On Modeling and Mentor Texts

“ We must acknowledge . . . that the most important, indeed the only, thing we have to offer our students is ourselves. Everything else they can read in a book.” – D C Tosteson (Teachers as Role Models)

Ms. Vosk models the digital story creation process for her class by working on iMovie along with the students. (Photo by a grade 7 student).

Introduction: In the article, Modeling: Essential for Learning (Edutopia), author Karen Lea says that the following questions should serve as a guide when modeling for students. Do teachers…

  1. Use visuals or examples that are relevant?

  2. Model while thinking out loud so that students hear the process?

  3. Concisely communicate what we are doing and what is needed?

  4. Present or model logically?

  5. Present or model only what is needed and leave the extra “stuff” out?

I also love this one-pager called “Modeling & Thinking Aloud” that was posted on Twitter recently by Jamie Clark. It talks about how teachers can use live modeling to help students work through a learning process. It says “When we model live in front of class, we can explain learning processes and narrate our thinking throughout.” Modeling helps students gain the metacognitive skills they need to be more reflective and thoughtful learners. The benefits are numerous and you can read more about them in the graphic below.

Modeling one-pager from @Xpateducator.

Modeling the Digital Storytelling Process: Keeping the above ideas in mind, I went about modeling each step of the digital storytelling process for my students. The materials I created became mentor texts for the students and helped them to visualize what they needed to do along the way. As I am working with multilingual learners who are at varying levels of English proficiency, having the models provided much-needed concrete, visual support.

Below are the steps we followed to create our digital stories:

Steps in the Digital Storytelling Process. Posters created by Megan Vosk and Shafali. Inspired by the work of Samantha Morra.

Here’s an outline of the process I went through and modeled for the students. I created all of my own docs and media so that the students would have exemplars for each step.

**Note: I have condensed some of the steps listed above for clarity.**

Step 1: Brainstorming and Researching

Here is the brainstorming document that I completed when I was trying to figure out the message of my digital story. Since I knew I would also have to create a digital story for my COETAIL final project, I chose a topic related to explaining the purpose behind the digital storytelling unit. The movie I created would thus serve two purposes – as a mentor text for students and as a starting point for my own reflections.

Step 2: Scripting

Here is my digital story script that I shared with the students. I solicited feedback from my co-teacher, Shafali, so that the students could see that I was open to revising my work (see my post from last week for more on feedback). You can see Shafali’s feedback at bottom of the document. The students later followed the same feedback process when giving each other suggestions on their scripts.

Once my script was polished, Shafali created a few slides to highlight for students the structure of the text. You can see how she analyzed my script in the following slides. Breaking it down into components was a good scaffold for the multilingual students, and provided them with tips for how their scrips should look.

Elements of Ms. Vosk’s script are highlighted for students so that they can see each element clearly.

This slide lists elements that students might want to include in their scripts and has been based on the elements in my own script.

Step 3: Storyboarding

Once I had finished writing my script, I created the storyboard.  Shafali and I had looked for a storyboard template but couldn’t find one we liked, so we created our own. I was trying to model my journey with each part of the digital storytelling process in real-time, so I only did each part a little bit before the students were doing each part. In fact, I often worked alongside the students during class time. This was a very strange thing for me to do, as I usually conference with students during workshop/independent work time. So, I had to go against my natural instincts and stay put. But it was wonderful to be creating with them. It was so freeing.

Step 4: Recording the Audio

Once I had the script and storyboard completed, I recorded my audio. I used the Voice Memo app on my iPhone even though the students were privileged enough to go to the recording studio on campus. Voice Memo was easy to use, quick, and the quality sounded decent. Take a listen by clicking here.

Step 5: Putting it all Together

Finally, after all of that, it was time to start putting the story together on iMovie. The whole process from start to finish had taken about a month. Some of my COETAIL colleagues have written about interrupted schedules and the like this semester. Ours is similarly interrupted, but my ELD class usually has two eighty-minute blocks of instructional time a week.

I created the first draft of my digital story to share with the students and Shafali. You can see it here:

The students and Shafali had a lot of feedback for me, all of it quite helpful. As a teacher, I am usually the one giving feedback. So this was also a shift in practice for me. It felt good to be on the receiving end for once. It made the class feel more equal.

I think that creating my story first – and then allowing the students to help me improve it – made them feel more comfortable soliciting feedback from each other. I had to allow myself to be vulnerable and open to critique.

The feedback I received from Shafali was:

  • Glow – meets the criteria for success, clarity of audio, and message.
  • Grow – may be a variation in background music that matches the mood of the narration. A few photos didn’t match the content…so maybe take out or substitute those.

The constructive feedback I received from the students was:

  • Change the music and make it match the mood
  • Add subtitles
  • Add more of your own photos
  • Add more transitions
  • Make the font smaller on the credits

I made some revisions based on the feedback I got and here is the updated version. The students and Shafali said it was much improved when I showed them. I’ll use this video as the base for my COETAIL Course 5 Final project and add some interviews and reflections around it.


Step 6: Share, get feedback and reflect

I’m still working on this step. Meanwhile, I’d love to get some feedback from you, dear readers. What did you think of my digital story? Did I provide good modeling for the students in relation to the stated success criteria? Let me know. And, stay tuned for my final COETAIL posts where I wrap up this project and share some of my final takeaways…