Digital Storytelling and the Writing Process
I was honored when the National WRITE Center at UC Irvine invited me to contribute an article about my work connecting video-making, the writing process & media literacy in education. I'm proud to share this re-post from the WRITE Center's Blog.
How might I develop learning opportunities that scaffold students’ comprehension of complex visual language so they “write” rich, engaging and personal stories that achieve their own purposes as writers?
Although we quickly learn to read the visual language around us, “writing” visually—by accessing screen vocabulary and grammar to communicate rather than just comprehend—is a skill some think reserved for highly trained media professionals.
This is simply untrue.
- Helping students connect their prior knowledge of visual literacy,
- Co-constructing shared definitions for what makes “good” visual storytelling, and then
- Unpacking the ways that the process of digital storytelling parallels process-based writing
It’s a matter of literacy. Or rather, literacies.
Visual fluency requires the ability to ‘write visually’ not simply passively gathering meaning from the torrent of visual cues most people wade through daily. The filmmakers at PIXAR go beyond the words in the screenplay, the artistry of the animators or the vocal performances of the actors by using people’s intuitive understanding of visual language to build stories that evoke authentic emotional resonance between the audience and living, breathing characters.
These are terms from the film and television world that are often used interchangeably by many when trying to talk critically about film and video. The key to understanding the difference is also the key to understanding the grammatical difference between a sentence and a paragraph.
- A ‘shot’ is generally understood to be the part of a film between two cuts. Shots are usually short, 2-10 seconds, and often convey very specific pieces of information or narrative.
- A ‘scene’ can be described as a series of shots combined to form a continuous block of storytelling. The end of a scene is typically marked by a change in location, style, or time.
Comparing the basic element of a visual medium like film like a shot to a basic linguistic construct like a sentence is a good start to deconstructing and decoding visual language in the context of more readily understood frameworks, like the Writing Process. When compared to the writing process, filmmaking lends itself to the idea that conceptualizing, preparing, producing and presenting a film or video can be understood in familiar terms to the average educator.
It is a constructivist process that when feedback is offered at each stage, improvements to the overall narrative subsequent version get better.
Likewise, filmmaking often pauses between steps for review, feedback, and revision especially when applied in education.
Staging the 36th year of the UCI Youth Summer Writing Project (SYWP) as a series of virtual events meant that I needed to build an online digital storytelling course for the program from the ground-up, a challenging experience for me— an educator and storyteller. The alignment of the filmmaking process and the writing process was a perfect fit for the Writing Project’s ethos. It was clear to me that there has never been a better time to engage students’ with their words, voices and images. Students of the 2020 SYWP would also be engaging with their own identity and their family heritage.