Building a community learning laboratory, not as an official place or space, but rather as a mission for teaching and learning, has been at the forefront of our digital storytelling projects. This year we focused on merging two groups; our undergraduate students and adult learners from the greater Whittier community to create Multilingual and Intergenerational Digital Storytelling.
Our learning community has a great population of adult learners and college students who are multilingual learners. In projects like digital storytelling, it gives them opportunities to share their voices in the language that feels most comfortable to them. Being multilingual also means communicating in dual or multiple languages to express culture–which does not always translate well into English or another language. “Chinga tu madre” (more on this later) cannot possibly be translated into English directly to “f*ck your mother.” It doesn’t mean exactly that. It has many different uses and forms of expression.
Spanglish (mixing English and Spanish in the same conversation) is often heard on our campus and throughout our community. Our minds think in both languages and sometimes you can’t find the right word in English whereas you might have the exact, most perfect word in Spanish. It happens to me quite often.
Using multilingual prompts for story writing is a natural transition from the storywork we’ve been doing. The digital storytelling workshops I run are usually all in English or all in Spanish. So why not merge both languages in a project that includes students who are studying in our modern languages department and who are working internships with populations that use multiple languages? What can our undergrads and adults learn from each other?
Where We’ve Been
This past summer, my colleague Stephanie Carmona who runs the Community Education Program Initiative (CEPI) and I started to craft ideas for incorporating digital storytelling assignments and projects with the populations we work with. We’ve been partnering for several years but this time we wanted to create something new, inspired by an article we read; Engaging Post-Secondary Students and Older Adults In An Intergenerational Digital Storytelling Course. We decided on a plan to merge our college undergrads with our community adult learners in a new learning experience using digital storytelling.
Our first task was to look through the catalog of courses being offered during Fall Term and one stood out with bright, shiny lights: a paired course in Social Work and Spanish Literature.
CEPI’s adult learners had already been visiting a beginning Spanish course to help undergrads practice their conversations in a new language. The students in the Spanish class affectionately titled our visiting adult learners “Las Madres” (The Mothers). The campus newspaper even ran a story about Las Madres.
In Social Work, students create digital stories as part of their senior capstone project. Stephanie and I knew this paired course would be the perfect match. But, there was a kink in the next task- courses had just begun and the syllabus had already been distributed with dates and assignments. Would it be too disruptive to ask the team of professors to invite us in to do a digital storytelling project with their students—and— bring in Las Madres to create a multilingual and intergenerational digital storytelling experience?
We immediately emailed both profs and asked to meet with them in person to explain. Then we pitched the project: intergenerational learning where the role of teacher and learner are constantly being interchanged between the adult learners and undergrads. Bringing together diverse learners from different backgrounds allows for everyone involved in the process to bring in their own unique experiences. The adult learner can be the expert as well as the novice in various topics. In this way, different generations are able to share their knowledge. And, we would be facilitating an assignment that also promotes multilingual learning in the Spanish part of the course. Everyone has a story to share regardless of age and this assignment would hit the learning goals set by the paired courses. The profs pretty much stopped us at this point and said, “you had us at digital storytelling!”
Where I’m From
Using the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon, we asked each student to create their own digital poetry based on what they’d like to tell us about themselves. We used a template and then translated it to Spanish to create “Yo Soy” (I am). This assignment has been used in classrooms in many different schools but I first learned about it at StoryCenter’s Summer Institute for Educators.
We held a couple of in-class meetings where we invited the adult learners into the paired course to explain the project. Conversations started between our two learning groups. They chatted about the course materials, Spanish Lit, life, and experiences. We then gave both sets of learners prompts to write together and share in groups. At the third meeting we distributed the “Where I’m From” and “Yo Soy” template. Some students asked if they had to keep the template exactly as written. Other students asked if they could write their poems in Spanglish to describe where they’re from. We offered maximum flexibility and creativity.
After both sets of learners wrote their poems we scheduled dates to record the audio for their scripts and then to learn to edit them in the video editor WeVideo. We suggested that they use their own photos; from their family albums or by taking pictures or video from the cameras on their phones. Some also used stock photos offered through WeVideo or Creative Commons licensed graphics. We decided as a group to screen all the digital story/poems on the day of the final examination scheduled for mid December.
Before the screening, Stephanie and I watched the videos and we decided to translate some of the Spanish verses to English. Bilingual students were a great help with the translations. We originally wanted to also translate them from Spanish to English but we were pressed for time. Which takes me back to a phone call I got from Stephanie while we were in the middle of translating and subtitling…“how would you translate chinga tu madre?” she asked.
I of course laughed out loud! In context, one student writes her poem/story about her culture and when she’s describing “[I’m] from chinga tu madre” she doesn’t mean it quite literally. Watch the video to see how we decided to translate it: “Yo Soy” by K. Ortega.
The screening was a hit! There was laughter, there were tears, happy tears! As is the case with these projects, the engagement and retention of information happens by the way we feel after the hard work is finished. Learning happens on multiple levels. This is an assignment that we take our time in unpacking.
Where We’re Going
Stephanie and I are co-writing an ebook that explains our work with undergraduate students and adult learners through a series of collaborative projects. The part we have not yet written is where we explain the joy and fulfillment that comes with the work that we do. The anecdotes we have captured and the tears and hugs that come at the end of each project along with course evaluations and rubrics. How do we measure this work? Our students are engaged and the faculty we work with ask, “when can we do this again?!” The science of learning tells us that activities and assignments like this can be the key to unlocking how the brain gathers and retains information (this is another blogpost in the making). What we can confirm through our own experience is that this work is valuable on many levels; in education, in community building, in understanding cultural relevancy as well as skill building of multiple literacies. It’s both tangible and intangible.
In Spring 2020, Stephanie and I will present our work on this assignment and other projects at the 9th International Digital Storytelling Conference at Loughborough University, UK. I’ll write updates- for now, we leave you with our playlist: Multilingual and Intergeneration Digital Stories.