Using Digital Storytelling in Language Classrooms


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Spread the word. Use digital stories in ESL classrooms. Image by Dell

Digital stories are a useful instructional tool for language teachers, because they use creative talents beyond those of language skills, thus generating interest and motivation for the “digital generation” – especially for any struggling language students.

To find out more about how  digital stories can be integrated into the ESL classroom, Decoded Science contacted Andrea Spagat, the West Coast Region Director at the Center for Digital Storytelling.

Using Digital Stories in a Heterogeneous ESL (English as a second language) Class

ESL and EFL classes by nature are heterogeneous.  Students are often different ages, have different backgrounds, learning styles and levels. How could digital stories be used in a heterogeneous ESL (English as a second language) class? Andrea Spagat told Decoded Science:

Digital storytelling can be used in an ESL context in a number of different ways. If the story circle is emphasized, in which storytellers share their stories verbally,  the digital storytelling process will be a place to practice English language speaking skills and build community.  The latter can be important for immigrants who can feel dislocated and isolated in their new homes.  Strengthening social ties among ESL students will also lead to greater emotional safety and more participation in learning activities.

English as a Second Language: Script and Text for ESL

The digital story has two main elements, the script and the images. What benefits do digital story telling provide with regard to encouraging writing and improving writing skills? According to Ms. Spagat,

The basic element of a digital story is the script.  It is a “considered text” – a piece of writing, often based on a scene, that is deeply reflective.  These scripts can be created with a greater sense of immediacy than most writing because the distribution of the story – the audience and the environment in which the story will be shown is generally much more tangible to the storyteller than is the case with many forms of writing.  The storyteller usually knows who will view the story and under what conditions, and is usually willing to be more committed to the writing process because of this immediacy. The script writing portion of the digital storytelling process represents an excellent opportunity for ESL students to practice their writing skills with gentle and encouraging support from teachers.

ESL Learning Via Video

We also asked Ms. Spagat what types of computer and language and literacy  skills can the digital imaging – the video production – enhance in our students? Her response:

The video production aspect of digital storytelling is an opportunity for ESL students to develop computer skills, and become more engaged with the digital world and develop more confidence with computers they might use in the workplace.  The voice-over recording process is a helpful tool for supporting improved reading skills and English language pronunciation.  (Note: if storytellers lack confidence in their reading abilities, they can instead opt to be prompted by a teacher, who can deliver the script line by line with the storyteller repeating each line one at a time.) Finally, the production process can be used to encourage more sophisticated media literacy.  If the digital storytelling process emphasizes how production elements impact the shape of the story, and how the visual treatment may impact viewer experience, ESL students can start to develop a nuanced and critical view of media production and consumption practices.

ESL Students: Benefits of Digital Story Telling

As mentioned, language classes are heterogeneous. There are students who lag behind because of language weaknesses and learning differences. I asked how digital stories can benefit weaker (ESL) language students, and received this response:

The benefits of digital storytelling for weaker ESL students are the same as noted above.  In our work at CDS, we have found that weaker ESL students appreciate the time they have to develop a written script about which they are excited, and the opportunity to make multiple voice-over recordings, until they are satisfied with the product.”

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