July 21, 2009

Welcome K-8 Teachers!


This blog is about a multimodal approach to storytelling. Here you will find information about a storytelling workshop that involves many approaches to storytelling from the some of the oldest, most traditional forms -oral storytelling and mask making – to some of the newest digital forms of storytelling. During this integrated workshop, and through the suggested preparation and follow-up activities, your students will be able to fulfill many expectations from the Ontario Curriculum Guidelines for Language, Arts and Social Studies/History and Geography.   Please contribute your and your students’ comments, suggestions, and your students’ stories and masks!


By the end of this experience, your students will have:

  • researched a grade appropriate social studies/history topic using traditional text-based and internet research strategies
  • listened to several traditional oral stories
  • learned to analyze stories and identify story components
  • written and told original stories collaboratively and individually using their research
  • learned the history and many historical uses of masks
  • created a mask from clay that represents a character or idea in their story
  • represented their knowledge, stories and masks using new literacies such as digital photos, video stories, podcasts,  etc., that can be uploaded to a class website or blog.


On this blog you will find samples of children’s story writing and photos of their clay masks, videos of children speaking about their work, and an interview with the potter/storyteller, Paul Stewart. You will also find an overview of the 3-day workshop, and several other resources that will help you prepare for and extend the workshop.


Why Storytelling with Clay?

A Blend of Old and New

Oral storytelling and storytelling through masks are traditional and time honoured ways of sharing history and values, making meaning, and creating connections and community. When students create their own stories and masks, after being immersed in the stories of the culture they are studying, they are able to participate in this proven form of meaning making and sharing. Through listening, speaking, writing, acting, drawing, shaping and painting clay they have many opportunities to experience and express ideas in different modalities. As Peterson and Swartz put it in their recent book, Good Books Matter:

Writing, when combined with video, photography, drawings, collage, sculpture, and any other visual art form, provides rich opportunities for students to create something tangible that represents what the literature means to them. The possibilities are as wide as your and your students’ imaginations. (Peterson & Swartz, 2008, pg. 22)

 Multimodal Learning

As Siegel (2006) points out, “children have always engaged in what are now called multimodal literacy practices” (pg.65) Children naturally talk about, dramatize and draw ideas that they are reading and writing about. Furthermore, using multiple modes or sign systems can provide new and deeper meaning (Siegel, 2006, pg. 71). This workshop provides a multimodal learning experience that provides opportunities for students to be active meaning makers in many forms, including one that they may have had little access to – working in clay. Multimodal learning may be particularly important for students who struggle with typical text-based literacies. “Research to date shows that when curricular changes include multimodality, those youth who experience substantial success are the very ones who’ve been labeled “struggling reader” or “learning disabled” (Siegel, 2006, pg. 73)


Why Incorporate The New Literacies of Digital Information and New Communications Technology?

While literacy learning has always been multimodal, the new literacies associated with the growth of digital information and communication technologies allow students to expand exponentially the benefits of traditional forms of meaning making. The New London Group refer to “supplementing” traditional literacy approaches with new literacies (New London Group, 2000, pg 5.) Rowsell, Kosnik, & Beck (2009) go further and recommend “enhancing” it with new literacies (pg. 111.)

 Through the internet, students in this workshop have vastly increased opportunities to learn about and make connections to the culture they are studying. Through uploading their multimodal creations on an interactive site, they are able to share and collaborate with a much wider audience than ever before. Depending on how widely you chose to distribute your students’ creations, they can become members of a learning community across your school, school district, the country, or the world.  

 Digital Natives

Secondly, students today are ‘digital natives’, that is, they are at home in the world of the internet and new communication technologies. Many progressive pedagogies such as constructivism, experiential learning and inquiry learning emphasize the importance of building upon students’ experiences, knowledge, skills and interests (Rowsell, Kosnik & Beck, 2009.) For many students, these are found in the world of new information technology and communication. Heron-Hurby, Wood and Mraz (2008) and Williams (2005) argue that incorporating new literacies into the curriculum can improve student motivation and achievement, particularly for struggling readers, because they allow students to access skills they already use outside of the classroom to improve literacy skills. According to Williams (2005) and Perry (2006), educators need to engage students by valuing how they read the world, which is increasingly through new technology, and to teach them to think critically about their technology use both in and out of school.

