Music and Digital Storytelling

4 09 2008

Integrating Music Education with Digital Storytelling
A Literature Review

March 12, 2008

The stories of our ancestors, and the folk literature of the past has, until recently, been rooted in print.  Today even though our society has become more rooted in digital technology the print medium still holds our stories.  (Mello, 2001).  Digital storytelling, according to Bernajean Porter of Digitales, “takes the ancient art of oral storytelling and engages a palette of technical tools to weave personal tales using images, graphics, music and sound mixed together with the author’s own story voice” (Porter, 2008).
This review addresses several topics associated with digital storytelling.  First it looks at  storytelling in education, and how it is defined.  The next sections focus on the elements of a good digital story, assessment of digital stories, and finally on the integration of music education with digital storytelling in the classroom.  All of these topics are addressed with the understanding that the final project will be a digital storytelling project which integrates art, photography, language arts and music with a grade 6/7 classroom.
Storytelling in Education
Storytelling has always been a part of education. “Oral and written stories (both through text and pictures) are used as teaching and learning tools” (Mello, 2001 p. 4).  Storytelling and sharing stories allows students to make connections with their own personal narratives. It is “used to teach literacy skills, cooperative learning skills, critical thinking, and to build knowledge of different contexts” (Mello, 2005 p.5). This ties in with the learning theories of Jerome Bruner, which suggest that there are two primary modes of thought, the narrative and the paradigmatic.  The action oriented, sequential and detail oriented nature of telling a story engages narrative thought, while the logical thought structure and connections address the paradigmatic.  In addition, Bruner defines three types of representation of thought, action based, image based, and language based.   A good story will address all three.
“[S]torytelling brings people together with a common perspective” (Huffaker, 2004).  The sharing of digital stories allows students to  “demonstrate unique artifacts that allow children to share and discuss ideas and feelings, ask and answer each other’s questions, or showcase projects, all of which promote a pro-social attitude” (Huffaker, 2004).  There is a growing trend whereby digital stories are shared via the internet for general viewing which is being promoted as a great way to connect with a larger audience (Huffaker, 2004, Robin, 2005). While there is merit in the concept, it also makes students vulnerable to unwanted or unnecessary criticism, and has no overreaching benefits to sharing in a more controlled environment such as the classroom, or the school for students in this context.
From a learning perspective,  digital stories “appeal to the diverse learning styles of the students” (Robin, 2005), encourage technical fluency and give students more control over their learning.  They are engaging, motivating and have many educational benefits (Robin, 2005). Storytelling can be used as a medium to present research, as a showcase for writing, as a way to teach sequencing through storyboards, as a digital gallery for art work, and as a way to demonstrate thoughts images and feelings in music.  In addition they help with digital literacy, and iconic literacy.  According to Bruce, computers are the new media.  They are learning environments in which students can share ideas and products (Bruce, 1991).
Elements of Good Digital Stories
The Center for Digital Storytelling identifies six key elements to a good digital story (“Telling Tales”, 2005).  First, good digital stories are personal.  They should have a clear point of view, and purpose.  The narrator, or protagonist, is encouraged to make the story personal. Awareness of the audience should be reflected in the vocabulary, musical choices and visuals used.  Second, good digital stories must begin with a story and script.  As written by  Bernajean Porter, “no bells and whistles will cover up the lack of a good story”  (Porter, 2008). Thirdly, good digital stories are concise.  In some ways this is a reflection on the available internet technology, a video over five minutes in length can be onerous to load.  More importantly the more concise the story is the tighter the script will be, which makes for a more compelling story.  Fourth, a good digital story uses readily available source materials.  It is pointed out that video footage is not necessary.  Still photos or drawn and scanned images with transition effects added are just as compelling as video, and “put the participant in the editing chair, with a minimal amount of preparation” (“Telling Tales”, 2005).  Fifth, good digital stories include universal story elements such as conflict, resolution and closure.  They are sequenced logically and allow the audience to identify with the story.  Finally, good digital stories involve collaboration.  Feedback on the art of storytelling is an important aspect of the process.  In the traditional of oral narration, stories are meant to be interactive.
Assessment of Digital Stories
The process of critiquing and sharing stories helps to “develop communication skills by learning to ask questions, express opinions, construct narratives and write for an audience.” (Robin, 2005)  There is very little literature available which addresses assessment of digital storytelling.  There are three methods outlined for obtaining feedback by Porter at Digitales, informal reflection, informal evaluation, formal evaluation (Porter, 2008).  The first, informal reflection, is achieved by critiquing and sharing stories and providing guiding questions and rules of engagement for students.  These rules include, only positive commentary, you have the right to decline to answer, and mutual respect is required.  Following this model will encourage inclusion and help to create a collaborative environment (Gibbs, 2001).  Porter also discusses the use of informal evaluation, which she defines as the use of rubrics and scoring guides.  She also mentions that these could also be used as a means for self reflection.  The third type of assessment is described as formal evaluation.   It evaluates the “content and craftsmanship of communication” (Porter, 2008)  and looks at three main types of writing, expository, narrative and persuasive from the perspective of a digital story.  Within each type of writing there are nine traits identified, some of which apply to  a digital setting and some of which do not.  There is no mention in any of the literature of the use of musical knowledge or skill in creating a soundtrack for a digital story.
Integrating Music Education in Digital Storytelling
“[A]uthentic music learning need not be sacrificed nor compromised in any way when the music teacher designs and teaches curricula and units of study that integrate music learning with learning in other academic subjects…” (Cosenza, 2005). While many core subject teachers plan integrated units of study for their students, music teachers are often left out of this planning process.  The lack of time equity with other subject areas makes many music teachers hesitant to use class time on integrated collaborative projects for fear of not having the time to cover the curriculum (Cosenza, 2005).

