Digital Storytelling – my ‘how to’ guide.

In October 2007 I presented at the ASLA Biennial conference about my experiences with Literature Circles and Digital Storytelling.  For that conference I submitted a paper that was to go through the peer review process  for possible publication in ASLA’s Access journal. That paper was submitted in July of 2007 if my memory serves me correct. Aside from a couple of emails since then I’ve heard nothing else about it. I’m pretty sure I’ve had no communication for at least nine months.

So, if they aren’t going to publish it in their journal, I’m going to publish it in my journal, this blog. The paper outlines how I came to link Literature Circles to Digital Storytelling and the process I went through to guide my students to successful outcomes.  If a peer review process is going to take over 18 months to complete then there are serious errors with the process in my view. I would prefer readers gain the benefits of my experiences rather than have that paper and the work that went into it vanish into the ether.  

Here it is. I hope someone out there finds it of use. 

Creative use of ICT and wide reading – Literature Circles and Digital Storytelling.



Toorak College is a girl’s school (Senior Campus) in the South Eastern suburb of Mt. Eliza, Victoria. The school has a laptop program running from grade 5 and throughout the Senior School.  I began working at Toorak College in October 2005 and was impressed with the reading culture that had been established within the school and the support from the English faculty with the Wide Reading program. English classes are encouraged to schedule one lesson per 10 day cycle to visit the Library where a Teacher Librarian gives a book talk and engages our students in discussion about young adult literature.


Literature Circles (see definition figure 1.1) have been a feature of the Wide Reading program at Toorak College for some time. It is hoped that at some stage throughout the year classes will undertake a Literature Circle and participate in group discussion about a novel of their choice. As with most Literature Circle models, students take on roles and rotate these around the group.


Late 2005 I attended a VATE conference in Melbourne and had the good fortune to hear a woman by the name of Anne Burke give a presentation about Digital Storytelling. (see definition figure 1.2)  She worked for an organisation called Lab 3000 that were using Adobe Photoshop to create Digital Stories with young people and other members of the public. The examples that were shown were emotionally powerful and ignited my interest in thinking about how I could apply this use of technology to my work situation. As luck would have it I was sitting with a colleague who mentioned Literature Circles. The seed was sown!


My good fortune was rewarded again the following week. In a discussion with a colleague I was exuberantly describing Digital Stories but was lamenting the fact that Adobe Photoshop wasn’t available on our computers. She teaches Multimedia and told me she had been doing something similar with Windows Moviemaker which is part of Windows XP. She showed me an example and gave me a quick tutorial in the workings of Moviemaker. That night I made a rudimentary Digital Story about my daughter’s recent swimming carnival. Believe you me, it was rudimentary, but I felt a remarkable sense of achievement. My steep learning curve was on its way.


School holidays intervened and at the start of the 2006 school year our staff was introduced to the concept of Performance Development Projects as a part of the appraisal process. Teams were encouraged to be formed around areas of interest.  Three of our Junior School teachers found me out and we formed a group investigating how digital stories could be implemented within our school curriculum.

We realised we needed in-servicing as we were all, to use Marc Prensky’s term, digital immigrants. We organised a Windows Moviemaker in-service and two of us scheduled training about  Photo Story 3, something that was unknown to us at that stage. None of us felt entirely confident with the technology and didn’t want to launch into something blindly.


Well, that was my thinking, until a discussion with one of our English teachers launched me right into the situation I was trying to avoid. Heather was travelling to China and asked if I could run a Literature Circle with two groups of her Year 9 students during her absence. Even though I knew I wasn’t in full command of the technology, I suggested that I run the Literature Circles, but attach the task of completing a Digital Story after they had finished their reading. She was more than happy with the suggestion so I went ahead and developed a worksheet outlining what the students were expected to do. (see figure 1.3) The theme for the English unit of study that term was ‘journeys’ and the task I developed asked the students to trace the journey of a character from the novel they had studied and represent this journey as a Digital Story. Despite my reservations with my lack of knowledge about the technology, I knew this was an opportune time to introduce the concept to the students; I would have a willing audience and, if it were successful, I would be able to convince other teachers to get involved. 


With two willing Year 9 groups at my disposal we began our Literature Circles studying a variety of novels including How I Live Now,  The Running Man, Walking Naked,  The Heaven Shop,  Lord of the Flies,  Burning Eddy,  The Book of Lies and Elli.   Students were informed at the beginning of the study that a digital story would be produced. I showed them an example of a digital story and there was much anticipation regarding this stage of the project.


Fortuitously, while the students were working through their Literature Circle discussions, I was able to attend an in-service run by Microsoft on Photo Story 3 (a free download from Microsoft). This is an incredibly easy program that enables you to import still images, crop them to suit your needs, add text, customize motion to give a movie like feel to a still image, add transitions between slides and overlay narration and music. Immediately it was obvious that this would be the easy entry point for those students who would find Windows Moviemaker more difficult to manage. I returned to school and demonstrated Photo Story 3 to the students who could see its suitability for this task; many of them began to create their own photo stories about family holidays and experiences with their friends.


