Numbers, learning to read and write is a numbers game. It is all about the number of words you hear and have an opportunity to use. In early education, we are always building opportunities to hear and use new words, and one of my favorites is storytelling.

Stories are powerful and I am lucky enough to teach in a school that acknowledges the mystic power of storytelling.

We train our kids to tell better stories every day. When they leave us, we get to keep the stories they have told. Storytelling isn’t new, but some storytelling tools are.

Page by page and scene by scene the kids program what happens next. When they get stuck I usually ask “What happens next?.” The key idea here is supporting sequential thinking.

When I started my brief stint as a technology teacher, I was looking for the best tools to boost what was happening in the classes I worked with. Viewing their work through my “doctor of literacy” lens, I looked for the tools that could help my students master language. I wanted engaging, novel experiences that helped my students tell their stories.

When I describe the ScratchJr effect I often talk about how the platform bridges the gap between fluency and literacy.

While the pencil to paper part of writing gets most of the attention, anyone who has done much of it knows that writing has several parts. In my classroom, I use a simple framework that works with almost all writing approaches. We talk about planning, and we use storyboards, and later we write scripts. The writing is the moment we transform planning into a story and this might involve putting letters in a row, or we might be creating an animation or a video. Once the animation or video or story is done we have everybody watch it and we talk about what is working and what they want to do more work on. Once they like where the story is at it is done. Then the question is where do we share it?

Planning

We need a story to tell, a reason to tell it. A truth to share. How do we as teachers get kids to think about what they are going to do before they start doing it? Blank white page is usually a failure of planning. A good plan helps you know what you have to do next. Once you know that, you just have to figure out which words get you from here to there. For my kids, we plan into a 4-panel storyboard. This provides a guide as we create the story or program in Scratch Jr.

Writing

Page by page and scene by scene the kids program what happens next. When they get stuck I usually ask “What happens next?.” The key idea here is supporting sequential thinking.

No matter how fun a learning structure is, if you do it too much it becomes routine.

Feedback

The play button in the app provides the quickest feedback. The story works like they wanted it to, or it doesn’t.  If it is not yet working the students usually want to keep working on it in order to get it right, bringing the process around to revision. In my storytelling classroom revision is as natural as it was forced in my essay writing classroom. The difference is that the kids have a keen sense of what they want to say.

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Mix it up, this is one stop on a tour, one item on a learning menu. Maybe this becomes a learning station or one of the 5 ways you go from storyboard to story. No matter how fun a learning structure is, if you do it too much it becomes routine. The charm of this approach is that it complements conventional sentence writing and development.

There are so many literacy opportunities that the kids will take in the composition process.  I almost NEVER ask my students to use written language in their animations, but they almost always do. They label things, use speech bubbles, add titles. They also make audio recordings and create structured dialogues.

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