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Me & The D: Digital Media and Counter-Storytelling

Below, you will find images that my students created using GIMP (free!!!), which is similar to Photoshop.  Students were asked to pose in front of a green screen, and then created background images- either drawn by hand, taken with a camera, pulled from the web, or created using whatever they pleased.  They had to choose one of the essential questions, and create an image to represent how they saw themselves inside of the question. They also crafted reflectional essays that explained how and why they chose to focus on a particular question, if/how they changed their thinking about the question after 3 months of class, and whether or not they see themselves as having power within the question.  They presented their images in front of classmates and received their own, poster-size copies once all of their work was completed.  As you can see, students chose to focus on different aspects of each question, which informed my own practice as a teacher looking to better understand how my students made sense of the concepts and internalized them.

Essential Question: How can I use my literacy practice to rewrite my world?

 

(Left)  "I constructed my image in this sort of way to show  (how) the pain of a loss (can be expressed) through graffiti.  When people think of graffiti they imagine gang writing or just kids destroying a building or garage, but my image shows how it can symbolize many things.  It can help let out pain or stress.  Art is not a crime.  

(Right) "What led me to create my picture like this is the way music have a major influence on the world's population.  Music can do a lot to help the world or our lives, and one of the best ways to influence others is by doing so with positive songs that have emotions to them and by sharing with others.  Music also acts as a distraction for people, helping them to get away from any problems that may be going on in their lives.  There is power in music because it can touch someone else life and you may not even know it."

 Essential Question: What role does education play in the health of a community?
 
  

"My image represents my belief that people should not less adverse statements influence education in our community.  In my image, I am standing in between a few of the common statements that are said about our school district.  I am covering my ears with my hands to indicate my resistance against the accepted assumptions that are made about our school district.  We should not let others' opinions discourage us from pursuing a better future.  Our community will benefit if we work against the standards that have been set for our education.  "

"My image represents what the health of some cities look like today, compared to what they have the potential to become.  If the city invests time and effort, they can overpass what anyone thought was possible.  Youth are those who stand in the middle of this potential, who can move their city forward and make it what no one thought was possible. " 

 Essential Question: What is the relationship between language and power, and how does it manifest itself in my life?

 

(Left) "My image demonstrates the sense of failure when some people try to use language and power within them.  I chose to construct my picture this way because when we are confronted by our failures we would prefer to avoid them and just keep on living as we have...I see myself overcoming my sense of failure by keeping confidence in myself despite the feeling of failure, and setting goals to develop strategies that will motivate me to succeed in life. (And) when you are trying to use language to create power within you it inspires others to succeed."

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Discussions About This Resource

mlefler's picture

The strategy used in "Me & The D: Digital Media and Counter-Storytelling" seemed very effefctive at getting students to produce thoughtful writing about a tough topic. However, now I am curious about what part of the project caused this outcome, or if a combination of all the parts was responsible. To begin with, the project allows students the freedom to choose the focus question that interests them the most, allowing them to choose the one that they would have the most to say about, or are the most passionate about. Also, because the project asks them to create a visual representation of their thoughts and then defend their decision, itt moves away from seeming like an essay about their chosen question and closer to being a commentary on their own thoughts, which are much easier to write about than flat facts. Finally, the project allows students to take their question of choice and make it relevant to both themselves and their worlds, which also provides a much wider range of writing ideas than arbitrary information does. 

While all of these things can clearly increase a students success in writing, my question is whether one part played a larger role in motivation than the others and can be used as a stand-alone technique, or if the combination of all of these aids in one project is what caused what appears to be great success. What do you think?  

 

Anna Haschke's picture

Mike, I think you bring up an interesting question.  As future educators who will, no doubt, want their students to be excited about learning, picking apart a project like this to see what works and why is a good thing to be doing.  Personally, I think that what made this particular project so successful was the combination of the three elements: picking a topic they like and can say a lot about, using visual representation, and allowing students to make their project relevant to their worlds.  However, I feel that many successful assignments can be created using only one or two of these elements.  Every student is different and depending on their learning style, one of these techniques may have more of a positive impact than another.  That being said, I don’t think any of the techniques Filipiak used for her project would have negative impacts on students.  I found them all to be great ways to get students involved in their work.  Giving students a chance to do something in school that they actually care about or got to choose themselves can make a world of difference.  If, for some reason, there is a student who would prefer to have more structure, the teacher could always provide that specifically so this “freedom” wouldn’t act more like a hindrance.  Hopefully, they can then transfer that enthusiasm to future projects in which they are given less freedom. 