At this stage students were coming to me showing me images they had collected and music they were thinking about using for the task. I started to think about the copyright implications of their use of images and music. This prompted a phone call to the Copyright Council who directed me to the fact sheets they produce. In a fact sheet entitled INFORMATION SHEET G38 Music: use in student films and home videos,   I discovered this clause;


There is no general provision that allows people to copy for personal or private use. However, the Copyright Act does contain provisions which students may sometimes be able to rely on, including when they want to use music and sound recordings in films and videos they make as part of a course of study. In particular, a student may be able to deal with copyright material for research or study, provided the use is fair. An example of fair dealing for research or study may be using music in a film which is to be submitted for a school or university project, but which you do not intend to show outside the classroom or distribute further. (Australian Copyright Council p.3)


and, from INFORMATION SHEET G56 Copyright and the Internet,


Can I copy material from the Net for an assignment?


Generally, you may print and/or save material to disk if:


it is for your research or study; and


the copying is “fair” (for example, it doesn’t interfere with the legitimate market for the item). (Australian Copyright Council p.4)


This enabled me to relay to the students some important detail regarding copyright and prompted some interesting discussion. It was certainly a point of need teaching moment and had greater impact than if I were relaying this information to students in a scheduled information skills lesson.


At this stage, it was time to be there providing assistance, but to really let the students run with the development of their Digital Story.  They are the digital natives, to coin Marc Prensky’s terminology once again, and most displayed this ease with learning the workings of either Photo Story 3 or Windows Moviemaker. One of the key skills the students were trying to negotiate was the distribution of tasks and dynamics within their group. Because of the nature of the task, one laptop contained the developing project and other group members would send their image and music selection to the person whose computer was creating the Digital Story. As with any group task, some students managed this better than others. Students were finding this a really engaging task and the intrinsic motivation that fed from this led to some students whose laptops held the project working on it at home and taking more ownership of the Digital Story. Some students found this frustrating and felt their input wasn’t being recognized. It was certainly a factor and something that has had to be closely monitored in subsequent Digital Story projects.


Upon completion of the Digital Stories I organized for a sharing session whereby groups could present their finished product. This was one of the most rewarding teaching moments I have had in my years as a teacher. Not all presentations were outstanding, but I was impressed with each groups’ ability to chart the character’s journey using a combination of visual imagery, text and music. Some groups took a metaphorical approach to the task and others had a more text driven blow by blow description, but all had made genuine attempts to marry the technology with the author’s intention in the novel. Two presentations stood out; one group had read Michael Gerard Bauer’s ‘The Running Man’, and used very limited text but strong visual imagery to convey Tom Leyton’s journey.

Another group had read Meg Rosoff’s ‘How I Live Now’, and had very cleverly used a Lego character to represent the character Daisy. They included a fair bit of narrative to explain her journey, but had also used sound effects and varying musical tracks to good effect. I have to admit I became quite emotional on seeing this Digital Story for the first time. These students had identified prescient moments from the text and had produced a meaningful and moving account of Daisy’s journey in a five minute Digital Story. Our very own digital natives had achieved everything that I had envisaged was possible.


Assessing this task was another hurdle to overcome. Our English faculty has a number of rubrics for writing and speaking and listening tasks but nothing had been developed for a multimodal task like this. A rubric needed to be developed and it seemed like I was the person to do it! I wasn’t about to reinvent the wheel however. Some Internet searching showed that educators in the States had developed rubrics for Digital Stories and I looked to these for guidance. As with most rubrics, there were some good and some not so good but none that had the precise fit needed. I developed a Rubric using ideas from others but incorporating aspects that suited our requirements. (see figure 1.4)


As a final task I had the students undertake some self-assessment to gain some insight into their feelings about the task. Overwhelmingly there was a positive response, with many feeling proud of their achievement and expressing thanks for giving them the opportunity to learn how to use Photo Story 3 or Windows Moviemaker. Many of them could see the usefulness of these programs and how this knowledge could be transferred to other subject areas when it came to presentations.


We have a television in our Library, which we had been using to screen the Daily Notice information. I had the idea that this could be a forum for screening the Digital Stories that had been produced. The students were quite pleased to see their work on display for others to view, which added another dimension to the project. (This has had a springboard effect for our Library TV; we’ve seen the benefits of using this resource and now screen scanned images of new books and interesting images that we find from the Internet. It certainly provides lots of discussion and is now a focal point in the Library.)




Where has this taken us?


