Common Core

Using Visual Storytelling to Teach Common Core ELA and Math

Stacie IsenbergStacie Isenberg is the technology integration coach at Blairsville-Saltsburg School District (PA), which is located in a rural area about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh. The district serves approximately 1,600 students from pre-K through twelfth grade. Isenberg is a former middle school math and high school business teacher whose current job, as she put it, is “to help teachers and students use all of the technology tools available in our district in a way that supports our curriculum.” Here, she talks about how she has helped teachers use the Shutterfly Photo Story app to teach to the Common Core ELA and math standards.

THE Journal: When did you start using Shutterfly and what inspired you to start using it?

Stacie Isenberg: Our district has been part of a statewide initiative to improve literacy in students from birth through grade 12. When looking for technology tools to integrate, we search for tools that not only support our curriculum and the Common Core standards, but those that also have the following characteristics:

  • Increasing interest and engagement in writing;
  • enhancing college and career readiness; 
  • supporting project-based/challenge-based learning;
  • promoting strategies for differentiated instruction; and
  • encouraging students to find their voice and create authentic products.

I was introduced to the Shutterfly Photo Story app in December 2014. Leveraging the technology of the iPad, the app allows students to design a book with original text, images, drawings and voice recordings. After designing the book on the iPad, students can share the digital version of the book with others, or they can opt to have it published.

The app was a perfect fit to reach all grade levels and to help our districtwide goal of working to improve literacy for all.

THE Journal: Can you give me examples of your favorite assignments and what students did with them?

Isenberg: So many of our projects were amazing. With 12 teachers and over 200 students participating, the creativity really surged in our district. My favorite project was done by a high school algebra teacher. She asked students to write a story with a centralized theme that incorporated a variety of math problems. Students had to pick something they were passionate about and tell a story that took the reader through an adventure on which they would encounter several situations that required the solution to an algebra problem. Students chose topics such as sports, hijinks with friends, dancing, pets and more. 

This project was my favorite for a variety of reasons. In the academic sense, I loved this project because as a former math teacher, I know how difficult it is to incorporate writing into math. Students don’t often view the math classroom as a place where they have to worry about writing. 

Since our district is working to improve literacy across the board, I felt this project really stood out because it not only met many of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, but it also met standards for high school algebra. As a teacher, I loved this project because it connects with students. When you read their books, you not only can assess what they know about algebra and writing, you also learn about them as people.

As a technology coach, I loved this project because the teacher, Trisha Kaylor, continues to step out of her comfort zone as a teacher and develops learning opportunities such as this to benefit her students. A few years ago, she began flipping her classroom and uses opportunities for project-based learning to connect with her students and make learning more meaningful.

THE Journal: How does visual storytelling help you teach to Common Core? What specific standards are you meeting?

Isenberg: Since visual storytelling can be done in any subject area, it helps meet not only Common Core Standards for specific subject areas depending on how the project is structured (see the algebra example above), but it also meets Common Core Standards for literacy: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

In all grade levels, students used storyboard templates and planning guides to write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3).

Elementary students added drawings to their stories or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts and feelings (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.1.5). In addition, using the voice-recording feature of the Photo Story app, students read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.1.4).

In classes where the students created books to describe vocabulary, introduce words in various languages or describe an artist, they were able to write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments or technical processes (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2).

THE Journal: Have you seen any measurable changes in student achievement since you started using Shutterfly? What about student engagement?

Isenberg: Since this was the first year we’ve incorporated a project of this nature and since the project wasn’t complete until May, we don’t yet have measurable data to indicate changes in student achievement.

Based on student feedback, the level of enjoyment and engagement by students was exceptionally high. Students of all ages (K-12) reported how much they loved this project, specifically seeing their published book. They reported that they appreciated the opportunity to be creative with their books.

THE Journal: What other tech tools are you using or do you plan to use to teach to Common Core?

Isenberg: Because the Common Core Standards for ELA have a strong focus on academic language, text-dependent analysis and use of nonfiction text, we look for tools that help support practice in those areas. For example, we use visual organization tools such as Popplet and Padlet to organize academic vocabulary and ideas for writing. In addition, we utilize collaborative reading and writing tools such as Subtext and Google Docs to make reading and writing a social experience for students. This helps students use “technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information,” as called for in CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.6.

Some of our math teachers are utilizing a flipped classroom model, creating instructional videos with Explain Everything or Screencastomatic to maximize the amount of time they can spend with each student, focusing on fewer topics with greater coherence and increased rigor.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.