RM Winter 2016 FLIP

Using Digital Storytelling to Improve Student Attitudes Towards Writing

Monica J. Gatti, Western Carolina University Kelly N. Tracy, Western Carolina University

Reading Matters Research Matters

in general education classes (Graham & Sandmel, 2011). Graham and Sandmel (2011) explain that while there is not a universal definition of this approach, there are many shared features including cycles of planning, transferring, and reviewing. Process writing also emphasizes writing for real purposes and audiences. Digital stories can be especially useful as a final authentic product after participating in the writing process. When students are able to share these products with family, peers, and/or friends, it “affords students an intense sense of pride and accomplishment that rarely accompanies the completion of a term paper or set of textbook exercises” (Simkins, Cole, Tavalin, & Means, 2002, p. 8). Even though digital storytelling has been found to be an engaging way to teach writing, few K-12 schools in the U.S. are actually using the learning tool. According to a 2009 survey, “Of the total 123 digital storytelling programs based in educational institutions, 55 were located in K-12 settings, including associated after-school and/or vacation-care settings, 41 were located in America.” (Hartley & McWilliam, 2009, p. 45). This limitation could be due in part to the difficulties teachers often have in gaining access to technology on a regular basis, as well as knowing ways to meaningful incorporate it into the classroom (Wright &Wilson, 2011). Access to technology can vary greatly between schools and districts (Purcell, Heaps, Buchanan, & Friedrich, 2013) with rural teachers often facing distinct barriers to technological access (Howley, Wood, & Hough, 2011), Digital Storytelling in Action To further my understanding of engaging students with digital storytelling, I began working with a teacher in a combined second and third grade classroom at Lake View School (pseudonym) in the rural mountains of western North Carolina. Lake View is a small school serving 103 students in grades kindergarten through twelfth. There were 17 students in the class and while all of them participated in the lessons, two did not give consent to participate in the study and thus were excluded from data collection. The school had some technology, but there were no tablets available for student use in the classroom. I was able to write and receive a small grant that allowed me to purchase ten iPad minis that we could share among the students to create our digital stories. I visited the class once per week for ten weeks and worked with the students for approximately forty-five minutes each time. I collaborated with the classroom teacher to design the sequence of lessons, which would center on both science and writing, specifically seasons and descriptive writing. Through these lessons, students would utilize a recursive writing process to develop their ultimate product, a digital story. Although I will describe the weekly lesson that the regular classroom teacher and I taught

ABSTRACT—Frommy previous writing workshop experience, I noticed that some students were often unengaged and I questioned why. Were they not interested in the topic? Was the task too difficult? Were they insecure about their writing? Could technology be used as a tool for engagement? In an attempt to answer these questions, I designed a ten-week action research study on the use of digital storytelling to engage writers. I administered the Writing Attitude Survey (Kear, Coffman, McKenna, & Ambrosio, 2000) at the beginning and end of the study, which involved 15 students in a combined second and third grade class at a rural elementary school in North Carolina. Results demonstrate that the students’ overall positive attitude toward writing improved from 66.7% being happy or very happy to 83.4%. Their attitude towards revising and peer reviewing dramatically increased from an initial 7% to 53% of students reporting being either happy or very happy. The first time I, Monica, observed students involved in digital storytelling I was surprised at their engagement with the process. I was a graduate student working as a volunteer assistant in a first grade class, helping students one-on-one to write scripts for their digital stories. The joy that all students appeared to have when working on their digital story projects contrasted sharply with my previous student teaching experience with writing instruction. In that experience, I noticed struggling or reluctant writers with their heads down, staring at the page, or just working on their picture during the designated writing time. As I had additional opportunities to work with other kindergarten through third grade students, I continued to see the excitement that digital storytelling generated for students of all skill levels. To help me more fully understand what I had been casually observing, I decided to undertake an action research project examining if and how digital storytelling engaged young writers. The Power of Digital Stories Sylvester and Greenidge (2009) explain, “A digital story is a multimedia text consisting of images complemented by a narrated soundtrack to tell a story or present a documentary” (p. 284). Such stories give students the chance to meaningfully meld writing with technology, and doing so often gives students a real audience, purpose, and place to publish (Hicks, 2013). Using digital stories in the classroom can increase student engagement, as well as improve print and media literacies (Bogard & McMackin, 2012; Hartley & McWilliam, 2009; Tobin, 2012). Teachers can integrate digital stories with any subject, offering students an opportunity to engage with content while designing, planning, and producing a multimedia product. As such, digital storytelling is a natural fit with the process approach to teaching writing, a popular method of writing instruction shown to increase student writing achievement

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