journey that brought me to the teaching profession here in Texas. It actually serves as kind of a cool introduction to who am I, and I’ll likely add it to my welcome page as well.

This digital story was a lot of fun to create and it took quite a bit of self-reflection to decide which parts of the story were most important to keep it within the time limit and which photographs fit each part of the story best. It was also hard to find background music that I didn’t feel overpowered the story. The end result is far from perfect, but not too shabby for a first attempt. There’s one place where I messed up a word, but as I moved forward with the project, I came down with a cold that rendered me unable to re-record that portion without it sounding worse, so I left it.

The second digital story I created had the added requirement of  being something that could be paired with instructional materials and used educationally. I struggled with the topic for this because I wanted to be able to incorporate the digital story with my capstone project for my M.Ed. To do this, the topic needed to relate to my instructional design document from back in the spring semester (and you can find on my portfolio page), which was the design of a lesson on sentence structures. So I started out the process of writing a script and recording my narration with a series of explanations of the types of sentence structures and a short story my husband and I wrote with a variety of sentence types to use as an example.

This was not a digital story. This was an instructional video. A digital story should have some kind of personal element, should tell a story from start to finish, and is not simply a recording of information.

So, after weeks of work, I tossed the entire idea and started over. This time, I pulled inspiration from Sir Ken Robinson and focused on why writing is important in the classroom, specifically creative writing.

This was a huge challenge, simply because I’d already completed about four weeks’ worth of assignments on the first topic and would need to start entirely over for the new. But I think the end result made it worth it.

Like the first video, it’s far from perfect; some of the transitions to the videos are a little rough and somehow one of my photographs ended up grainy. I wish I’d had more time to make up for the topic switch, but overall, I’m proud of the final product. Plus, it was good enough to pull off my third A of the semester, keeping my 4.0 in place.

After I finished this project, I was feeling inspired to give my own students more creative opportunities that I am usually able to squeeze into our tight curriculum. My students had just finished reading (and making inferences and drawing conclusions) The Hitch Hiker, the old radio play from the 1940s. I even found the remastered original audio with Orson Welles for them to hear. We deeply analyzed the stage directions and how they are used to tell us, the readers, how the characters are feeling.

With the last few days before winter break started, I challenged my students in groups of four to write a short skit. Their only requirements were that their scripts must include exactly four characters (for acting reasons), they must include clear and specific stage directions, and it must create an overall mood of suspense, since we’d been analyzing how The Hitch Hiker and The Tell-Tale Heart created suspense over the past few weeks. Other than that, the assignment was wide open for their interpretation.

They did a terrific job collaborating and thinking up creative ways to create suspense. Some groups went for a scary suspense, some went for humor. A few groups created props, found images for me to project on the Promethean board as a backdrop, or found background music or sound effects.

Technology is really amazing for this kind of project, especially on such a short time frame. All of my students turned in all of their materials, whether they were images, YouTube music links, and of course, the actual script through Google Classroom, which made it easy for me to pull up anything they needed on the projector. I also printed five copies of each script so that each actor would have a copy in their hands. This prevented the problems I’ve had in the past with similar assignments where students had one hand-written, usually ripped, piece of notebook paper to pass back and forth and squint out before proclaiming that they cannot read so-and-so’s handwriting. This also gave me a copy on which to make notes for grading.

Because I really wanted to reinforce the importance of clear and specific stage directions, I decided to throw a monkey wrench in their plans. On the day of acting, my students came to class excited and ready to act their own scripts. A few had even gotten together the night before to rehearse. I stood in front of them and asked them why stage directions were important. Then I asked who stage directions were for. Most of them said the reader, but then a few said the actors. I reminded them that stage directions tell the actors how to act, what to do on stage, and how to say their lines. Stage directions should be clear enough for anyone to follow, not just the people who wrote them. “Therefore,” I told them, “you will not be acting your own scripts today.”

Each group then stood in front of the class with a different group’s script and attempted to follow the stage directions. Some of the groups were dying to tell the actors what they were supposed to be doing, but I didn’t allow them to unless it was stated in the script. It was a beautiful learning experience for all of them. They had the opportunity to have some fun and use their creativity. They could finally see why stage directions are so important and what they show about the characters. They even got to work on their acting skills. And many of them got to know each other just a little bit better.

They weren’t Broadway scripts, but this group of 8th graders blew me away with their projects.

Writing truly is powerful.

One thought on “Fall2017 Part 3: Let the Kids be Creative!

  1. Thanks for sharing your digital stories, well done! I really enjoyed reading about your project and as a middle school technology teacher, I was interested in the idea of stage directions and the importance of clear and specific directions. In my coding classroom, my students understand that code is essentially a list of instructions for computers to follow. Without clear, logical steps, computers will not execute the task successfully. This was just another reminder of the connections between all of our disciplines.

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