Practices That Scaffold Script Creation For English Language Learners

While some of the practices that follow can be applied to all classroom contexts, these suggestions are particularly crucial when teaching English language learners. The role of voice, the push toward language accuracy, and the finding of their thesis are especially important for English language learners.

Teach the Technology before the Digital Story Composing Process

For all learners, but especially for English language learners, the language of the software and the processes that need to be mastered represent a significant challenge by themselves. Students need to master the skills and language of technology before they focus on creating the digital story composition. Allot time before you begin the content unit for students to master the technology within a simpler task. For example, I have all students and teachers produce a five-frame digital story on the "I am" Poem they would have written in five minutes of class time. (See Unit Plan Days 3, 4, and 5 for an example.)

Use Voicecasts to Scaffold the Oral and Aural Language Demands

For all learners, but especially for English language learners, the role of the voice must be deeply integrated at the beginning of the digital storytelling process, both the teacher's voice and the students' voices.

For English learners who are still mastering the language of content subjects and the social language needed to communicate with classmates, the addition of technology language compounds the challenge of implementing technology-based projects in the classroom. In order to understand the spoken directions for the use of technology and to communicate with others about their projects, they need to feel comfortable with listening to technical language, but also need to feel competent in the pronunciation of the technical words, be able to string the words together into grammatically appropriate phrases, and to gain the confidence in speaking they will need to produce the voiceover narration. As a teacher of English language learners, I know that students improve their listening when they listen to a spoken text several times. Therefore, I needed to develop a way for students to listen to the technology language in school and at home. A teacher-made voicecast is similar in form but different in purpose to a podcast. I begin with preparing a handout with words they will encounter in the digital storytelling process, centering on software and hardware terms but also including technical process terms. I follow each term with a series of potential sentences that could be heard in the classroom project process, embedding the vocabulary. I make an audio file voicing the technical vocabulary words and sentences several times, adding a more informal commentary about the word meaning within the digital storytelling process. I upload the files to the school website but also provide disks to students who do not have access to the Internet, only to an offline computer.

Since the digital story format originates in the oral tradition, I plan for students to have opportunities to voice their stories sans technology – first to partners and in small groups, but later to use digital audio recordings to practice and perfect their voiceovers. I ask them to make voicecasts of their stories as drafts of the voiceovers they will later include in their digital story. That way, I can listen to this rehearsal and suggest ways to make the voice more compelling, and for English language learners, I help them edit their voices for pronunciation, grammatical accuracy, and intonation patterns. (See Unit Plan Days 9 through 12.)

Help Students to Find the Heart of Their Stories

In a recent project I did with a class of English language learners, I found that the technique of story circles, in which the writer reads the composition and fellow classmates respond with their ideas of the essence or heart of the story (Rance-Roney, 2008), was helpful in moving English language learners from the big story with many episodes to a smaller story that could be put in a digital story format.

With all my students, I see that they are attempting to use the skills of traditional literacy (more is better) and apply it to the new literacy framework of less is more. They have come from the tradition of "grading by the pound" and feel that in order for a digital story to be effective, it must contain an abundance of material. They need to be guided into the concept that the digital story script can illustrate only the most powerful episode or the heart of the message. The audience response from classmates helps the students to focus in on what is central. This approach to identifying one illustrative moment that exemplifies a grander concept will also serve them well as this skill is applied in more traditional writing and reading.