Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Reflection on Storybird

I recently introduced a new favorite find, Mee Genius, a free site for reading and viewing digital picture books.  I mentioned how this site could be a platform to use prior to introducing Storybird to students (in effort to get children to publish their stories online).  I've received a few emails with questions about how I use Storybird in my class.  One email in particular inspired me to share my response.  A new friend, Marty, had a question for her second grade classroom.  First, I'd like to mention how thrilled I was to see that such technology was being introduced to second graders - how beneficial to give them the opportunity to become published authors.  

This was Marty's main concern...

" I have had my students begin using this wonderful resource this year. They initially were very excited to read stories and put their pictures into their personal books. But, now that they are writing the stories to go along with the pictures they are getting bogged down. Not all of them, of course, but even some of my best writers are having trouble."

The following is my reply to Marty and her second graders...

"I can understand how from our perspective this could be quite the engaging task; however, once you introduce it to a class, the sparkle only seems to remain for a short period.  Once they realize they have to 'work,' the motivation seems to fizzle.  This occurred with my middle school students as well.

I found what worked best for our kids was to:

- psych the kids up about being published authors

- explain that their work will be read by people all over the world - how exciting!

- have the writings be completed before they go to the web... I've found that often kids can't find the right words to go with the pre-made illustration -- they become frustrated trying to make their stories 'fit.'  However, if they already have a draft of a story, it becomes easier to chunk their sentences to import into different pages to represent the given art work.

- The key for me was to do a whole class Storybird as a model first.  We did this by reading a short story from our textbooks, and then retold the same story, in our own words, through Storybird.  I found it easier to start creating Storybirds by first having the writing done before logging in - and not creating original, creative pieces but rather simple retelling stories.  

- At first, most of the kids were so literal about retelling the events.  For example, we did a retelling of The Titanic.  Kids were so frustrated because they couldn't find illustrations in Storybird that included a big ship or water or ice burgs.  Then, luckily, our Leah had an amazing moment.  She understood how to interpret the story into a creative manner.  She had her writing completed first, and then began to search for inspiring art from Storybird to represent her story.  Her high school cousin helped her at home to work on her project (what a natural Tier 2 home intervention).  I was so excited that she, on her own, sought out additional support to complete her project.  Leah has given me permission to tell her story.  Leah named her protagonist "Spoon."  I thought this was so creative and adorable.  When asked about how she came up with this name, she explained that she and her cousin were discussing ideas for the story over dinner -- hence, she was eating with a spoon.  She thought I would think it was lame and silly.  Quite the contrary... when she first told me this, it was through a whole class discussion - each child turned to me wondering how I'd handle this idea of just giving a random name to a character.  We took advantage of this teachable moment to explain how creativity stems from our own lives and how our audience begins to relate to us as authors as we begin to humanize ourselves and make connections to our readers.  Then, I began to see others take the permission (that I thought was assumed) to think outside of the box.  Leah offered her peers something that I could not... an authentic example of how to tap into an internal, creative spark that each of them possessed yet didn't realize where to find.  You see, as much as I told them that they were all creative, they didn't see it.  They thought they had to be these experts, artists.  Now, they started to see life as a creative opportunity - common objects began to personify themselves... I was able to tie in figurative language mini-lessons into natural conversations within the classroom.  Students began to swap ideas for metaphors -- collaborative learning took off in a way that I could have never asked for... they took over the class.  I was in teacher heaven.  I wasn't leading the discussion but rather bopping back and forth between groups to either offer advice or listen to an idea a group couldn't wait to share with me.  Kids were even buzzing at lunch about their stories and encouraging others (families, teachers, and friends) to view their work.  We began to work in our celebration stories as a part of our daily class discussions.  This encouraged others to jump on a computer and fix up their stories.

Spoon's Adventure on the Titanic on Storybird

- Another idea we did that worked was to offer choice.  After students had a start on their writing drafts, they were given a choice to publish their digital writing stories.  Not everyone chose to do a Storybird.  Actually, I found that mostly girls gravitated to Storybird.  The boys in our classes (2 sections of 7th grade language arts) chose to create a Capzles or a Glogster.  The males were into uploading video into their digital posters via Glogster.  They needed multi-media.  

- I will share with you the document I used to introduce the digital writing project (click here and download the Word file - next to the Voki).  The choice option gave everyone a creative inspiration.  Without the children realizing it, I personally created a Capzles (see here), a Glogster (see here), and a Weebly website (see here) so that they could be introduced before I even threw the assignment their way.  Then, they were comfortable with the web 2.0 sites before I even asked them to use them for a project.  Naturally, when the kids saw my personal Capzles, they wanted to know how I did it so they could do it at home.  I always offered the site so they could take advantage of it on their own, for fun.  This way, they get to see the sites as fun, not work.  I've done this with animoto, too.  I find that the kids come to school and want to show off their personal creations they've done just simply from me showing off my own stories.  This does two things: builds a community within our room (we all get to know each other better) and the ones that take advantage of creating a project first, for fun, become my 'experts' to help others when the actual assignment is eventually assigned.

- I also encourage the kids to seek out fun web 2.0 sites to enhance instruction.  They come up with the greatest stuff.  I always work it into our assignments.  The children take ownership of their learning as they  are the creators of their learning.  I give them the resources and they work together, synthesize their findings, and continue to make their work better and more unique.  Blooms at it's best!  :)

I was very inspired by your questions.  I like that it helped me to reflect on my own teaching practices.  I've even thought of a few new ideas to try.  I hope this has helped in some way.  If you have any additional questions, please pass them along.  I have always been thankful for those who have helped me, so I always try to 'pay it forward' when possible.

After writing this, I thought others may have similar questions.  I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to publish pieces of  this email so that others who may have the same issues can get insight on how it's worked for us.  Please continue to keep me posted on the progress of your class.  I love sharing ideas with other teachers."

I would love to have other teachers leave a comment to share ideas of what they think about Storybird, how they've used it or are using it, and reflections on my response to Marty.  I look forward to hearing your feedback.  I get so excited when teachers come together to network and swap stories and share ideas.  



  1. I am a computer teacher who uses storybird with various grades. Here is how I use storybird with my 2nd graders. I copy a picture to word and then put lines on the paper. I ask the classroom teacher to do a writing activity with the students. The students bring their rough copies to computer class and input their stories. I, as the computer teacher want the kids to learn the mechanics of logging in and navigating around the site but also want them to have the feeling of being a author. I can't tell you how many students access storybird from home to work on an existing story or start a new one. It is a very userfriendly site.

  2. Thank you for sharing how Storybird works for you and your students. I think it's great that you work it out with the teachers so that the writing piece and the technology piece can both be focused on with each teacher.

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