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Using & Teaching Educational Technology
Digital Storytelling: A Practical Classroom Management Strategy
By Mechelle M. De Craene
Thu, 3 Aug 2006, 09:06

Mechelle De CraeneDigital storytelling is a great idea, but where do you start? Mechelle De Craene outlines some practical strategies to enable you and your students to get the most out of this exciting medium.

Before "Roll-em!" is yelped through a paper-made bullhorn, students and teacher tread in pre-production territory. But what does this look like in the everyday classroom? Moreover, what are some effective ways that teachers can embark in the creation of a digital story without utter chaos in a classroom full of 30 or more youngsters?

Every teacher goes through trial-and-error when learning something new such as digital storytelling, and every teacher tailors to his or her classroom needs -- but thankfully teachers share and share alike. As such, as a teacher, I wanted to share a few classroom practicalities that worked well for me. Therefore, this article contains some of the gems that I gleaned from my experiments. To date, I’ve ventured into two digital storytelling projects both with gifted students and students with special needs.

Digital storytelling is when an individual or group of people craft a movie from start to finish. The entire process of digital storytelling consists of three phases: (1) pre-production, (2) production, and (3) post-production. This article will focus on the pre-production phase geared for teachers because whilst much is written about digital storytelling itself little is written in the way of classroom management practicalities for the everyday classroom.

Pre-production is the cornerstone of building a digital story. It is the first stage of producing a video when idea sharing takes place, responsibilities are assigned, and when sketches and text seem to animatedly evolve as the storyboard is written. Therefore, organisation of roles and responsibilities is essential.

Children at this phase are excited about the production and all want their ideas included. Left without a game plan, pre-production can be quite a fiasco for a teacher with 30 or more youngsters. Many students get hyped up a notch upon telling them the plans to create a digital story. As such, almost always all hands go up and a gaggle of students waddle up to surround you.  

So, one Friday afternoon whilst proactively thinking about how to keep the kiddies from swinging from the chandeliers, I thought of various grouping strategies. Then, (thankfully) I had a bit of a weekend epiphany that I found was key for classroom management success in digital storytelling. Namely, I decided to incorporate the literature circle model in the pre-production phase to be tried out the following Monday. Literature circles were already a part of my students’ Language Arts curriculum. Therefore, it was a familiar learning framework for my students to anchor onto whilst learning the process of digital storytelling -- and to get the creative ball rolling, so to speak.

In the literature circle model, there are many different roles that each member of the group takes. These roles traditionally include:

Discussion Director (i.e. captain)



Illustrator, and


Furthermore, I included three additional roles to help in the pre-production phase of digital storytelling for the larger groups. They are as follows:

The Travel Tracer (i.e. transition master)

The Timekeeper and

The Recorder.

Note: (Teacher-tip from the get-go) Providing a folder for each literature circle group and numbering them by table to be turned in to teacher at the end of the class period is an effective way to keep track of each group progress as well as materials. All notes from the recorder are kept here as well as storyboard drafts. Moreover, keeping a master teacher folder of the finalised storyboards and providing copies to the students for practice helps if a student may loose their work or in case their work has been ‘eaten by the family pet’.
Here is a brief synopsis of the roles:

Discussion Director (i.e. team captain):
He or she leads and encourages group discussion, whilst redirecting those who may be off task. Additionally, the discussion director reports directly to the teacher on their group’s daily outcomes.   

This individual summarises the discussion. Therefore, he or she gives a brief synopsis of the main ideas and character generation gleaned from the discourse. This person sums up the daily discussion and recaps the previous day’s discussion at the beginning of each new discussion meeting.  

The investigator’s job is to "dig up" useful bits of information that may be helpful to the group, such as background knowledge or the latest research advances on a particular subject. He or she may also do interviews similar to a reporting style to gather information. The investigator is also the one who may leave the circle as needed to glean information via the Internet. (However, if possible a laptop or two at each circle’s table works best.)  

He or she creates some kind of visual image of the ideas cultivated during the discussion. He or she can do this via graphic organisers such as diagrams, concept maps, or flow charts (e.g. using Inspiration software), a cartoon (e.g. via Apple Comic Life), or even sketching stick figures on the eventual sidebar of the storyboard.

The connector strives to make connections between the ideas and information shared in the group with practical use for the real world. The connector asks the group such questions as: What do you hope the audience will take away by watching the film? Do you want the audience to take action? Do you want the audience to advocate? What are the real world applications? What is the main message we want to send to our viewers?

Travel Tracer (i.e. transition master):
Frequently when creating a digital story the scenery will change. It is this individual’s job to make sure that transitions are discussed and written into the overall storyline. He or she is also responsible for leading the discussion on what supplies, sets, and costumes are needed from location to location and/or stage setting. Eventually, the travel tracer helps label the clapperboard at each take.

Teacher Tip: Using a clapperboard during production is very helpful when editing in post-production, and it’s fun for the kids to say, ‘take two’ --  or should I say, ‘one hundred and thirty two.’

It is the timekeeper’s job to do just that: keep time. He or she holds the stopwatch. Time is essential in creating a digital storytelling project. Therefore, in the storyboard phase drafted roles should be rehearsed by students and timed. Even if the times may not turn out exact from storyboard to production at least you and your students will know an estimated time on how long each section of your class story will take.  

Whilst your kinesthetic learners will want to take notes -- and rightly so -- it is the recorder’s primary duty to take notes or type notes on the literature circle discussion. Typed notes work best because edits are made easily and each group can be added into the whole-class storyboard. He or she will type the drafts of the storyboard for the group, type script into a teleprompter if used in a school TV production room, and make cue cards as needed for on location shots.

The teacher’s pre-production role is to facilitate all circle discussions. Additionally, you may notice that many zealous students will send e-mails to you of various ideas that sprung up whilst at home. If this is the case for your classroom, an effective way for students to continue their collaboration and share their ideas is to have the students extend their collaboration virtually via the blogosphere. Encourage each discussion director (i.e. captain) to set up a team blog. It not only serves to keep the group’s sudden ideas (i.e. light bulb moments) organised, it can be a record displaying the contributions of each group member. In addition, blogs are a great platform for students to reflect on their creative process of their digital storytelling project.      

In summary, each literature circle group should produce a rich storyboard, which is essential for digital storytelling. Good storyboards display pictures and text, which lead each group into production (i.e. videotaping). This includes a timeline and side notes about voiceovers, close-ups, extreme long shots, freeze frames, desired special effects such as the ‘Ken Burns Effect’ (i.e. zooming and panning stills to add illusion of motion), and pace. Overall, the literature circle model can be an effective classroom management strategy for teachers and students alike organising the pre-production phase of digital storytelling, whilst encouraging teamwork and confidence that readies students to heartedly yelp "Roll-em!"

This article will appear in the forthcoming second edition of Coming of Age: An Introdction to the NEW Worldwide Web.
Don't miss out on the developments concerning "Coming of Age..." the FREE book about using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom!

Mechelle De Craene loves being a special education teacher in Florida. She is also a MirandaNet Scholar researching child development and ICT (i.e.Cybernetic Developmental Theory) with the MirandaNet Academy. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters Degree in Special Education with a Gifted Education endorsement.


© Mechelle M. De Craene Thu, 3 Aug 2006