Blog #1: Storybird
By Rebecca Guerrero
When I first embarked on the decision to explore the website Storybird.com, I went in as an artist, a literature geek, and a future educator, completely sold on the idea that art and writing can be a beautiful meeting place for learning to occur. While the school landscape is often regrettably bogged down by standardized test prep, research has shown that incorporation of the arts promotes the kind of critical thinking skills students will utilize in life.
Storybird, which told me immediately that it was a visual storytelling community, did not disappoint my expectations in this respect. After perusing and creating I was convinced that the educational opportunities of the site were limited only by an educator’s own imagination and dedication to thoughtful curriculum building.
Storybird features a rather large library of images provided by professional artists for use by amateur writers, students, and professional writers alike to create their own picture books, short stories, and poetry. The idea behind the site is that anyone can come here, read stories and poetry, create their own work, and share it with a larger audience for reading or even for sale. As I explored I was struck with the sheer volume of poems, children’s stories, and novels, where new writers were developing followings, commenting on each other’s work, and remarking on the beauty of the art that accompanied it.
The forms available for this creation come with varied levels of writing freedom. Picture books and larger chapter books can be completed in any way the author chooses, so long as the images used all come from the same artist for the sake of continuity. Poetry, however, is presented more as a game where writers must choose from a provided pool of words and impose them on an image of their choice to make their poem, working with the limitation of only a few describing words which can be refreshed, but not added to from your own vocabulary.
Approaching the site for the first time is not a daunting process. Aside from the simple layout and welcoming images, Storybird has easy to locate tabs that describe exactly what can be done on the site: Read, Create, Shop, and Studio. While the first three were self-explanatory, I was interested in Studio and discovered that this was a section of the site designed specifically for educators to create digital classrooms. When you sign up for a free teacher’s account, your studio page will be set up with a tab for students, assignments of your own design, a blog containing relevant writing resources, and a classroom library featuring student work.
Using the assignments tab you can create lessons that specify an assignment (limited to 500 words or less), link to multimedia resources, limit the student to just one or all writing forms, and limit the student to just one or all artists on the site. It is then up to the student to learn to limit their searches to relevant images and artists as there are thousands to choose from. Having tried this process out on my peers, I can say with confidence that Studio is simple to navigate and a great facilitator of student interaction as they can comment on each other’s creations in the class library.
In playing with Storybird I created a few poems and a children’s picture book I titled Everyday Adventurers. For the picture book I was able to exercise my full creativity, deciding on my own rhyming scheme and drawing from my pool of vocabulary and writing strategies to create the story guided by the images of my favorite artist on the site. When creating the poems I was forced to get creative with what was provided to me, choosing words that spoke to the mood of the images I chose. These activities made me think of various lessons that Storybird could employ, teaching about tone and multiple points of view.
Students could be asked to read a short story or poem and find images on the site that they feel accurately represent that story based on tone. Conversely, students could be asked to use the same image from the site and construct a poem or short story around it. Both activities would require students to use analytical skills to determine the tone of the poem or image, and seeing their classmate’s varied work would impress upon them the multiple points of view that inform the creation of meaning. Ideas for using this tool for meaningful lesson planning are endless.
Storybird in the English Classroom
In thinking about Storybird in the classroom, I thought about the theory of connected learning and the many ways this site encourages interest driven production. The texts created through Storybird by students allow freedom of expression that is production centered, peer supported through site interaction, openly networked through sharing with the wider storytelling community, and academically oriented through the assignments the educator provides based on class goals and overarching concepts being studied within a unit.
Moreover, this site could potentially be revolutionary for ESL classrooms where reluctant readers and writers have trouble connecting with and evoking the meaning of texts. Using images as a bridge to literacy, Storybird might help students create their own meaning and understanding with words. It became clear to me when navigating this site that it would not be difficult to justify its use in the classroom, even one under pressure to focus on standardized test preparation, as its use aligns with various elements of the Common Core such as various text types, production and distribution, range of writing, grammar, vocabulary, and style.
Storybird, while set up beautifully for educators, is not a teaching site. This website is available for anyone, and is set up as a community where artists can collaborate with writers to create impactful stories. It is up to the educator, then, to use the site to its fullest potential, working it into conceptual units as they see fit, and capitalizing on its many elements in ways that best suit the needs of their own unique classrooms.