by Mrs. Sarah Nerissa M. Elizaga
This article was originally entitled “Making Stories Engaging for Older Kids”, submitted by the author as a requirement for her CS 295.016 class. Click on the picture to view the story created by the author using StoryBird.Com.
Storytelling is a form of art that has been around since time immemorial. One can easily communicate how they feel or make someone feel they sympathize through the compilation of words and visual representations, animated orally by the storyteller. With the emergence of web 2.0, the art still managed to find its way through digital storytelling. According to Robin (n.d., p. 222), “digital storytelling allows computer users to become creative storytellers through the traditional processes of selecting a topic, conducting some research, writing a script, and developing an interesting story”. While digital storytelling may entail the use of different technologies to put together words, music, sound and visual, one program that would make storytelling in classrooms possible is Storybird.com.
Storybird.com is an online, flash-based program that allows any individual to become a reader or a writer at any given time. Upon account creation, the individual can read through published stories created by other Storybird users for inspiration. Creating stories is easily done by choosing pictures from commissioned artist, and playing with all the possible combinations of these pictures. The artworks provided are inspiring themselves, as these are created by popular illustrators for picture books.
Traditionally, picture books are used for early education until the second grade but recent studies found out that picture books and storytelling is also an effective classroom tool for middle grades. With Storybird, the teacher is able to suggest three different roles which can be tried in different classes. As a reader, the teacher can ask middle graders to interpret the texts along with the pictures. Manney (2008, p. 51) stressed in his article that “storytelling is the key to empathy creation.” Storybird, having a pool of authors from around the globe, will help students empathize to stories and people from different cultures. Bull and Kajder identifies “digital storytelling’s ability to reach the many ‘unheard and unseen students’ in our classrooms” as its greatest benefit (quoted in Lowenthal, p. 297). When we ask them to read picture books, especially out loud, we give them voices to express themselves. We give them the freedom to interpret these short stories based on how it appears to them.
The second role that the student can take on is as an author. Using Storybird, the teacher can use the illustrations provided as a prompt for creative writing. The colorful and lively illustrations provided can stimulate the writer’s imagination, thus creating an effective story. As a picture can paint a thousand words, a single illustration can lead to different interpretations, making each story different from another student. Storytelling and picture books are not only good for Language Arts but also for other subjects. Storybird makes use of tagging as a way to group together art works. Based on these tags, the author can come up with a story with a science theme or history theme which makes Storybird feasible for Science and Social Studies as well.
Storybird has the tagline, “collaborative storytelling” which leads us to third possible role of collaborator. Technically it is still an author role but with someone to collaborate with, the student does not own the full credit anymore. Teachers can opt to make students work in group and ask them to collaborate and create a new story and present it in class – making the students both readers and authors. When students are given the chance to collaborate, a more meaningful output comes out.
When we think about picture books and storytelling, what comes to our mind is always a picture of a toddler sitting on his mother’s lap as they both immerse themselves to the story at hand. It is very seldom that we think of adolescents or middle school students who are very much engage with reading. With Storybird, the whole concept of reading becomes more accessible and acceptable even for older kids because of its Web 2.0 features. Though the product is still a beta version, the existing features seemed promising enough for classroom use. Whether we used it as a springboard for a topic or to stimulate the student’s imagination and creativity, Storybird is one classroom tool that every teacher should try and incorporate in their classroom.