The Powerlessness of Some Stories

I am still thinking about stories, memory and learning. As I wrote earlier, with a quick scan down the list of former students I can recall the digital story each one of them created for my class. I have had former students tell me the same thing. They can remember the stories created by their classmates, recalling some of the most amazing details. When I read the names of my students, I could hear their voices, see the images in my head, remember the anecdotes they shared, and in some cases, associate the music they included as part of their projects.

This made me think of another project I was involved in while I was teaching these undergraduate classes. I spent the better part of two years of my life working with teachers and helping they and their students create short historical documentaries by mashing up archival material and user-generated content. The movies ranged from the Harlem Renaissance to the Great Migration, to the causes and effects of the Civil War. I worked with about a half-dozen teachers and approximately 150 students. I didn’t spend as much time in those classrooms as I did with my preservice teachers, but I did spend enough time with them that when I scan the list of students from each class I can place a face with the name. Over theĀ  course of 3 very intense projects, I helped them make about 150 movies, give or take a few students who missed too much school or didn’t use their time wisely.

Oddly, I could remember very little about the movies they created, even though they shared many similarities with the movies created by the preservice teachers. In contrast, I helped over 200 preservice teachers create digital stories over a 4-year span and I can remember every single story. As another contrast, the quality and form of the movies was quite different. This is not meant to be a knock on 6th graders, but undergraduates at the University of Virginia knew a little more about storytelling and expression than the 12-13 year olds I was working with. Here are some of the notable differences in their projects:

6th Graders
Preservice Teachers
Chose images from a pool hand-picked by teacher Took or found their own images
Most of the stories used the same images Every story was completely unique
Narrative was an expository essay Narrative was a story
Most of the narratives covered the exact same main points (convergent coverage of the topic) Narratives were totally unique (divergent coverage of the topic)
Stories did not have music Stories had music
Stories reflected what the teacher told them they had to remember Stories reflected personal learning

I know this is probably not a complete list, but this is what I was able to come up with after viewing a few of each type of story. Honestly, the 6th grade movies all sounded and looked the same. Yes, the topics were covered in different order, there was slight variation on the images used and the narrative was worded differently, but for the most part they were identical. Kind of like Kevin Costner movies.

This is an interesting topic to me, and I plan on covering it more in the future. I am leaving tomorrow for SITE, and I hope to have some good conversations about digital storytelling and other tech-related teaching strategies.