“HEAR A STORY, TELL A STORY, TEACH A STORY” PROJECT
FALL 2013: I met this week with Amy Pelissero, Head of School at the Global Village Project (GVP), an intervention program serving the needs of teenage refugee girls who have little or no English language education and/or interrupted formal education. GVP provides the support that will allow students to transfer to an American high school to pursue a high school diploma after 1-3 years of study at GVP.
We worked out a plan for me to direct the third iteration of the “Hear a Story, Tell a Story, Teach a Story” Project, a digital storytelling unit that offers the students an opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of story structure and to create a mini-movie to illustrate a story they generate in the workshops that comprise the unit. I will direct the project, in collaboration with students in EDU 325: Primary Research in Educational Settings, in spring 2014. I am just beginning to write about this participatory action research project that builds on the digital storytelling work I have done with pre- and in-service teachers, middle and high school students in public schools, and with the children of refugee families. An article about the spring 2013 workshop appeared in Voices from the Middle in May 2014.
Here’s a sample digital story, a ghost tale, “The Death of Sensei,” adapted from a story one of the students developed in the workshops.
SUMMER 2014: In 2009, I received a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation to fund a professional development initiative I had already been involved in with graduates of the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Agnes Scott College, where I currently serve as chair of the Department of Education. The “Teachers’ Guild” is a program designed to support teachers as they continue to develop the skills that will allow them to be especially thoughtful and creative practitioners, as well as to promote uncommon opportunities for networking and professional growth. The Teachers’ Guild offers a variety of learning opportunities, but the grant from Cargill allowed us to create an intensive week-long series of “mini-courses” taught by members of the faculty at Agnes Scott. Each course was discipline-focused, allowing the faculty member to teach within her or his area of expertise, but also intentionally inter-disciplinary in approach, so that a teacher from any content area could find ideas to translate for their work with students.
In the past, my role in the institute had been administrative, working with the faculty to develop their mini-courses and to ensure that the week’s activities ran smoothly. This year, however, I taught one of the mini-courses and worked with the teachers on drama-based strategies for fostering discussions of texts. The course was titled, “The Play’s the Thing”: Theatre as a Tool to Invite Text-based Response & Discussion. We adapted a number of practices from the world of theatre for classroom use, including ensemble-building games, tableaux vivants, scripting, and readers’ theatre. The class concluded with the teachers performing a script they developed during the week for their colleagues at the institute.
Two of the teachers in the mini-course, Shelby Jones (Cambridge High School in Fulton County) and Carleigh Knight (Fugees Academy) presented with me about adaptations of the ideas presented in the course at the Georgia Council of Teachers of English (GCTE) in Young Harris, Georgia in February, 2015.
SPRING 2015: Laura Cole, Director of Education for the Shakespeare Tavern, in Atlanta, and I created a day-long professional development workshop titled, “Creative Drama as a Tool for Teaching Texts,” for 35 middle and high school teachers in April. This was my fourth collaboration with the Shakespeare Tavern to offer teachers opportunities to become familiar with the theatre, which presents a full season of performances of Shakespeare’s plays each year. In this session, the teachers attended a talk about Shakespearean language and then participated in an interactive workshop, during which they practiced drama-based instructional strategies that they can take back to their classrooms. The workshop took place on the stage of the theatre, and then the teachers attended the performance of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (the theatre occasionally includes a non-Shakespearean “classic” play in their line-up of offerings) at the Tavern in the evening. Previous programs developed in collaboration with the Shakespeare Tavern:
- “Digital Shakespeare” (Spring 2013) (30 middle and high school in-service teachers)
- “Page to Stage: Shakespeare in Performance” (Spring 2011) (35 middle and high school pre-service and in-service teachers)
- “Creative Drama: Text, Process, and Performance” (Spring 2009) (14 middle and high school in-service teachers)
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOPS ON CULTURALLY RELEVANT PEDAGOGY
SUMMER 2015: During the 2014-15 academic year, through my association with the National Urban Alliance, I worked with teachers from a range of content areas in high schools in Connecticut, Minnesota, and New York on implementing culturally relevant teaching practices in their classrooms. I typically visited with the teachers once a month for an all-day professional development workshop in which we discussed the theory that undergirds culturally sensitive pedagogies and also practiced learning activities that the teachers could adapt for their work with students. We focused specifically on what Yvette Jackson calls the “pedagogy of confidence,” which maintains that framing instruction with seven high operational practices leads to high intellectual performance, especially for underachieving students. One of the seven practices is “building relationships,” so each of the training sessions included a strategy that adapted David Hyerle’s Thinking Maps as a high-interest/high challenge activity to promote interpersonal relationships between the teachers and their students, as well as among the students in their classes. In the photographs above, the teachers transfer their drafted Double Bubble Maps to chart paper for review.
FALL 2015: After an extended period of drafting, the premiere of the script adaptation of Julia Watts‘ Lambda Award winning novel, Finding H.F., was produced as a staged reading on the campus of Agnes Scott College in November, 2015. Ms. Watts and I have been developing this project for a couple of years, with the intention of creating a touring production that could be performed in high school settings. The play tells the story of H.F. Simms, a lesbian teenager living with her grandmother in Morgan, Kentucky, a town the size of a quarter. H.F. and her best guy pal, Bo, both of whom have never traveled farther than the state line, set off on a journey to Florida to find H.F.’s estranged mother, and the trip evolves into a journey of discovery for both characters.
The staged reading, performed in MacLean Auditorium, was the first production of the play. Ms. Watts and I shared the story of the development of the script at NCTE‘s annual ALAN Workshop, a professional meeting devoted to discussions of young adult literature. We have plans to produce a more fully realized performance of the play in the future.
DIGITAL STORYTELLING WORKSHOP WITH JAPANESE CANADIAN SENIORS
SPRING 2016: As part of the new Summit initiative at Agnes Scott College–an innovative revision of the college’s curriculum to focus on global citizenry and leadership–I taught one of the first Global Journeys courses, titled “Global Connections through Story.” Students in the course, all first-years in their second college semester, learned about digital storytelling, created autobiographical visual stories, and then traveled to Toronto for one week in March to teach a group of seniors how to develop digital stories of their own. We partnered with StoryCenter (formerly the Center for Digital Storytelling), who had just opened a new branch in Toronto. Two facilitators from the organization met us in Toronto and assisted with the logistical and technical details of the project.
Each of the students worked with one senior storyteller to help elicit a well-crafted story and then to translate the story to film, using the iMovie app for the iPad.
The Journeys course is designed to facilitate an exploration of complex and interdependent relationships across the globe. Ours was the only course to focus specifically on digital work and to facilitate intergenerational, as well as intercultural, experiences for the students.
Delving into the Digital Humanities with Secondary Teachers Workshop
SUMMER 2017: Funded by an Improving Teacher Quality grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Education at Agnes Scott College hosted a summer workshop for 14 teachers in the Metro-Atlanta area in June, 2017. Partnering with Professor Robin Morris (history) and Professor Nell Ruby (art), I developed a one-week intensive course on creating an autobiographical digital story that responded to one of Shakespeare’s plays. The teachers learned about visual rhetoric and experimented with tools for film and audio editing by translating 300-word essays to a digital format. The teachers were then invited to take the ideas from the session back to their classrooms and to create a unit for their high school students.
The range of story ideas was impressive, as teachers shared narratives about early interactions with Shakespeare, incorporated feminist critique, examined the history of characters in the plays, and imagined monologues for minor characters. The final day of the workshop included a presentation of the 14 film projects, each about 3 minutes in length.