I’ve recently observed a number of classrooms doing variants of the photo story idea, in which drawings, graphics, or photos are used as the skeleton for a digital story. Such a story may also include written text, audio narration, music, sound effects, and various visual effects. While the students are producing their individual photo stories, I feel that I’m watching the photo story of the whole classroom. I become an engaged spectator, stepping into that photo story, eager to see what they might do next.
Working on personal memoirs
You would be pleased to have your ten-year-old daughter enrolled in Ms. C’s class. The teacher was caring, there were ample resources for learning, and there was even a special teacher in the school who provided IT support and professional development (Ms. D).
On the day L and I visited, the students were working on personal memoirs in digital story form. Each student had her own project, which was built around photos, ideally including baby pictures up to the present. Students could borrow a digital camera to take additional photos at home or within the school. Each student also had the use of a laptop on which she could store photos and assemble them into a photo story with a written narrative.
The class had learned about how to tell a story using pictures, words, and music. On this day, they were working on their story boards. This involved selecting photos, sketching each one, and writing a description. There was a storyboard handout with boxes for each of six photos plus descriptions. Ms. D explained that in a later class she would record each of them reading their scripts aloud and then incorporate that recording into the photo story.
Our earliest memory
Ms. D talked about memories and what our earliest memory might be. She pointed out that we sometimes think we remember something because we’ve been told about it many times or seen a video about it, but we may not have remembered it directly. She then led the children in a brainstorming activity about their earliest memory. Students called out what they believed to be their first memory—a family holiday, First Holy Communion, a trip they took.
Each student then began writing their account of that first memory. I was impressed with how much nearly everyone seemed to be engaged with the writing and cared about getting it just right. L and I moved about the room, talking to the students about these memories and photographing their developing texts.
The texts they wrote were short, but heartfelt and entirely appropriate for the overall project. For example:
My Holy communion
I remember my first Holy communion when I went out for my dinner and went to my uncles and auntys and I got lots of money and when I came back from my auntys and uncles I went home and got dressed into a tracksuit I left my money in and I went out to play with all of my friends after I played and I went up to stay in and watch the tv and the next day I went out to get clothes and toy and I had lots of clothes and toy and I had lots of money left. and I got a cross with my first Holy communion on it
or, from another student:
I rember when I was at my aunts wedding. I was only 4 years old. We were playing chasing and we ran under the table and knock down all the drink. It was very funny but we got into trouble.
Several students had even longer reminiscences. They clearly saw the activity as a way to connect real lived experiences with a creative school project.
Froebel’s gifts and occupations
Ms. C had learned about teaching in a college whose curriculum was built on the ideas of Friedrich Froebel. This 19th-century German educator, and founder of kindergarten, believed that humans are essentially creative, able to learn through active engagement with the world and appreciation of beauty. These ideas followed from a reverence for the child and the significance of play for learning. Froebel encouraged the creation of learning environments that involved practical work, which he called occupations, and the direct use of materials (such as shaped wooden bricks), which he called gifts.
Froebel would have approved of this photo story project. He honored the capacity of people to create and learn at an early age. Here, they were also reflecting on their own earliest learning. Students were engaged with real stuff in their homes and the school. They were actively creating what would become beautiful stories of their own lives. Ms. C understood this and believes that the photo story project is beneficial for her students. She sees how they learn about how to use new technologies, such as the digital camera, the scanner, the laptop, the web, as well as develop literacy skills, such as how to devise a storyline or compose captions. Students also become successful problem solvers and learn to take responsibility for the equipment, which they can take out of the school.
I agree with Mr. F and Ms. C about this wonderful class. As I said above, I would be pleased to have my own child be a part of it. My story might end there. But something happened in that class, which made me think again about play, children, learning, teaching, and inquiry.
Stay tuned for the next installment: Part II: Stepping out of a photo story.