Teacher Consultant

Pen Campbell

St. Joseph High School
St. Joseph, Michigan

Third Coast Writing Project

Classroom Context

Both of the schools where I've worked in the past 12 years have been primarily middle-class schools. Each year I survey my students, and each year I've had more students who don't take a daily newspaper than don't have computers in their homes (usually no more than one or two don't have access to a computer at home). Of course, that makes projects like this a whole different ball game for my classroom than it does for other classrooms where students may not have the same home access and familiarity with computers and the ancillary "toys" that help the process – digital cameras, video recorders, scanners, sound recorders, etc.

I used to teach at a school with block scheduling, and we had a cart of laptops that was housed in our classroom. That was great for digital storytelling. Longer time allowed them to get more done. Portability allowed them to go out into the hall or the storage room one at a time to record; but on the other hand, at that time we didn't have the access to the range of very accessible programs we do now, like Movie Maker, iMovie, PhotoStory3. At the school where I am now, we have to sign up for labs, and while we have more access to Mac labs, most of our kids are PC users. Frustration runs higher when the platform issue is added to the learning curve.

The timeframe of the projects varies, of course, depending on the task, group, etc. One thing that is more consistent, however, across projects is that creating digital stories is more like baking bread than painting a room. Once you start painting, it's not a good idea to stop in the middle of a wall. With bread, on the other hand, you do a bit, let it rest, do a bit, let it rest. In the classroom this resting extends beyond the usual time we’d take to develop a piece of writing. For instance, when I worked with seniors on their digital stories to be included in their multi-genre research portfolio for the fourth quarter, I scheduled five lab days (they are responsible for word processing their written work outside the classroom on their own time). One lab day was to introduce the program and give them some time to play with it. Several days later, after their storyboards were due with all their images included, we had two consecutive days in the lab. The following week, we had two more. My colleague and I also staff the lab on our own time before and after school for a total of at least six more hours. If a student comes fully prepared, he or she should have plenty of time to complete the project in the four hours of class time. The writing process for the script and introduction to digital story in general, and the idea of a visual metaphor (which is a requirement for the digital story), all happen outside that five-day lab timeline, of course.