“Some music educators are passionately devoted to the concept, while others are reticent and consider interdisciplinary curriculum to be yet another way of measuring the importance of their subject area by how well it develops learning abilities in the “academic” subjects. These educators might be encouraged by Gordon Shaw’s theory that all learning is a result of highly complex brain activity and that musical learning is, therefore, probably neither a greater nor a lesser influence on the development of the brain than is something like mathematical learning.” (Shaw, 2000 in Cosenza, 2005)

Integration, however provides not only the context for understanding, but also the motivation that is often lacking in music students.  Musical concepts like form, composition, and dynamics can be integrated in most any content area. It takes only a little creativity and the willingness to explore how to integrate other musical concepts into a context which makes sense for students.  Rather than teach concepts in isolation, using stories to teach musical concepts allows students to start from the elemental and move toward a more sophisticated understanding of music.  A well designed digital story is a perfect way to include most elements of music into a collaborative project which students will find interesting and motivating.


Bruce, B. (1991).  Roles for computers in teaching the English Language Arts.  In J. Flood, J.M. Jensen, D. Lapp &J.R. Squire (eds) Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (pp.536-541).  New York:  MacMillan.

Center for Digital Storytelling.  Retreived March 4, 2008, from:

Chirstensen, C. (2000).  Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching about Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word.  Rethinking School. (pp.40-47).

Cosenza, G. (2005). Implications for Music Educators of an Interdisciplinary Curriculum.  International Journal of Education & the Arts. 6(9).  Retreived March 11, 2008, from:

Cox, C. (1991)  The media arts and English language arts teaching and learning.  In J. Flood, J.M. Jensen, D. Lapp &J.R. Squire (eds) Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (pp.542-548).  New York:  MacMillan.

Robin, B. (2005) Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling. University of Houston.  Retreived March 11, 2008, from:

Fiske, J. (1990).  Introduction to communication studies. (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. (Chapter 3).

Gibbs, J. (2001).  Tribes, A New Way of Learning and Being Together.  Windsor: Center Source Systems, LLC.

Huffaker, D. (2004).  Spinning Yarns Around the Digital Fire:  Storytelling and the Dialogue Among Youth on the Internet.  Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual 63-75 Retreived March 9, 2008, from:

Jerome Bruner. (2008, March 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved  March 14, 2008, from

Mello, R. (2001).  The Power of Storytelling: How Oral Narrative Influences Children’s Relationships in Classrooms.  International Journal of Education & the Arts. 2(1) Retreived March 9, 2008, from:

Porter, B. (2008) DigiTales: Overview of Evaluating Projects.  Retreived March 11, 2008, from:

Telling Tales With Technology.  (2005).  Tech Learning.  Retreived March 9, 2008, from




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