I admit it. I was a bit skeptical at first when reading about digital storytelling and how it can be done in a music context. However, like (or unlike) Archimedes in the bath, I might have finally arrived at my eureka moment because digital storytelling could be summative assessment option to an existing unit of inquiry. After all, we’re all about student agency, right?

Image via Pixabay (Erika Wittlieb)

My previous blog discusses visual literacy and imagination. The provocation for this unit of inquiry utilises the power of images to stimulate ideas, feelings and sounds; however, what if it was the other way around? I could begin with a musical excerpt and students will create a narrative based on what they hear. One of my go-to listening samples is The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. The possibilities are endless with this particular set of tunes! I’ve even used this resource with my kindergarten students. The students draw what they think is happening in the music.  I ask, “What do you see in your mind when you hear this music?” or “How does this music make you feel?” SURELY if the kinders can come up with a piece of visual artwork upon hearing a piece of music, the older students can not only create a visual but also write a short story.

KG sample student work

Because there are heaps of musical variety in The Carnival of the Animals collection, students are bound to find one they can connect with to create a digital story. In music, we can discuss an assortment of musical elements such as form or mood. Obviously, a link to reading and language arts is evident with their story writing skills or even storyboarding skills. Visual arts also take a role in this assessment if the students were to create a piece of artwork. And of course, the creation of these digital stories would include the technology perspective by discussing photo rights/fair useiMovie skills and so forth.

Now. I challenge you to take 60 seconds from your busy schedule to listen to ONE of the musical excerpts below. I purposefully renamed the tracks so you will not have an image in mind prior to hearing the music sample. If you’re keen to know what they’re called, scroll to the bottom of the blog. Do YOU think you can create a short story based on The Carnival of the Animals? How else can I improve this new summative assessment option? 

Looking forward to your thoughts!

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns


Sample 1: Aquarium

Sample 2: Characters with Long Ears

Sample 3: The Swan


A picture is worth ten thousand words

Image from Pexels by Clem Onojeghuo.

I love pictures. I love taking pictures. I also love drawings. I love to draw. I am by no means a photographer or an artist, but I do enjoy the hobby of taking pictures and doodling.

After taking a semester long course called Teaching ESL students in mainstream classrooms: Language in learning across the curriculum, my personal hobby of picture taking and doodling merged onto my professional life. If the text can be enhanced or better understood by the use of a photo or a sketch, it will provide additional support for our English language learners. Okay, then. Google Images here I come! I became almost obsessed with adding photos to my Google Slides/Keynote for my daily lessons, in addition to, the worksheets I created for my students. A colleague also introduced me to the Noun Project – a site where I can search for simple icons to illustrate specific concepts. Module 8 of the ESL course became a particular favorite as we assessed published texts that were used in the classroom to determine whether or not the balance of text and image were appropriate for the age level they were intended for. The module sparked a drive and inspired me to create my own materials that I deemed were more appropriate for my particular clientele.

Then came the video, Everything is a Remix: Fair Use. Hold up. I may not be tech or hip enough (yet) to transform media by re-purposing or by adding new meaning or expression, but I had a funny feeling that my race to find the perfect Google image and/or meme needed to slow down. I needed time to reflect and allow the main ideas of the video to sink in.

Wikipedia defines fair use as, “a doctrine in the law of the United States that permits limited use of copyrighted material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder.” Examples of fair use can include, ” commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, and scholarship.”

Regulations on fair use can be a bit murky; however, when you use media for criticism (making an argument) or commentary (expressing an opinion) AND you can answer “yes” to the three-step test, all is good and well (for the most part) in the land of fair use:

  1. Is the clip you are using illustrating a point? Does it provide an example that supports your argument or demonstrate what you mean? (Side note: you can’t just use it if you like it or it’s entertaining).
  2. Is this point clear to the average user?
  3. Did you use only the amount that was reasonably appropriate to make your point?

Hmm, good to know. I should post the three-step test as a reminder when creating materials and resources for my class. Thanks to sites such as the Noun Project or Pexels, just to name a few, I can still fulfill my need of using images to support my concepts. These images are mostly free for my personal use. Google Images also provides an additional “usage rights” tab to ensure that my search for the perfect image is within the realm of fair use.  This, at the very least, is my understanding. I know I have a long way to go, but this is a good start.

So, for now, instead of racing to find my perfect image, I’ll happily cruise in the slow lane so I can check my gauges (the three-step test) and enjoy the extra clicks and views that the land of fair use has to offer.