Ink - Learning 2 Talk by Paula Guinto at Learning 2 Singapore 2013, visual note by Nicki Hambleton

Ink – Learning 2 Talk by Paula Guinto at Learning 2 Singapore 2013, visual note by Nicki Hambleton

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin….

As a child I remember being told stories, reading stories and hearing stories on the TV. I loved the stories my dad told me about his days in the Film industry and his meetings with famous people. When I was very small there a was a fantastic programme called Jackanory, the title taken from an old English nursery rhyme. Each day a celebrity would read from the week’s chosen story, sitting in a big armchair. Some of my favourites were Bernard Cribbins and Rik Mayall for their sheer brilliance in creating funny voices and captivating any viewer, young or old.

Photo Credit: Rickydavid via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rickydavid via Compfight cc

As a parent, my two boys were brought up on stories and would love to choose a book to be read to them. I have vivid memories or reading and rereading Owl Babies by Martin Waddell night after night in between Bob the Builder and other such childhood classics! Nowadays they read themselves but I occasionally sneak a moment of reading David Walliams books as I am certain they are written as much for adults as they are for children! (If you have young boys do read Billionaire Boy – the school dinner menus are pure genius writing!)

As a teacher, the room goes quiet, even with HS students, when you ask them if they want to hear something personal that happened to you or you say those magic words, “Let me tell you a story about..” The conversations stop, their eyes turn towards you and hey presto you have a captive audience. That is the power of words and the impact a story can have. I expect you too can remember a book you read that kept you gripped and you can recall how you felt when it ended.

As an educator I learn so much from English teachers about engaging others through stories. About a year ago, at Learning 2 Singapore, a colleague of mine Paula Guinto spoke of how she came to be telling her own story and how she had begun her storytelling from journals as a child to blogging as an adult. She encouraged us all to find our own voice and to believe that we all have a story.

As adults we still love the idea of a story and apparently the cable TV channel Dave continued the success of Jackanory but this time for an adult audience calling it Crackanory. I can’t wait to look that one up on Youtube!

Twitter is a form of mini blogging and a great way to start, but blogging takes many forms. By scrolling the internet we can connect with others of similar interests and learn new things through their posts. Jabiz Raisdana uses blogging to share the stories from his Grade 8 class and there are many examples on this blog that show the power students have and the standard they can reach through this media.

Photo Credit: Danny Montemayor via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Danny Montemayor via Compfight cc

Once upon a Time

What is it about stories that draws us in? How can we incorporate stories into our teaching and how can we use technology to bring these stories to life and engage our students in their learning?

Most recently a post was doing the rounds on Facebook about The Book with No Pictures by B J Novak. Now as an art teacher, this intrigued me. How could a book with no images engage an audience? and that is where the twist came. Watch this video to understand more….

This aside, every image tells a story and none more so than photographs. As I mentioned in a previous post, photographs are a powerful way to connect with the audience but also to help them to interpret or understand. I showed this following video to my Grade 8s last year as they started a photography unit and the conversations that flowed were indeed powerful.

We all love to hear a story, it helps us drift back to our childhood, step out of our stress filled lives and into another. Stories help us to connect with the person and find out more about them, to discover connections or differences and to understand who they are and where they are from.

The idea of storytelling goes back to early man documenting their conquests on the walls of their caves through pictures. Storytelling recounts events or incidents, can be a form of entertainment or cultural preservation.

Storytelling is a huge part of all cultures from The Dreaming stories of the indigenous people of Australia to the engaging stories from Ghana. We find out more about the culture by listening to the stories continued for hundreds of years and can preserve a piece of history in doing so. When I was living in Ghana we used a local puppeteer to tell traditional stories, one memorable one being of Anansi, a trickster and West African God who takes the form of a spider.

We all love to watch movies and these too follow traditional and non-traditional forms to recount or share a story. Walt Disney was one of the most prolific storytellers and his animations almost always had a strong message or moral behind them.

The Scriptlab shares the Top 10 central themes common in films from Revenge to Love Conquers all and you can learn more from Alan Levine (@cogdog) who teaches Digital Storytelling and film studies through DS106. When he came to Singapore a few years ago he talked about the way effective documentaries use specific shots to capture the story. Through his blog and website there is a wonderful expansive source of ideas and inspiration including this link to 50 ways to tell a story. It is sure to give you many ideas for incorporating storytelling.

But what is our story and how can we use stories in our teaching?

Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

What’s in a story?

There are many gurus that we can learn from who have a strong focus on storytelling including Alan Levine. Jane Ross, Digital Literacy coach at JIS, has had much success over the years with her young students publishing their stories using Book Creator. You can read more and see examples of student created books on her blog.

Books are now far more interactive and engaging through technology and there are many examples to choose from.

One such gorgeous example and following my family fascination with Alice in Wonderland is Alice for the iPad and you can see others on this article.

Ex-Pixar designer, William Joyce has used his incredible skills to create The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore and this demonstrates the versatility of how ebooks are heading.

Rob Appino, MS Technology learning facilitator at South Saigon International School, recently ran a fabulous pre-conference at Learning 2 on Immersive storytelling and Game design and you can see his resources from the course here. One of the most intriguing parts to me is the use of multi-modal learning.

Telling the story helps students to document a process, recount an experience or a trip and helps them to develop good habits and strategies in essay writing – tempting the reader/audience: introduction, content and ending


As an artist, my ambition throughout most of my adult life has been to follow in the daunting footsteps of my father who illustrated  a book by Fay McGregor called Alice in Starland. I am worried that the process may affect me in the same way it did him, as I inherited his perfectionism and tough self criticism, but I am determined to pursue it. One day.

