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Dave Boardman, Maine Writing Project

Dave Boardman, Maine Writing Project

Written by Henry Cohn-Geltner
June 10, 2010

Everyone has a story, and when students are allowed to explore their own stories, the “work” of school takes on relevance; suddenly, the classroom walls become transparent and students find connections between learning and the world.

Dave Boardman, executive director of LiteracySparks, high school teacher at Messalonskee High School in Oakland, Maine, and a teacher consultant with the Maine Writing Project, writes about goal of connecting learning to the personal lives of his students through the use of filmmaking and multimedia production.  In his classes, he and his students learning about the storytelling process by focusing on issues or stories that are of personal interest or relevance.  He conveys to his students that the power of storytelling comes from communicating messages to audiences and when working on projects using digital tools, they are trying to communicate engaging, informative, and inspiring messages that are meaningful and personally relevant.  He hopes that every student will come to believe and have the confidence to be empowered to find the stories that are important to them to tell, be it from their own lives or in their communities.  In addition, projects using digital technology allows the students to make real world connections to the literature they read in classes.  

While at times students can benefit from looking for images and music that they will use in their projects as the first step in their process, he advises that students should first begin by writing because this will help them focus on the story they are trying to tell and crafting the best language to help convey their message.  It is also helpful for students to write narratives that exceed the length of the script that will become their final piece of writing because through editing and revision, they will often write more concise, in-depth scripts that maintain the essence of their message.

Unlike writing traditional pen-and-paper essays, his students are writing scripts that will require voiceover and dialogue that needs to be digitally recorded, and so the drafting process forces the students to read their scripts aloud to one another, in order to find out what language does not work and what sections need alteration.  Once students begin to read their scripts they can begin to find the language that is most evocative and engaging to maintain the interests of their audience.  He also advises that it is not necessary to give students technical training in audio recording or video editing, but instead to give them access to the tools that can best teach them how to do this, such as web tutorials, discussion forums, and how-to guides.  He also encourages use of royalty free images and music, found on specific websites, and lets his students explore the catalogue of work available.  Their self-efficacy and confidence in their writing ability will increase because it will be matched with professional quality work.

The ability to create digital works in the classroom doesn’t mean that they necessarily have to relate to the units of study that they work in, but it is important to remember that these tools also exist in contexts outside of school settings.  Making connections to the students lived experiences and communities can help create authentic assignments that feel and seem to have real value and are not just schoolwork.  Modeling programs and projects that empower community members to tell their own stories is a great way to decode the techniques, methods, and ideas students can employ and think about for their own work.

Everyone has a story to tell and should understand that messages are expressed in a variety of ways, through writing, composition of images and music, and in oral communication, and the media has a great deal of power to control these messages because they appeal to many audiences.  The challenge to students is to tell their stories and express what they know, what they are expert at.  The opportunity to create digital stories should not be reserved as a reward for students performing well in other areas of study, but should be provided to all students, especially those struggling because it will challenge them to show what they know, if different ways.

Here you can see three samples of students’ work.

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