Transmedia Storytelling in the Classroom: What Is It?? (Part 1/3)

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The day has FINALLY come — the day that I can share my love of transmedia storytelling with the world of education! This post kicks off a three-part series on transmedia storytelling in the English classroom — we’ll tackle what transmedia is, how to use it in the classroom, and some examples of the best of the best transmedia stories currently out there.

First off, let’s address the crazy vocabulary word in the room: what the heck is transmedia storytelling?? Well, transmedia is an actively emerging (mostly) digital genre, so let’s try to cobble together a definition that makes sense.

  • Pemberley Digital, a major transmedia player and arguably founder of the genre, proposes that transmedia “tell[s] an enriched and immersive story that transcends across multiple formats,” like “Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, LOOKBOOK…”
  • Dr. Pamela Rutledge explains the concept in greater detail: “Transmedia storytelling uses multiple media platforms tell a narrative across time. Each media piece—whether it’s a comic, novels, video games, mobile apps, or a film—functions as a standalone story experience—complete and satisfying. Like a giant puzzle, each piece also contributes to a larger narrative. The process is cumulative and each piece adds richness and detail to the story world, such as character backstories and secondary plotlines… Transmedia storytelling is fully participatory.”
  • And finally, Dr. Elaine Raybourn, in her TEDx Talk, refers to transmedia as “our next generation learning ecosystems.”
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Basically, transmedia storytelling is an online experience that narrates a story using multiple digital platforms, especially YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Many transmedia stories that have come out in the past few years have been adaptations of classic works of literature, reimagined in a modern age and retold using digital technology.* Generally the central character(s) rely on vlogs, or video blogs, to move the narrative along, but characters in-world can also have fully fleshed-out dialogues on other social media platforms like Twitter.

Transmedia takes place in real time — the story unfolds over the course of weeks or even years, and the series itself may be segmented into seasons.

Audience engagement is central to the transmedia experience — vlogs are typically posted once or twice a week, with subscribers eagerly awaiting the next update and commenting voraciously with each other, the series’ characters, and the showrunners in between. Often transmedia stories are funded via crowdsourcing, relying on a passionate audience to defray production costs.

An engaged transmedia audience. Image source:

Now that we share a baseline understanding of what transmedia storytelling is, next we’ll consider some possible applications of it in the high school English classroom, of which I believe there are many. Join me next time for Part 2!

*One notable exception to the rule of adaptation is KalamaTea’s webseries All’s Fair Play, inspired by Shakespearean drama but not a direct interpretation of any one play.

Giving Feedback on Student Writing

Since I’m currently buried under a pile of student papers (true story), I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about what makes for effective teacher feedback on student writing. This is something I thought a lot about a few weeks ago as I graded my first set of essays. The below list of suggestions has been cobbled together from my own preferences, the

responding to student writers
Buy this book. No, really. You won’t regret it.

insights of my colleagues at NHS, and the fantastic book Responding to Student Writers (2012) by Nancy Sommers, a slim volume chock full of useful ideas.

When possible, write students letters. I know, I know. After just one set of essays, this is already feeling like an impossible dream to me. But I feel that students put a lot of time and energy into their compositions, and they deserve the same from us in response. I always loved when my teachers wrote me letters or notes in response to my writing — it felt so intimate. I’ve kept some of those notes to this day.

Read the entire paper before commenting. This one’s tough, too. It’s very tempting to mark a paper up as you read, but if you do, you run the risk of providing stream-of-consciousness commentary. You may ask for one thing that a student provides later in the paper, for example. This is not only a waste of your time, it’s not terribly helpful for students, either. It’s better to read a composition in its entirety and be able to respond to it more comprehensively.

Don’t use red pen. It sounds crazy, but it’s true: red pen is deeply associated with error correction in students’ minds. If you want to show your students you’re not just correcting their mistakes but rather, responding to their ideas, use something else to annotate, like a

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One of my letters to a student on a recent paper that I wrote in pencil. I pointed out both her individual strengths and what she can improve upon next time.

green pen. On my most recent set of papers, I intentionally used a pencil.

Avoid shorthand that may be mysterious to students. As English teachers, we take for granted certain proofreading symbols, like the ones here. As you provide feedback, it’s important to assess whether those symbols will actually mean anything to your students or whether they’ll be incomprehensible hieroglyphics. Or if you must use them for the sake

Hieroglyphics to students?

of convenience, be sure to review them with students in advance.

Read an entire class’s papers before giving any grades. This was a gem suggested to me by one of my colleagues in the History department at NHS. Reading all papers across a class before writing up feedback (and especially before grading) can give you a better sense of where your students collectively need to improve.

Be timely in turning work around. Again. I. Know. At this moment I need to be practicing what I preach. But I think that feedback provided too long after the original submission loses some of its impact. If it’s very long after the original submission, students may have a hard time remembering what they wrote and why they wrote it! My current goal for essays and other longer compositions is to turn them around in 1-2 weeks.

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A sample from our class-wide overview of strengths and areas for improvement on a recent paper. I make sure to pull in example work of students who do particular things well to serve as a model.

Review with students overall strengths and areas for improvement. Another gem, this time courtesy of my cooperating teacher Wendy Crofts. I noticed that after each piece of writing students turn in, she compiles a list of strengths and areas for improvement across all sections of the class to share with students. This strategy offers her an efficient way to provide targeted feedback that a majority of students need to hear without writing it 60 times on 60 different papers.

Provide an opportunity for students to revise. I’m a firm believer in writing as a process and process pedagogy (the topic of another blog post in the near future). If, after receiving an initial round of feedback, students want to revise for a better grade, I think that’s wonderful. After all, that’s what we in academia and in the working world do all the time when pursuing publication: revise and resubmit.

How do you handle the process of providing feedback on student writing?