The power of transmedia storytelling

The power of transmedia storytellingaka The Bear Trap Story

When was the last time you saw your district superintendent leap over a bear trap?

No, school board meetings don’t count; that’s standard and part of the price of admission. But last week, 3rd grade students at Richmond Elementary School got to see Chittenden East Supervisory Union superintendent John Alberghini (that’s him over there in the tweet to the left), along with his sisters Debbie and Gina, brave an old and rusty bear trap left in the woods.

Now, I wasn’t there for the storytelling, but thanks to Tonya Darby’s tweet, I was alerted to what I think we can all agree were some epic shenanigans in the name of learning.

Then came the podcast.

Richmond Elementary School principal Michael Berry produces the RESVT podcast, (it’s really good, you should follow it) and the afternoon after Ms. Darby posted her tweet, episode #5 came out, in which listeners were treated to a snippet of the bear trap story along with an interview with Superintendent Alberghini.

Now, when I say snippet, I mean: Principal Berry left off the ending.

Boo, ending

The most important part! And it didn’t make the broadcast! So I did what any good netizen would do in these circumstances, and I left a comment expressing my enthusiasm for the rest of the story.

Okay, the exact comment was: “Boo, ending. Where is the video? :)”

Go listen to the episode, it’s 8 minutes long, it’s worth it, and it’s integral to the point I’m trying to make here.

What makes a compelling story?

I know what you’re all thinking: you’ve met your superintendents, and you know that, generally, they don’t have time to leap over bear traps in classrooms. But in this case, Superintendent Alberghini was using his story to illustrate storytelling methods to the 3rd grade class. Specifically:

About to embark on a writing journey for the year, RES scholars were treated to the power of great storytelling elements as seen through the spirited sharing of Mr. Alberghini. –Principal Berry

If you’re an educator who teaches storytelling and literacy, what are you noticing about how this particular story unfolded? Here’s what I noticed:

  1. The photo attached to Ms. Darby’s tweet caught my eye, and the description made me want to know more about what was happening in the photo.
  2. The podcast is constructed like this: live action story snippet / interview with narrator / live action story snippet; in effect, Principal Berry told a different but related story: the storyteller’s story about storytelling. There’s a lot about Superintendent Alberghini’s story that is visual — he demonstrates who leapt and how high, and who egged him on, ran away, etc, but the balance between spirited audio snippets from that performance with the storyteller’s own voice makes for a really compelling audio story.
  3. Leaving off the ending could have had two effects: one, revolt (i.e. me in the comments demanding the ending) or two, additional engagement, because after listening to the podcast I was super-excited to watch the video of the whole performance, and possibly got on twitter and did a little dance about it.

The power of transmedia storytelling is that there’s a way into the story for everyone

Most importantly, this shows how one school is:

  • making their learning transparent; Superintendent Alberghini was in the classroom to demonstrate elements of storytelling to the students;
  • integrating social media and multimedia pathways to produce and distribute compelling examples of the quality of activities in their classrooms.

Last but not least:

Superintendent Alberghini’s Bear Trap Story

The entire thing, in video form. Thank you to Principal Berry and Chittenden East Supervisory Union for sharing.



Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

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