Last week I spent every day in the classrooms with the three groups working on the Digital Storytelling project. Sans our posse (Bernajean Porter, Kevin Jarrett and Marianne Malstrom) the teachers and I were determined to see the project through with the high level expectations set forth from the onset.
Each class I entered the kids were hard at work, at the computers…digging into the nuts and bolts of gathering their resources to tell their stories…Kids were in Garage Band, on the Internet gathering royalty free images, in Second Life capturing machinima and building sets… a gratifying sight indeed..right? Well, in a word, wrong. As I approached each group and listened to their collaboration, it became very clear to me that there was a big problem… True to my coaching, I listened first so as not to shift the ownership of the discussion. After observing a reasonable amount of exchange by the students, I interjected the million dollar question, “Tell me your story?” In almost every instance the kids then launched into a description of what their story would look like – but not one group actually told me a story, no less a story that needed to be told! After a bit of redirection I then asked the second million dollar question, “What is the lesson learned?” Again – blank stares, hedging, and maybe something off the cuff – without conviction without passion resulting in my response—“so what?” Brutal? Yep – that’s my job.
It became clear to me that the product construction had taken precedence over the product development- that the kids were much more comfortable jumping right into the technology than they were with the earnest blood, sweat, and tears of the writing! I saw that the bells and whistles had taken center stage and I knew that substance was now an endangered entity. And so, it was back to square one- writing, writing, and more writing!
Time for a Sheehy soapbox: time for a revisit to purpose and a call to excellence. I remind the kids that they are charged with writing a story that is from the heart, that is told from the emotional self, and is a story that needs to be told. I add that they are again the pioneers, and that the work they are doing will set the stage for the future. Shamelessly I challenge them with the fact that their names are going to be forever attached to this work, and they have an opportunity to create something magical.
They have made wonderful beginnings, through a pretty grueling process, but their stories are still fragmented, and need emotional tension, clear conflict and resolution and most importantly, a lesson learned!
We spend the next two days writing – tugging, pulling, prodding each other to get to the heart of the story – and by Wednesday – I can honestly say – they have arrived. Each group now has a written narrative, with a clear lesson and they are invested in their work. There is a whole different feeling in the room – due to the fact that they know they have fought the hard fight – My job was to cheer them on – to ask the tough questions – to refuse to let them settle for less than their absolute best. Wednesday they moved on to their story boards – painstakingly aligning their stories with their parallel poems, and blocking their scenes and images and sounds to illuminate the story.
Again, the teachers and I support the work but the kids are in charge now – and the snippets of their conversations confirm that they have indeed become storytellers!
Thursday the nuts and bolts begin again – back to the computers, grabbing the digital cameras, resisting the lure of Google images for copyright safe resources and writing their own music in garage band! We have a long way to go – and the teachers are feeling the pressure of curriculum that awaits as time passes. But the work will continue alongside the demands of the next units. The kids show up in the library at lunch, they are logging in from home and the coming week we will be supported in world and via Skype by our incredible support team. Firesabre awaits the list of artifacts and objectives we will need supported and Bernajean, Kevin and Marianne are devoting yet more hours as they can.
We have taken on a mighty, mighty task. We refused the shortcuts. We know the world is watching.