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How Digital Storytelling Can Help Build Essential Human Skills

How Digital Storytelling Can Help Build Essential Human Skillsx

The following is adapted from Expanding Literacy by Brett Pierce.

Take a look at this simple survey that would take about 10 minutes of your class time.

Expanding Literacy Human Skills Survey Blog Element Graphic SMTry this Human Skills Survey with your students!

Reflect for a beat all that you would learn from this survey, especially now, just as the school year is swinging into full gear. You would learn who fears presenting and who craves creativity; who wants to be challenged with problem solving and who would do anything to avoid working on a team. It’s like being delivered a personalized learning grid in ten minutes (at no cost!). And it would bring a greater awareness of these terms––these essential skills––to the students. The students would learn something about themselves––their needs and fears within the classroom setting––and, working with you, intentionally seek to improve upon these stated strengths and weaknesses.

It's a win-win. But so much more than that. Why? Because the job of teachers has had to be recalibrated away from the traditional workplace trajectory and toward a future that is in a constant state of flux, a culture of omnipresent change. The traditional core curricular content has to accommodate this shift to meet this fluid state of change. What are we talking about here? Those same twenty-first-century skills from the survey: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, to name just a few.

Margaret Heffernan, CEO, author of five books, radio dramatist, and entrepreneur, gave a TED talk in 2019 titled, “The Human Skills We Need in an Unpredictable World.” In that talk she remarked:

Preparedness, coalition building, imagination, experiments, bravery: in an unpredictable age these are tremendous sources of resilience and strength. They aren’t efficient. But they give us limitless capacity for adaptation, variation, and invention. And the less we know about the future, the more we are going to need these tremendous sources of human,messy, unpredictable skills.

However, to many, the phrase twenty-first-century skills feels archaic and no longer reflective of the urgency with which we need to teach these skills. To me, it also feels confining, as if the list were all settled upon and we just needed to check the boxes. The list is not set. The skills are additive with time and with change. Some people use the phrase life skills, futures skills, or essential skills. In professional circles they are often referred to as soft skills . . . which makes my temperature rise a few degrees. I prefer to borrow Margaret Heffernan’s phrase: human skills. The term implies universal accessibility, open-endedness, optimism, and, in the face of technology’s continued rise, a certain balance of power . . . in favor of our biological selves!

Human Skills: The Grist of Digital Storytelling

Human skills are the traits that students need to enter a workplace that is in constant motion. Human skills are about training the mind to take calculated risks, look for patterns, and transpose failure into opportunity. They are about listening, delegating, empathizing, and imagining. You can draw up this list any way you want, setting priorities based on your community and your personal values system. But either way, the explicit work on these skill sets begins in the classroom.

We are talking about curating a student’s identity from operating in a narrow, finite sense of self to an infinite sense of self. Not pie-in-the-sky infinite. No. We are talking I-can-handle-most-things-that-come-my-way infinite. Open-ended thinking.

Morgan Cuthbert, a seventh-grade science teacher, sums it up this way:

“You have to look at something bigger than just your classroom. I always look at our kids and say, ‘Are we making them successful to make their own decisions or are we specifically driving them to one content area?’ I think we have to make them successful to look at any problem that’s out there.”

“Any problem that’s out there.” That’s human skills. For students to imagine and then drive toward their possible selves in a culture of omnipresent change, they need this toolkit of human skills. As people, this is what we want for ourselves. As teachers, this is what we want for our students.

You know what delivers human skills in spades while deeply probing traditional curricular content and issues of identity development? Digital storytelling. Digital storytelling––the process of communicating curricular content using text, imagery, sound, and music––is a project-based essential literacy that delivers human skills in practical and profound ways, while increasing students’ confidence to participate meaningfully in the digitally literate universe: an essential skill if there ever was one!

Specifically, here’s how it works:

⇒ Digital stories are team-based efforts. Therefore, they are collaborative, which includes practicing skills such as people management, delegation, leadership, and coordinating with others.

⇒ Digital stories are scripted and often character-driven. Therefore, they require creativity and imagination.

⇒ Digital stories are composed of many small decisions about research, narrative structure, look, and sound. Therefore, they invite problem solving, decision-making, and critical thinking.

⇒ Digital stories require students to research content and tell their own story about that content. Therefore, they require evidence-based reasoning and are empowering.

⇒ Digital stories are designed to be shared with an audience of more than just one (you, the teacher). Therefore, they invite presentational skills.

These are all essential human skills that allow students to engage authentically with curricular content. Digital storytelling is another win-win. That’s two for two.
Expanding Literacy Book Cover Drop Shadow TDownload a sample from Expanding Literacy Scroll down to browse more blogs featuring Expanding Literacy: Bringing Digital Storytelling into Your Classroom by Brett Pierce. Grade Level: 6th - 12th. 

Topics: Expanding Literacy, Brett Pierce

Date Published: 11/17/22

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