With the inclusion of technology anything is possible and the idea to do this more in my sights. But the story? I am no writer and I certainly do not know what I would write about, maybe there is a writer out there who would be interested in my style, digital or traditional? Maybe then I can help my ambition to come to life……..

One of the most engaging and inspirational use of stories with technology I have seen is documented on this TED talk. I urge you to watch this gorgeous video and fail to be impressed and inthralled.


More than just a story

Photo Credit: Cian Ginty via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Cian Ginty via Compfight cc

I cannot help but reflect back on the past week and Learning 2 in Bangkok. I will not bore you anymore with my Keynote (although for those suckers you will see a version of it on my final Blog post for Course 3!) as I have lamented it for many months and several blog posts! But I cannot help but look back on the process of these talks and the affects on the audience. For a Keynote to be effective, one must connect with the audience, right? In comes storytelling, recounting a situation, retelling an event or telling a funny situation. But to me, it is much more than that. I need to take something away, a message, a strategy or something I can ponder and apply to my own teaching or life.

Did we do this?

Reflecting hard is a tough thing to do and, as a Brit, I am naturally self critical, but recounting the talks this year there was a strong emphasis on storytelling. But was the message clearly communicated too? In order for us to grow as educators we need to learn, rethink or change our thinking and a strong or subtle message can do this. Sam Sherratt made me rethink and reminded me of where I started from in capturing ideas as a child, at university and even in recent years. I have a multitude of Bubble catchers (sketchbooks) from my years as a designer and thinker and it is lovely to see my youngest son has a similar affliction with notebooks. In these bubble catchers he remembers counties of England (!), plans potential menus and of course captures types of cars and names for his youtube channels of the future! So too did John Rinker take me back to time past and helped me to refocus my thoughts on getting out into the open more and making the world big again – how often do we do that?

The future of Learning 2 talks must incorporate this element if it is to be successful in engaging educators into action and helping them too to find their direction and passion. Who knows, like me they may end up on stage next year.

Photo Credit: Untitled blue via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Untitled blue via Compfight cc

What’s next?

I love Storify and how it can document the development of or reflect back on an online story on Twitter and I can see a real use for this in our learning. Currently on their website you can find out about Malala Yousafzai and embedding Getty images in your story. Has anyone used Storify in the classroom?

Whilst drawing the Learning 2 Talks last year I found real learning myself in capturing the main message and integrating visual metaphors to communicate the idea. Following on from this, I would like to reflect on my takeaways this year by revisiting the talks when they come out on youtube and to capture them through simple visual notes like last years cogs. I am hoping that through this it will reconnect me and others to the message and the story being told and to help us to take our own ideas and interpretations forward into practice. Watch this space…..

But how can we use digital storytelling in our classrooms?

For me, my next unit with Grade 8 is Documentary Photography and, in previous years I have set the task to take photos to tell a mundane task or a simple story. This year I would like to include more technology, starting with simple slides and images, and incorporating voice and visual??

At this stage I do not have the expertise or the time to implement a unit on ebooks or animated illustrations but I do have many ideas to incorporate animated gifs and augmented reality to extend the image beyond and incorporate movement to track the story.

As usual I have too many ideas and must leave some in the depths of my planning to fester and rise up in the future. I am lucky to be in a department where I can devise my own curriculum and involve these kinds of new direction and , it is only October and I have the whole year ahead of me.

You may not be a great storyteller yourself or you may think you do not have a story to tell, but perhaps your students do. Maybe they don’t know it yet, but it is up to us to draw this out of them and help them to document their learning in a different way, using storytelling as a start. Perhaps this will be  the start of something new for some of them.

  1. David Garcia says:

    Nicki, reading your blog post is in itself like reading a beautiful story. You make everything easy to understand and your lines are helpful to organize the thoughts. I loved your video about photography and what they bring into our minds. As a person who can´t hardly draw a line and until very recently thought had nothing to share, I just can say I would like to be 14 again and being in one of your classes.
    Even though I teach a foreign language, I am just coming to the conclusion I have being understimating the power of storytelling for a few years. However, listening to your talk, reading your blog, I am determined to change it and start exploring the power of images.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Oh David, thank you so much – that has made my day! I would love you to be in my class! I look forward to meeting you again sometime, even if in the meantime it is virtually online! Let me know how you get on with using visuals!

  2. Jamie Stark says:

    Nicki, I agree with David, reading your posts are very interesting. They really flow and have wonderful resources to support the picture your painting in my mind. I love how you have used your passion for art to integrate it in to all of your work, very talented. Storytelling, be it the old fashion way or digitally, is a great way to connect with our students. Not sure if you have seen this, but I just love the excitement stories can bring.

    Cheers, keep up the great work!

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thank you so much Jamie. I have given myself quite an arduous task adding the visual note element to my blog posts but it helps me to remember. I am really trying to build it into students education but it is hard to convince people of the worthiness of spending that time developing them! Spend time to save time? I love the Book with no pictures as I mentioned in the post, I just didn’t think that I would! I am working on my next Grade 8 unit to build on storytelling linking in with who they are in the run up to a Painting unit. It is notoriously difficult in Art to integrate technology authentically rather than as an add on and this next Course (4) will hopefully push me to work through this and figure out the balance. Thanks again for your positive comments.

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