DFilipiak's picture

Mike, you ask an interesting question, one that cannot be answered very easily.  Motivation to invest in assignments depends on a number of factors.  I think that it is an important topic to explore, and I'm not going to provide any hard-and-fast answers here.  

However, I wanted to point out that this process across the year was very intentional and rooted in my interpretation of Freire's notion of problem posing pedagogy.  There were essential questions and assignments that prompted an iterative cycle of action and reflection which positioned students to consider their relationship to and with themselves and their communities.  For me, these essential questions- developing them, finding resources to support their exploration, designing projects around them, were very important, and gave classes the opportunity to "dig deep".  

I know this is a short response, but I thought it was important to touch on this.  

alcott73's picture

“They had to choose one of the essential questions, and create an image to represent how they saw themselves inside of the question. They also crafted reflectional essays that explained how and why they chose to focus on a particular question, if/how they changed their thinking about the question after 3 months of class, and whether or not they see themselves as having power within the question. They presented their images in front of classmates and received their own, poster-size copies once all of their work was completed.” This is a phenomenal project that combines relevancy, growth, reflection, and longevity. I sometimes struggle with knowing how to assess students, and how to do so in a relevant and meaningful (for the student) way. This project does a beautiful job of doing it all. I especially love how they receive the poster at the end. It no longer becomes about the grade, but about seeking answers to the essential question for themselves, and using it as a potential springboard to promote power, justice, etc. within their community and beyond. The effects can be far reaching in both physicality and time. It also reminds me that adtults far too often underestimate students' abilities to reason, reflect, and respond.

Cthompson's picture

I find it very interesting that each foray into digital media is justified with a literary intention or transcribed purpose. We function in these schools as overall educators, english educators, critical questioners, and digital stewards, and yet we are ultimately charged with helping our students communicate. To communicate with each other, the world, their families, their communities; there is so much for them to say.

I think that the most important function of these digital spaces is their ability to facilitate understanding, but I am most interested in how we ask our students to demonstrate their understanding of these digital spaces. In the summarization of their digital presence (in this case, their artwork) these students show that they understand the power that they are harnessing from this digital expression. I think that this is the real nugget of what we are trying to get them to understand.

How is it that these other technological forces work around them? How do they respond? What are they trying to say and how do they get there? By providing both privileged and underprivileged technological resources to our students and allowing them to choose their message, we give them the means to create meaning for themselves, and allow them to be multilingual and reach many audiences and platforms. 

Sarah Whalen's picture

When we think about technology in our lives, we think about communication. We text, tweet, write on each other's walls, instagram our memories for others to see...Sadly, we no longer write letters (or at least, I don't...) and the memories we wish to preserve are rarely kept in scrapbooks or journals--they're kept on our facebook pages. When I think of the "point" of an English education, it always circles back to communication. We strive to have classrooms where students speak, listen, and respond in a respectful, insightful way--so why wouldn't we use technology to help strengthen that skill? 
 
And furthermore, the more we use technology as a means for communication, and the more we acknowledge its power, we may be teaching students the potential dangers in publishing their words. "Danger," I realize, is not something we want to instill in our students' blossoming minds and souls, but I think many people, old and young, do not realize the power they have when they use all of this technology. When something goes online, it is no longer private--so what we put out there must be something we can stand behind. I think publishing students' work on public, online forums (like this one) helps to instill a sense of ownership--people have to be ready to defend what they're putting out into the world, and they have to be aware of the wide audience they may potentially reach. In terms of cyberbullying and other forms of online bashing--working directly with online forums and other digital resources could raise awareness about potential audiences. It's empowering to be able to reach out and speak your mind and I think a discussion about private vs. public communication would be an important one to have.
 

DFilipiak's picture

Great point, Charlotte.  Many people might ask how we demonstrate understanding within these digital spaces, but you ask how we might ask students to demonstrate understanding of such spaces. This centers a new(er) skill set, seeing digtial engagements as a new kind of reading/writing act.  What do you think are some ways that teachers might structure activities/assessments that enable them to better understand students' understanding of these spaces (I know, it's kind of layered).  

kszejna's picture

This particular part of this resource is very powerful. I think this use of digital media is such a powerful resource for students. Not only are they learning how to utilize technology within the classroom, but they were also given a way to express themselves creatively. This expression is very personal and moving to me. I would begin to bet that the students were totally engaged throughout this project because it had personal meaning to them. I love how teaching to use technology does not have to be so cut and dry, these students were able to see how technology gave them a voice to share with the public.