Thursday, August 6, 2009

Speech Writing - Personal Stories

Updated: This is an updated post from the original last month. I'm updating it after reading Tania Sheko's post this morning about boys and oral presentations.

This story is one of about 8 stories from a group of 4th and 5th grade boys I worked with this past school year. I was contacted by a teacher who thought that adding original digital stills and voiceover narration to the speeches her students were writing would add to the experience. Boy, did it ever!

Note: I tried to muster all my strategies about working with boys: i.e., topic choice, interests, building relationships, etc., from my readings and research as I worked with these boys and have bolded them below.

1. I met with this small group of boys in the computer lab, but we didn't turn on any of the computers. Instead, I read a story to them called "Guilt Ridden". There were two ice hockey
goaltenders in the group so when I explained this was a story written by a hockey goalie, I knew I had their attention.

2. After I read the story aloud to the group, we talked about how hockey was a passion for the author and then we started talking about what they liked to do. The interests varied from riding dirt bikes to playing soccer.

3. We ended our short meeting with me explaining to the boys that they would be picking topics based on something of interest to them and that we would be using images/photos and their voice to make the story come alive. I asked them to think of something that they would be interested in for next time.

4. My day two with the group was all individual meetings. I thought it important to develop a one-to-one conversational relationship with each boy to allow them to open up a little about what it is they would like to write about. From this session all 8 boys were able to select a topic. We just talked a little about their lives. One by one, each boy came up with what they would write about. A dearly departed grandfather, a father who conducts rescue missions [above], a special moment as a guest speaker at a water park, were some of the topics. What struck me most is that each topic was personal. This made it real for these boys. A personal story where they have first hand background knowledge.

5. From here we started writing, actually the boys talked their stories [the importance of talk for boys] and I typed the stories as they told them to me. For most of these boys, the process of writing, either with a pencil or word processor is difficult so for them to watch their stories appear on the screen was very satisfying. I'd type a little and then they would read what I had typed aloud. They were O.K. with this as they trusted me by then and they did not have an audience. As the stories took shape, the boys' confidence seemed to grow.

6. The next step was for each of the boys to find some images/photos [importance of the visual] to go along with their personal narrative. This wasn't easy in some cases but we managed to find images for each story.They brought both digital images from home and paper snap shots we had to scan. In only one situation did we require the use of creative commons photos.

7. As the narratives were complete, we used Audacity voice recording [importance of audio] software to lay down a clean voice track. This part of the process was very engaging for the boys.

8. Then we stitched together all the images with the voice tracks using Windows Movie Maker.

9. Even though each of the boys, and the rest of the class had to "stand and deliver" their speeches without the use of their digital story media, the results were wonderful. The process of creating their speech using visuals and audio really was interesting to the boys and made their final product of an oral presentation better. The boys had an audience for their digital stories: classmates and family members.

10. One of the boys was actually "picked to go to the gym" as a class representative. Now would he have been picked to represent his class if he had not completed the digital story? Perhaps, but I know that he looked forward to each and every time I'd work with him to create the digital story and his topic was very compelling.

I had the parents of these students tell me what an exciting time their children had creating their "digital speeches".

In the story above, Nick describes a scene in the Arctic. He didn't have to search creative commons for the photos. His dad was the pilot of the plane and provided the photos from one of his search and rescue missions.

As Nick and I were finishing the story, his dad happened to stop by the school. We showed him the story. A very powerful and engaging 2 minutes of listening and watching followed. The look on the dad's face told it all.

Patrick Lowenthal's research on Digital Storytelling in the classroom, on page 252, Chapter 18 of "Story Circle, Digital Storytellling Around the world" supports this "digital speeches" project. Here is what he found:

Amplify Students' Voice

"Perhaps one of the greatest benefits is digital storytelling's ability to reach the many "unheard and unseen students" in our classrooms (Bull and Kajder 2004).

Storytelling gives students voice (Burk 2000).

However, digital storytelling can give students voice "in ways that are not possible without the technology" (Hofer and Swan 2006: 680)

because it can amplify a students voice. Further, it can help give voice to struggling readers and writers. (Bull and Kajder 2004)


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with the comment about relationships. No matter what you do my experience tells me that relationships are crucial to teaching.

    One activity I used to do was get students to bring to school photos and o bjects which tell a story about their lives. They took photos of all and created a photostory using stills then added a soundtrack - music and voice. This was based on Ken Burns style of work.

    I restricted each story to 1 minute,and this added to editing skills - what to include and what to leave out.

    The stories were presented to other students who provided feedback: warm and cool.

  2. Thanks Sam,

    Great idea about using students' photos and objects for a story. Really makes it personal.

    And yes, the more years that pass I realize it is about the teacher/student relationships that make it meaningful.