Summer Institute, Stillness, and (Digital) Storytelling

Digital Storytelling on We Video
Digital Storytelling on We Video

We are in the middle of week three of our Chippewa River Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute, and I am sitting in the late afternoon calm of writing time.

At this moment, eight of the seventeen of us are here composing various pieces, including our digital stories. The rest are scattered around our building, or around campus, doing the same. Teacher writers who have found some time, space, and stillness to do meaningful work, both personally and professionally.

For me, it is digital storytelling — the recursive process of writing words, finding images, recording our voices, and repeating each of these steps over and over again — that makes for the most compelling type of writing that we do each summer. I am continually fascinated by the ways in which teachers work on this multimodal composing process.

Some begin with a hint of an idea for a story; others have a strong lead with a clear picture of the story they want to tell. Some begin with their own pictures, digital or digitized, and are able to easily form them into a timeline. Others are stumped, searching the web for countless images that will fit with their vision. Narration is scripted, recorded, revised, and re-recorded.

Joe Lambert, the Director of the Center for Digital Storytelling, offers some specific advice on this process in their Digital Storytelling Cookbook:

Finding and clarifying what a story is really about isn’t easy. It’s a journey in which a storyteller’s insight or wisdom can evolve, even revealing an unexpected outcome. Helping storytellers find and own their deepest insights is the part of the journey we enjoy the most. (10)


Digital Storytelling
Image by Casey Fyfe from Unsplash

We don’t often talk about how to gain insight from our writing processes, at least not in school. This is the joy and opportunity that we find in the summer institute.




All of these intangible elements combine to allow us to take risks, be creative, and open ourselves up to discovery. This is the space in which digital stories are born, are nourished, are revised, and, eventually, published and shared with the world.

This afternoon, we took some time to talk about revision, too, and it was interesting to hear how many of us talked about revising our digital pieces, especially our digital stories. Changing one word, just one small element of a script can result in an alteration of the entire timeline. The exact moment when a picture should appear, timed with our own voices or a sound effect, can make or break a digital story.

Digital storytelling, unlike any other form of writing, is a recursive process of discovery, a process that I continue to enjoy as a teacher, teacher educator, and storyteller myself. I look forward to sharing my next story soon.

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3 thoughts on “Summer Institute, Stillness, and (Digital) Storytelling”

  1. I loved reading this testimonial about digital story writing! I am thinking of having students complete this process in my History class. I know this may seem strange but I want to get to know them better and I think that by having them complete a digital story for me would be an amazing way. I was also wondering if after a class walk in the heart of the city where I live, if I have students take photos and write about this experience would also be a good idea? For them to see look at the city and even its history differently. Do you have any suggestion on how to get started with this process?

  2. Hello Mary,

    My apologies for the delay and, yes, I am happy to help. There are many resources that you can use to get started, though the two I would suggest are the University of Houston’s site as well as Bernajean Porter’s Digitales.

    In terms of actual apps, especially if you want students to gather media on their smartphones, I would recommend WeVideo.

    If you would like to talk more about digital storytelling, I would be happy to Skype or do a Google Hangout with you at some point. I hope this helps get you started and please let me know what other information you might need.


  3. Thank you so much! I am going to look up these websites and then i definitely will be contacting you for more information!!
    Mary Ellen

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