2014 represents the year that I moved digital storytelling from theory to action. Well, began to move…there’s lots of learning to do.
Storytelling was often used among native peoples, not only for moral teaching, but for practical instruction, to help you remember the details of a craft or skill, and for theoretical instruction, whether about political organization or the location of the stars. One advantage of telling a story to a person rather than preaching at him directly is that the listener is free to make his own interpretation. If it varies a little from yours, that is all right … However many generations have heard the story before the youth who hears it today, it is he who must apply it to his own life.
– George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World, 1974.
“Free to make his own interpretation…”
Inquiry-based learning has grown exponentially in the past few years, which is terrific from my thinking. It connects to the kind of parenting I did when I was a stay-at-home mother. I hated the thought of my kids going to school to sit in rows and to be told what to do. Inquiry learning is about exploration and questioning, and it begins when we need to know how to do something or when we are truly keen about a new idea.
But inquiry-based learning also reflects pedagogy that sustained indigenous people for thousands of years. In fact, at least one resource explicitly acknowledges that there “are several parallels between Indigenous perspectives on education and those of Inquiry-based Knowledge Building” (Natural Curiosity, 13).
Because I teach First Nations high school students, I am constantly considering ways in which the learning we do can be holistic, experiential, and relationship-building. One of the challenges is that I teach English where inquiry-based learning, although not impossible, does not lend itself easily on its own to real-life applications like that of The Students Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) created by Jeff Goldstein or even the Flat Connections Global Projects run by Julie Lindsay.
What we can do is revisit storytelling as pedagogy.
First Nations’ tradition of storytelling is a method of transferring knowledge–their history, ways of being, reconciliation to the tragedies of life, thankfulness, observations about natural phenomena and behaviour–from one generation to the next. Not merely entertainment on the long, dark winter nights, storytelling was a foundational piece upon which the communities were built. The on-going conversation between storyteller and listener emphasizes the value of listening and of the trust that is needed to listen well, and it is an opportunity for the exchange of ideas, which sustains the process as a significant part of their intellectual tradition.
And I don’t mean that the teacher is telling or creating the stories. No, the idea is to challenge students to tell their stories–traditional or new–for a modern audience.
This is an idea a long time in the making. 14 years ago, I wondered if technology open-up the possibility of a re-emergence of Native storytelling. Sure, the form would be different…virtual rather than face-to-face, but the voice would be there and sound effects could replace hand gestures and body movement. Well sorta. But you get my drift, right? (I had not yet come across the actual phrase “Digital Storytelling”!). Outfront, a CBC show that ran in the early 2000s was billed as, “radio stories about real life… all about your ideas, your experiences, your perspectives, your story. It’s an hour of storytelling, experimental audio and new ways of making radio” (PRX). The general idea was that non-journalists could submit a proposal to CBC, and if chosen, producers etc. would travel to you and produce the piece.
Perfect opportunity for us. And yet, I could not get this idea off the ground. Maybe I didn’t know enough back then to pitch it well. Maybe I had not yet learned how to work around the deep shyness of so many students. Maybe it was too far of a reach.
And yet, at its core, I knew that students needed to tell their own stories. I knew that we needed to find ways to honour the literacy of the place and its people. My students needed to not just be in this world as First Nations people, but of it. Not to recreate or hold on to the past as it was, but to embody their belief system in the now.
Fast forward to 2013 when the conditions seem ripe to try again: technology was more advanced, the advent of cell tower spurred on the acquisition of personal devices, which meant more individual involvement with social media, Chromebooks had arrived, and web-based tools had become wide-spread.
Darkness Calls by S.K. Sanderson
Examples of digital storytelling from a First Nations’ point of view were also emerging all over the place. We watched the first episode of the 8th Fire where we met Steve Keewatin Sanderson, a comic and computer games illustrator from the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Have a listen to him talk about people’s response to his art here from 3:35-5:15.
Ruptured Sky presents the War of 1812 from First Nations’ perspective in an interactive graphic novel format. From the site:
The Ruptured Sky is a digital literacy title that delivers insight into the vital role played by First Nations in the outcome of the War of 1812. The resource exposes an important part of Canadian history, one that has been underserved throughout the generations. Most of the principals involved in this project are First Nations artists, creators, writers, historians, subject matter experts and educators. It is important for students to have access to a resource that reports historical events from First Nations perspectives.
And then there is Never Alone.
The pedagogy of digital storytelling
We know that digital storytelling is a powerful way to get students engaged in learning. But I am working toward an understanding that by using a variety of web tools, students will be able to garner the skill set to experiment with telling their own stories to not only gain traditional literacy competencies, but to also gain self-confidence and increase sense of dignity in themselves as Anishnabek.
Let’s have a look at the progress to date: The why of digital storytelling*, followed by examples from my high school classroom….
Students synthesized their understanding of three different narrative elements in The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS) via Tackk board.
Students choose a web-based tool to learn and then created a tutorial. Here is one tutorial created by a selective mute.
Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process. Student’s first Post
We are in the process of creating a grade 9 collaborative project with every grade 9 student ( 45 students). It has two main parts: (1) Lipdup based on the song We Are Done by the Madden Brothers and (2) an online wiki collaborative textbook called, Global Perspectives: A Collaborative Textbook for Teens by Teens. The overarching questions is: Do teens really have to care about dignity and tolerance?
Independent reading presentation from the grade 10 Summative Book Festival of Authors.
Learning Well: a story of contrasts produced collaboratively by a grade 11 class.
Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process. Student learning to blog about her own interest.
Introverts and Extroverts inquiry presentation.
It is no small task for teens to figure out who they will be. For First Nations teens the task can seem insurmountable. What does it mean to be a First Nations person in the 21st century? I don’t have the answer, but maybe if students have the skills and tools they can reclaim storytelling as their guiding force.
Finally, thanks to all my digital storytelling teachers:
Alan Levine, 50+ Web Ways to tell a story
Alan November, Educational Resources for Educators
Amy Burvall, Creative Projects
Darren Kuropatwa, Presentations
Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, Blog
Susan Oxnevad, Blog