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Clifford Lee, Bay Area Writing Project

Clifford Lee, Bay Area Writing Project

Written by Henry Cohn-Geltner
June 16, 2010

Clifford Lee, eleventh grade humanities and history teacher at Life Academy High School in Oakland, CA and Bay Area Writing Project teacher consultant, uses digital storytelling and technology to engage his students in the process of thinking critically about immigration and history, allowing his students to access their multiple intelligences and aid in the learning of reading, writing, speaking and listening for his students, many of whom are English language learners. Therefore, he makes an emphasis to teach the importance of word choice, so that his students will learn how to be concise in their writing and further develop their skills in the English language arts.

The writing process takes form in the construction of narratives for the collaborative American Immigration Digital Storytelling Project, in which student groups write and record voiceovers that will be paired with images to create multimedia projects. Ultimately these projects will be shared and distributed at an end-of-the-year review for peers, parents, and educators, so the students are always thinking about their potential audience because they understand that the work they produce will reflect the work that they have put in on their project, and will give them purpose to keep writing.

The writing process begins with each student interviewing an immigrant in their community twice, transcribing the interview on computer, and writing a two-page autobiography of their character in the style in which they speak. They then work in pairs to write voiceover scripts, revising and thinking about tone, inflection, pace, clarity, and volume. The writing process also involves filling out a four column storyboard. Each of the standard three columns, audio, image, time, are there, accompanied by a fourth column, purpose, which forces the students to justify the choices they are making in pairing images and audio. Mr. Lee, colleagues, and mentors help students revise and prepare their scripts by modeling strong storytelling techniques, so that students have a foundation from which to work and for teachers to help scaffold each part of the process.

Once the students have finished revising and writing, the teachers allow students to record their own voiceovers, a process that is extremely important to further the development of speaking and listening skills. Partners undergo a recursive editing process, relying on each other to catch mistakes that might occur and correcting sections that could be improved, by focusing on diction, flow, tone, grammar, syntax, and word choice. Given this freedom and flexibility, as well as knowing the importance of their projects, students attempt to master the voiceover rather than just complete it for the assignment. These projects help the students find a voice and know that technology can be used as a tool for learning as much as for recreation.

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