As I had hoped, the success of this initial foray into the world of Digital Stories sparked further interest and I have been involved in collaborative teaching with my colleagues at differing year levels. Our year 8 students developed Digital Stories that marketed their novel (similar to a film trailer) to encourage other students to read their choice. At year 10 our English students have had as their big question, What does it mean to be human? As part of this study they engaged in a Literature Circle with novels that had a Holocaust theme. I could see that the Digital Stories that would emanate from this would all take on familiar Holocaust  images so I decided in negotiation with their teacher to take a different tack. Students were asked to create a Digital Story that looked at their big question, What does it mean to be human? They had to refer to all the impetus material from their semester’s study and incorporate quotes from their Literature Circle novel. The girls found this a very challenging task but produced some excellent Digital Stories. Some of these students had been involved with the initial Digital Story exercise and to see the development of their skills was extremely encouraging.


Personally, I have found the entire process rewarding. It has helped me forge collaborative working partnerships with my colleagues and has heightened my profile within the school.  Teachers and students see me as someone with a working knowledge of technology and often seek me out for assistance. I do my best to help; I’ve learnt that to take a leap of faith can prove to be invaluable! As part of our school’s Connections program I offer the opportunity for students to learn about Photo Story 3 and Windows Moviemaker in a weekly session. I was approached by our Year 8 team to create a Moviemaker project as stimulus material for our inquiry week study on the theme of power. Additionally, I have been offered in-services and opportunities to stretch me in my understanding of technology. I’m currently involved with other teachers from my school in a research project with the AISV. We are working with Tom March and other independent schools on ICT and critical thinking skills which is proving to be very interesting.


From a Library perspective I think there have been huge benefits. The students and teaching staff identify the Library as a place where innovative use of technology is being incorporated into their studies. We, as a Library staff, have taken this on board and have recognized the need to keep up with this rapidly changing world. We have fostered an interest in Web 2.0 technologies and have developed our library intranet to meet this changing world. A library Wiki is operational and we are encouraging our students to collaborate with us in the development of this. 


Can you do this?


If I can do this, so can you! I’ve really only immersed myself in this technological world over the last two years. I strongly believe that you have to have the confidence to ‘let it go’. You don’t have to know everything about how these programs work; a basic understanding will get you through provided you are comfortable with the knowledge that your students will probably know more than you and can, in effect, become your teachers. I know that I have learnt so much from my students and I’m not embarrassed to ask, How did you do that? Can you teach me? None of them have ever looked at me in a disparaging way; they have all been more than happy to help me.


We are fortunate at Toorak College to have our students equipped with laptops making access to the technology easy. I do see these programs, however, as being a means of bridging the digital divide. Windows Moviemaker is a feature of Windows XP and Photo Story 3 is a free download from Microsoft. On Windows Vista they have incorporated Photo Story 3.1 into the package; they have obviously recognized the interest and user friendly capabilities of this program.  Having come from the State System, I could see that classes booked into computer labs or using classroom pods would be capable of creating digital stories. The use of a USB could enable the transfer of data from home to school and vice-versa. Many school libraries are equipped with computers and this could be the opportune collaborative teaching activity that could be completed in the Library. The rewards are worth the effort for both you and your students. 








Australian Copyright Council 2006, Information sheet G38 Music: use in student films and home videos, Australian Copyright Council, Strawberry Hills, NSW, viewed 5th July 2007, <>


Australian Copyright Council 2004, Information sheet G56 Copyright and the Internet,  Australian Copyright Council, Strawberry Hills, NSW, viewed 5th July 2007, <>


Daniels, Harvey 1994, Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered

Classroom, Stenhouse Publishers, York, Maine p.13  


Keller,Colleen 2007, 7 things you should know about Digital Storytelling, Educauseconnect, viewed 17th July 2007, < 


Prensky, Marc 2001, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, viewed 3rd July 2007, <> 


(Sorry for any formatting issues that appear here. I’ve tried to fix it to no avail!)


4 Replies to “Digital Storytelling – my ‘how to’ guide.”

  1. Although we don’t have literature circles in the UK primary sector, we do have guided reading and it seems to me that this is a fantastic way of the children exploring what they understand from the text and the links that they make.
    Thanks for the great ideas.

    1. @Joy I have found it to be very rewarding Joy. You can’t underestimate the thinking required to convey meaning visually. The students really need to have a thorough understanding of the text in order to complete a successful digital story.

  2. Thanks for sharing that journey Jenny; I did see a presentation on digital storytelling last year and was amazed at the variety of skills that can be incorporated into this approach.

    Says something too about some of the paper journals, and where they’re at, doesn’t it.

    1. @Warrick. Nice to see you here. I really do think Digital Storytelling is worth exploring in the English curriculum. Our crowded curriculums mean that it is often difficult to dedicate the time that needs investing but I have found the students gain much from the experience.
      And yes, it says an awful lot about the state of paper journals. I much prefer the just in time nature of blog posts and their relevance for teaching and learning.

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