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Learning Alongside: Embracing Digital Storytelling with Social Justice in Mind

Learning Alongside: Embracing Digital Storytelling with Social Justice in Mind

Written by Cindy O'Donnell-Allen
December 20, 2012


No living thing is unitary in nature; every such thing is a plurality. Even the organism which appears to us as an individual exists as a collection of independent entities. – Goethe

Every fall, Coloradans head to the mountains to see the aspens turn. For just a few weeks, the stands of trembling green leaves that have shaded us through summer hikes transform into gorgeous golden ribbons weaving down the mountainside through the pines. At no time of the year is it more evident that aspens grow not as lone trees, but in colonies, many qualifying as one of the largest organisms in the world. This is because the root system of each colony is intertwined into a single rhizome so that every tree in the stand is connected to every other tree nearby, sometimes covering as many as twenty acres.

The rhizome metaphor works well to describe the “colony” of three interrelated projects that we–co-authors Adam Mackie, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, and Jenny St. Romain– describe in this resource. Focused on digital storytelling, teaching to learn, and enacting social justice, these projects involve elementary students, preservice teachers, and practicing teachers. The colony was originally inspired by a question emerging in the 2009 summer institute of the Colorado State University Writing Project: “What if we formed a partnership between young writers and community members to collect oral histories about Fort Collins?”

This question was the impetus for designing a “Saving Our Stories” digital writing workshop for English Language Learners held during the summer at a local elementary school. That workshop was the impetus for two other programs: 1) a professional development institute on teaching with technology also held at the school, and 2) a service-learning project taken on by preservice teachers charged with creating and implementing writing curriculum informed by principles of culturally relevant teaching.

We invite you to browse this set of resources with these questions in mind:

  • What is the potential for writing, in all its forms—digital and analog—to save stories that matter but would otherwise be lost in students’ lives, families, and communities?

  • How can technology support hands-on, interactive literacy learning for students and teachers as well?

  • How can learning to write, learning to teach, and teaching to learn with technology enact social justice on behalf of students, teachers, and their communities?

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