Education column: Storytelling major educational tool

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us, and storytellers have long shared colorful tales about the patron saint of Ireland. Born in Wales to British and Roman parents, captured as a teen by Irish marauders and sold into slavery in Ireland, he escaped, converted to Christianity, joined the church, trained in Gaul, and returned to Ireland to convert the pagans.

Credited with driving the snakes from Ireland (though many say Ireland never had snakes), St. Patrick did, in fact, use the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity, making it a national symbol of Ireland.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can teach us, reach us, define us, capture traditions and reflect a culture. At the end of last year a very special course called digital storytelling was designed for our middle school students. Starting out at the beginning of this school year, it’s been taught by our librarians at Marshall and Yucca, who are also certified teachers.

Aligned with current national information literacy standards, it combines the old (storytelling), with the new (technology).

The librarians shared with me that Digital Storytelling is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories.

Jenny Blaylock, librarian and teacher at Marshall, explained, “This class benefits students by preparing them for the information age that we live in by exposing them to a variety of digital multimedia tools as they simultaneously learn best practices and safety protocols.”

From the beginning she has worked closely with her counterpart, Linda Pierce, who teaches the course at Yucca.

“I have a great group of kids in this class, and we’re doing some interesting projects,” said Pierce.

Both begin with an informal assessment to see what technology skills students had. Pierce noted how interesting it had been to discover that we sometimes assume kids know more than they do about technology. On the other hand, they are fearless when it comes to technology and willing to jump into a complex piece of software, like Apple’s iMovie, and seem to effortlessly figure it out.

In addition to covering Internet safety, “netiquette” and cyber-bullying, students use computers, video cameras and a variety of software to do the most interesting projects. Right now students are creating public service announcements in small groups that are truly remarkable; Pierce had one of her students show me the video one group had just completed about bullying, and it was goose-bumpily powerful.

Both schools recently did a series of activities with the concept of six-word memoirs in a digital format. Blaylock and Pierce explained they took a cue from Earnest Hemingway who, legend has it, was challenged to write a short story in only six words. The result: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Viewing the wall where Pierce and Blaylock proudly mounted their students’ own six-word memoirs, I agreed they were equally remarkable. “Break rule accident hospital learned lesson,” “I’m good but seen as bad,” “Giving up on the counted on.”

The Digital Storytelling wiki so well expresses their mission: “Where we come to communicate, connect, contribute, collaborate, create and celebrate.”

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Clovis Municipal Schools and can be reached at cindy.kleyn-kennedy@clovis-schools.org