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Learning Library Blog We are made for story
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We are made for story

By Kristin Ziemke
January 1, 2017
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Education is constantly in a state of flux. We’re redefining learning spaces, refining the curricula and adjusting our standards. Innovate, revolutionize, evolve.

I frequently hear conversations in search of the next big thing. “We’ll move from STEM to STEAM and then FAIL to SAIL …” And while all ideas are suggested with the best of intentions, I believe the most important thing we can do for students is help them tell their stories.

Campfire conversations, cave paintings, letters mailed across the sea – the tools and times have changed, but the human condition has not. We are made for story. Today, we celebrate that we have so many more ways for students to share their stories. No longer is “write it down” the only way to capture thoughts, but we diversify the how with digital options: blog, make a movie, write a multitouch book, sing a song, share online.

When we invite kids to tell their stories, we place students at the center of curriculum. Whether it’s videoconferencing with a classroom in Hawaii or posting a blog about an issue on the playground, we make it about them.

Questions like, “What do you wonder?” and “What’s your news?” shift the narrative away from teacher-directed learning and invite students to enter where they’re able and own their thinking. And when we ask kids to tell their stories, they lean into matters of significance.

For our youngest learners, technology facilitates new opportunities for students to create bravely.

Six-year-old Diego used his blog to tearfully communicate with his dad who was away on business travel. Kindergarten student Patrick published a video online for the very first time and watched as it was viewed around the world. Fourth grader Destinee wrote a multitouch book to address violence in her community and communicated her concern with elected officials via a classroom Twitter account.

For each child respectively, THIS was their news. These digital representations were the headlines of their day. Communicating these stories – and the ability to do so for themselves – mattered. And when we have the ability to share our stories, they not only belong to us, but to the world.

The affordances of technology in the classroom are endless, but frequently overlooked is the social impact of creating and sharing online. Digital stories serve as a mirror to reflect one’s own experience, a window into something different and the opportunity to walk through a gateway to something new. Sharing begs awareness, seeks understanding and has the potential to turn classroom devices into empathy-generating machines as kids interact and learn about the world.  

When we invite kids to tell their stories, we immediately build in choice and engagement, and we personalize learning. Every child has a story to tell. Digital tools promote equity because they make it easy for every learner to choose the format that works for them, be it visual, kinesthetic or audio.

And when kids can share their stories in a mode that makes sense to them, they gain a mindset of possibility – “I’m the kind of kid who can make a movie, tweet an author, post to my followers …” Technology fuels democracy because anyone with a device has the ability to tell their story. And along the way, kids recognize that they have a voice and their voice matters.

C.S. Lewis once said, “We tell stories so that we know we are not alone.” Today, technology amplifies our stories and connects our experiences. Story is the truth of our head and our heart. It is recursive and it endures. We come from story. If we can teach students to tell their stories – whatever that looks like – they’ll understand it’s not a single story, it’s not a kid story, it’s the human story. And the power of story benchmarks time and changes the future.

A teacher of primary-age learners in Chicago, Kristin Ziemke (@KristinZiemke) pairs best-practice instruction with digital tools to transform learning in the classroom and beyond. Author of Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the k-6 Classroom, an Apple Distinguished Educator and National Board Certified Teacher, Ziemke collaborates with educators around the globe as a staff developer, speaker and writer.