Revisiting GIFs: My Attempt at a Critical Shift


I have no idea why, but I love this GIF. A moving picture says a thousand words, right?!

One particular assignment for my digital literacies course this summer was to make a professional development (PD) session for fellow teachers. We were at one time given permission to complete just a lesson plan, but I’ve created several of those throughout the years. With me taking on a teacher-leadership role this fall, I desperately need practice developing relevant materials for the teachers who I’ll be collaborating with in just a few short weeks! The catch–so to speak–was we were required to generate a critical shift for our participants. If you read my last post, you’ll realize this is no small task. It’s a worthy challenge, and it’s one I felt like I really only met about halfway. (I’ll explain soon.) Maybe I just couldn’t help myself, but I decided the mode of digital literacy I just had to explore in my PD was GIFs! You can click here to go back to when I was first wrestling with the idea of GIFs in the ELA classroom if you’d like.

I have to preface the rest of this post with my admission that I’m a little obsessed with GIFs at the moment. Originally, my thoughts hinged on using GIFs as a personal instructional tool as yet another medium to some how impart knowledge on my students. Since the spring though, I’ve started to see GIFs very differently. I see new potential in them to be powerful storytelling devices as well as a whole new way of challenging assumptions in those stories. The dynamic nature of a GIF takes the study of a still image to a different level. But my goal, if I were to use GIFs with my students, wouldn’t be to simply have them analyze a moving, looping image. Rather, I’m interested in how we can tell dynamic stories that challenge our notions of one another or of the world as we perceive it. What I learned during my presentation of my PD last week to fellow doc students and a few master’s students is that even that is really not enough. So what if you get a teacher or student to suddenly question an assumption he or she carries around like boulder in the classroom? What happens next? What shift has really occurred? That’s what I’m wrestling with as I reflect on my PD.

Beaker1_280The inspiration for my PD really came from a middle school teacher in Canada, Mr. Andrew Forgrave. He posted on his blog about GIF storytelling. He took a series of short clips of Beaker from the Muppets and broke up the action of Beaker getting electrocuted over the course of six difference frames like a comic book. (Click his name above to see his creation.) Seeing what he’d done inspired me almost immediately to consider GIFs as a great avenue for storytelling. But, as was pointed out by my professor, simply using GIFs to tell a story doesn’t produce a critical shift. Nonetheless, I trudged on in the design of my PD.

I finally landed on the idea of using a single frame of a GIF story to study the assumptions an audience would take into the context of that single GIF and how that then changes as you add new GIFs (or frames) and especially if we suddenly privilege text with those GIFs as well. This went well I think. The dialog that occurred between myself and my participants was dynamic and often times rhizomatic, filling unforeseen gaps in what and how a GIF can explore both storytelling and assumptions. The big shift was supposed to happen at the end of the PD during a debrief. I was also warned about how debriefs are often times simply glossed over due to time and no impact can really be made. This warning came true in my PD’s case as well. I had forty-five minutes which quickly became only ten minutes by the time we had wrapped up our engaging dialog. Those ten minutes were dedicated to allowing participants to develop their own GIF stories that were to be tailored to an aspect of who they are, how they see themselves, or see the world. If time had allowed, the debriefing would have focused on these questions about each other’s stories:

What assumptions were being made by the interpretive community when looking over the GIF stories?

What assumptions were being made by the author when creating and presenting his or her story?

What was misrepresented, omitted, or hindered by this genre of storytelling? Where did the author’s intent and interpretive community clash and possibly cause misunderstanding?

What kind of conversations might this genre of storytelling open up for your students?  

See! Solid critical questions if you ask me; but alas, I would need a whole hour or even a day-two in order to make it really work. That’s why I say my impact only met half my expectation. Great dialog/discussion, solid breakdown of GIF storytelling and assumptions in context, but unfortunately not enough time to allow personal stories to be deconstructed to understand personal assumptions and implications for the classroom. I was close though!

I’ll end this rather long post by sharing a few great GIF stories my participants created. Interestingly enough–and this probably says a lot about English teachers–only one participant choose to use only images to tell her story. Everyone else felt the impulse (need?) to use words as well. Enjoy and feel free to comment!

*Note: each will pop up as a Google presentation
My Creative Process

It’s Almost Graduation

Embarrassing Thing

Kanye & Kim


2 thoughts on “Revisiting GIFs: My Attempt at a Critical Shift

    • You’re welcome. I appreciated you all being such great participants. I certainly learned a few new ins and outs of PD. While this was fun, I’m not sure there is much impact when you only have an hour.

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