Teacher Consultant

Pen Campbell

St. Joseph High School
St. Joseph, Michigan

Third Coast Writing Project

Educator Profile

A veteran presenter of digital storytelling workshops for teachers and students, Pen Campbell teaches College Writing and Journalism at St. Joseph High School in St. Joseph, Michigan, and is a co-director of the Third Coast Writing Project at Western Michigan University. Her published writing includes "NWP Speaks: 30 Years of Writing Project Voices" (The Voice, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2004), a review of Bob Sizoo's book Teaching Powerful Writing (The Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 1, 2003), and "Episodic Fiction: Another Way to Tell a Story" (The Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2001).

Digital Storytelling Projects

I've integrated digital storytelling into my classroom to target a range of purposes that include: media literacy, tech literacy, genre writing, and engagement in the composition process. Digital storytelling projects in my various classrooms have included (and, in many cases, continue to include) the following:

  • Eighth-graders and twelfth-graders read novels about bullying together in small discussion groups, then created Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for an idea they determined to be an important theme in the book.
  • Ninth-graders created anti-cheating and anti-bullying PSAs in small groups. They were given a scenario – a kind of backstory or plot – to be included in the PSA. We then held the "Cans" film festival, where the middle school audience brought canned goods with which to cast their votes for the top film. Winners got medals; the Soup Kitchen got food.
  • As a part of their senior exit projects, small groups of twelfth-graders interviewed community members for a variety of purposes and created digital stories or presentations of those interviews.
  • Eighth-graders created a collaborative digital story to celebrate their graduation from eighth grade. They each recorded lines from one of three prompts all had written poems to. Then as a class we ordered the text and chose the ending and the music; small groups imaged sections; and I put it all together with the help of every teacher's dream, my captive techie kid (technically referred to as my aide).
  • Twelfth-graders created personal narrative digital stories and nonfiction "Digital Stories" (expository, persuasive PSAs) as part of their multi-genre research projects.
  • We created commercials for the school news magazine I advise.
  • I led workshops and presented professional development to teachers and staff members on digital storytelling.

 These projects engage the students in high-interest projects they have a stake in, especially when "publication" through presentation is a part of the process. They offer a wonderful opportunity to work together in a way that is different from our usual writing process together. It goes beyond response groups and conferencing to collaborative composition and crafting of the final product. It also creates a very "democratic" classroom atmosphere, even in the twelfth-grade classroom where students are typically working more independently on their own compositions. Given that any group, students or adults, is going to be made up of members at varying levels of techie expertise, asking for and offering help is a very organic process in the classroom during these projects. Also, they often offer the opportunity for students who may not always be class leaders in other situations to be seen in a new light. The challenges that inevitably arise allow – even force – us to think critically together and for students to see me, the teacher, in real problem-solving situations and not as someone with all the answers. When I can call out, "Who can show me how to embed this video in the PowerPoint program?" and a student comes over to show me, she becomes the expert of the moment, and that’s a great thing.

Many times, students and adults go into the process unsure of a lot – it's a new experience. They may not like their voice and don't want it to be heard. Sometimes the process is viewed as "hard" or "too complicated"; but the great thing is that while on one hand it is new for many, and pretty challenging for many, it's also very engaging, and so they want to do it (though seniors in the last few weeks of school, sometimes, not so much – but even almost all of them get sucked in eventually). There's often a real excitement in the end product and the satisfaction of having conquered the process that, I confess, isn't as obvious as often with writing on the page. And perhaps that's because, as a secondary teacher, I'm not seeing them when they first learn to write, when the joy of acquisition is still fresh.