Visual Learners and Digital Storytelling

The other 3 (human) members of my household are all visual learners. They see everything from numbers to dates to stories in their heads as pictures. My daughter sees all numbers, letters, days of the week, months, etc., as color.┬áThis is odd to me, as I am very much a word person. I don’t see pictures – I see words. (You’ll notice my blog is far more words than visuals.)

Yet, for my daughter especially, school is very much a word based place. She works twice as hard as a word based person to read – every word is turned into a picture. ┬áHer move to the high school has just exacerbated this problem. If you’ve read previous posts, she wants to take Pre-AP World History next year.

Does this look enticing for a 21st century visual learner?

We looked at the book – it’s deadly. Print. Pages and pages of tightly spaced words with no visuals. Class assessments are totally writing based – essay, tests, etc.

The teacher told me it was because it would be what the kids would find in college. I don’t disagree with the need to learn how to read advanced texts and be able to write essays. But is that really the only way to learn content and demonstrate understanding? Why does a high level history class have to focus on words only? Where are the visuals?

There are others who feel visual learning is valid. I just read a blog post about a teacher who has his students study a painting and read it as an essay about the time in which is was made:

He challenged students to think of a painting as an essay – in the sense that it captures not in words, as an essay does, but through a visual image, some aspect(s) of the life, history, and culture of a particular historical period from the point of view not of a writer but of an artist.

Awesome idea, and certainly a very valid way to learn concepts and history.

Another blogger wrote about the digital storytelling assignments she does with her high school students. In this case, students are given a topic and have about a week to put together a two minute digital presentation. Kids can use iMovie, Keynote, etc., anything that let’s them express their understanding of the topic in a digital mode. Visuals are considered key.

I would argue that these projects are a better assessment of a student’s understanding of a topic than a mere essay. If you check her rubric and watch the samples, you’ll see that the students aren’t slacking. They do have to write: no digital storytelling project would be complete without a script. They have to organize their thoughts in a storyboard. They have to also find appropriate visuals to express their ideas. They have to cite all sources. Some of the samples are more narrative or biographical, but you certainly could make these projects into something like a 5-paragraph essay with a strong thesis and supporting arguments. Like those who argue that giving students a public audience for blogs, the whole class watches the videos and is even quizzed on the content!

Digital storytelling can be used with all ages and subjects. The product doesn’t have to be a polished 2- or 10-minute video. Shelly Terrell writes about an online course she’s teaching (to 250 people!) about digital storytelling. She lists a number of quick ways to get started (such as having students pull out their cell phone and tell/write a story about a picture on their phone) and a myriad of resources for building digital stories.

I can easily see the problems in assigning a digital project like this: access to a computer lab, teaching students about the software, etc. But why not make it an option?

I know my daughter will gravitate to study fields that are more visual and less towards the word based content. I’m sorry that history, which she really enjoys, won’t be an option if her classes continue to be offered in these exclusively text based formats. The teacher next year thinks he’s really helping her by teaching her how to learn the way he thinks she needs to. I think he’d do her a lot more good by letting her express her understanding in a format that makes more sense to her.