The Critical Connections: Multilingual Digital Storytelling Project (2012 – Present):
Project summary and film sample
The Critical Connections Project, initiated in 2012 with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, is about enabling young people to create and share multilingual digital stories. It has brought together students and teachers of Languages (foreign, community/heritage, English as an Additional Language, English mother tongue) in mainstream and complementary schools in the UK and in six other countries with researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London. Each year students have created digital stories in bilingual version which have been shared both online and at film award events at Goldsmiths and at the British Film Institute, an important collaborator on the project.
Although broad themes have been established each year as an overall focus (Inside Out, Journeys, Fairness, Belonging, Our Planet), ideas for stories have been negotiated with students themselves drawing on their lifeworlds and interests and developing their sense of agency. This has led to work across a range of genres (drama, fantasy, science fiction, traditional tales, documentary) and drawing on digital media in various ways (still and moving images, stop animation, green screen).
To view a sample of digital stories created in the project so far, follow the link at the end of this article.
The Critical Connections project has demonstrated the potential of an integrated, interdisciplinary, inclusive and student-centred approach to language and literacy learning focussed on translingual and transcultural communication and utilising the power of the digital media. Although led by language teachers the project has leant itself to cross-curricular collaborations linking language learning with digital media, drama, visual art, music, dance, humanities and citizenship. Drawing on the notion of ‘school as basecamp’ the approach opens up opportunities for learning outside as well as inside school and for active participation in local and global communities online and offline. The diagram below captures the key elements of the multilingual digital storytelling (MDST) project and how they interrelate.
Building on the Multiliteracies model the project is distinctive in the way it reflects significant shifts in the semiotic landscape and how multilingual and multimodal resources can combine to enable powerful new forms of meaning-making which reflect contemporary culture and prepare young people for participation in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.
In developing this coherent approach, the project has utilised the power of storytelling in its relationship to language, culture and identity and through this has built the skills required to navigate difference and to build constructive dialogue across languages and cultures, sharing experiences and developing empathy and respect. Moreover, the expectation that students should create their stories bilingually has meant a strong affirmation of their bilingual identities as well as providing a context for valuable metalinguistic insights.
Although pressures on curriculum time have been an issue in many schools, a clear indication of the appeal of multilingual digital storytelling has shown itself in the willingness of students to devote time to the project outside of formal schooling – to the surprise of teachers, school managers and parents. Moreover, teachers have recognised how the project has addressed concerns regarding models of pedagogy and curriculum frameworks in their schools and this explains the rapid growth in the number of schools both nationally and internationally wishing to participate. This has extended the audience for students’ work, building a community of storytellers and making work on the project increasingly purposeful and exciting.
A coherent and fresh pedagogical approach has been developed within this project informed by a number of key principles:
- An integrated and inclusive view of language learning which resists hierarchical perspectives and supports the development of plurilingual repertoires as well as an awareness of ways in which languages intersect.
- A project-based interdisciplinary approach in which Languages operate alongside the Arts, Humanities and Citizenship, drawing thoughtfully on the affordances of the digital media.
- A translingual-transcultural perspective leading to deeper and richer learning and opening up spaces for negotiation of identity.
- An extended understanding of literacy (multilingual and multimodal), harnessing the power of story in processes of meaning-making.
- A recognition of resources for learning beyond the classroom walls – in home and community (school as ‘basecamp’).
- An approach which is dialogic, learner-centred, critical and creative, incorporating affective, experiential and aesthetic ways of knowing.
Multilingual digital storytelling requires careful planning. Teachers need to consider the stage students are at in their language learning and how a multilingual digital storytelling project might fit within the scheme of work. They need to be aware of important phases in the filmmaking process as set out in the diagram below:
Based on experience through the Critical Connections project, researchers have worked with teachers to create a handbook to assist with planning. This includes a 10-stage framework giving detailed advice on managing the process including review procedures: https://goldsmithsmdst.com/handbook/
Comments from students and teachers
“Digital storytelling gave me a way of expressing my creativity and imagination. If you give me a camera and a laptop, anything is possible” (Student: Peace School, London)
“Creating the film for real people made me break the fear of speaking aloud in German and expressing myself” (Student, Sarah Bonnell School, London)
“I didn’t expect that one day I would make a film using a computer, let alone the digital story in English. This experience is very precious to me. I have learnt so much from it!” (Student, Fengshan Senior High School, Taiwan)
“They really enjoyed learning about other cultures, so the Taiwanese stories, the Chinese, they loved the Arabic Cinderella … they found that really useful as a tool for looking into the lives of other people of their age across the world and they were very pleased with themselves as well” (Teacher, St Michael’s Grammar School)
MDST Film Sample Play List
The selection includes multilingual digital stories (Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, English, French, Greek, Spanish) created by primary and secondary students in complementary and mainstream schools in the UK and overseas in Cyprus and Taiwan. For each film either voice-over or subtitles is in English. These films cover the main project themes: Inside out, Journeys, Fairness and Belonging. A further selection of digital stories can be seen under ‘Showcase’ on the project website.
- A Tour to China (Hua Hsia Chinese School, London) Chinese-English
- Hedgehog’s home (Croatian Supplementary School) Croatian-English
- Abandonnée (Europa School, Culham, Oxfordshire) French-English
- Irene- A refugee’s story (Second Primary School of Liopetri, Cyprus) Greek (Cypriot and Standard varieties)
- La Historia de Isabel (Escuela Gabriel García Márquez, London) Spanish-English
- Fairness in ethnicities (Laonong Elementary, Taiwan) English-Chinese
- Les fées (St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School, London) French-English
- Stribor’s Forest (International School London – Surrey) Croatian-English
- Freeze (Peace School, London)
- Migration (Broomfield School, London) Greek-English
- How weird is weird? (Fengshan Senior High School, Taiwan) Chinese-English
- Three stories of belonging (Zhong Shan Girls High School, Taiwan) Chinese-English
Anderson, J. & Macleroy, V. (Eds) (2016) Multilingual digital storytelling: engaging creatively and critically with literacy. Oxford: Routledge.
Dr Jim Anderson and Dr Vicky Macleroy
Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths, University of London