 A New World

Thirdly, new literacies represent the world that we need to prepare our students for. Larson (2006) points out that engaging students in multiple literacies in the classroom provides opportunities for them to see themselves as literate people who are willing and able to participate in the global world.

New literacies have changed the relationship between teachers and students (Jewitt, 2008.) Teachers must reshape their pedagogy to include the multimodal texts that students engage in outside of school, to prepare them to be productive members of the community (Jewitt, 2008, pg. 254.) According to a 2004 Canadian survey (Gibsen & Oberg, 2004) only 7% of teachers had their students sharing their ideas and work online through discussion groups or publishing their work on the web. If the purpose of schooling is to prepare students to be engaged, critical and productive citizens, surely education must take advantage of new information and communication technology to a much greater degree. As Cervitti, Damico & Pearson (2006) put it:

Literacy education must foster the attitudes and abilities needed to master and use the evolving languages and technologies of the future. This revisioning of literacy practice to include new technologies, requires that teachers become skilful with a variety of informational technologies, engage in critical analysis of media and technology and learn to integrate technology and information literacy into instruction (p.379).

 It’s All About Making Meaning

In his recent video, An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube,  Michael Wesch (2008) persuasively outlines the ways in which the world has changed through new media, and how education can and should harness the potential of this new world.  There are now new and powerful ways of making connections, forming community, and exploring self understanding through new technology. Why wouldn’t teachers want to harness this potential for the classroom, particularly when this world is one which many of our students already inhabit, value, and are skilled in navigating? According to Wesch (2008), our fundamental question should be, “How can we create students who can create meaningful connections?”

 In this workshop, and in the preparation and follow-up activities that we suggest, your students will be able to experience some of the oldest forms of creating meaning and making connections, through storytelling and clay mask making, and some of the newest, through representing their work in digital photos, videos, podcasts, etc. on an interactive site such as this one.

Explore the blog, and please make comments and suggestions. Enjoy!



Beck, C., Kosnik, C. & Rowsell, J. (2008). Fostering multiliteracies    pedagogy through preservice teacher education. Teaching Education, 19(2), 109-122.

Cervetti, G., Damico, J., & Pearson, P.D. (2006). Multiple literacies, new   literacies and teacher education. Theory into Practice, 45(4), 378-386.

Gibson, S. & Oberg, D. (2004).  Visions and realities of Internet use in schools:  Canadian perspectives.  British Journal of Educational Technology.  35, 5, 569 – 585.

Heron-Hurby, A., Wook, K.D., & Mraz, M.E. (2008). Introduction: Possibilities for using a multiliteracies approach with struggling readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 24, 259-263.

 Jewitt, C. (2008).  Mutlimodality and literacy in school classrooms.  Review of Research in Education, 32, 241-267.

Larson, J. (2006). Multiple literacies, curriculum, and instruction in early childhood and elementary school. Theory Into Practice 45(4), 319-327

New London Group. (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies designing social futures. In B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures (pp. 9-37). London: Routledge.

Perry, T.B. (2006). Multiple Literacies and middle school students. Theory into Practice, 45(4), 328-336.

Peterson, S. S., Swartz, L. (2008). Good books matter. Markham, On.: Pembroke Publishers.

Siegel, M. (2006). Rereading the signs: Multimodal transformations in the field of literacy education. Language Arts, 84(1), 65-77.

Wesch, M. (2008) An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube. http://mediatedcultures.net/youtube.htm

Williams, B.  (2005). Leading double lives: Literacy and technology in and out of school.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.  48, 8, 702 – 706.