Improving Divergent Thinking Through Digital Storytelling

Updated: Jul 1


Who are you? What do you have to say? Dr. Toni Bailey’s program Improving Divergent Thinking Through Digital Storytelling encourages students to tell their stories, and the stories around them, through photography.

Award Winner: Toni Bailey

Winner Cohort: 2016

Project Title: Improving Divergent Thinking Through Digital Storytelling

Student reach as of 2018: 30


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Who are you? What do you have to say? Dr. Toni Bailey’s program Improving Divergent Thinking Through Digital Storytelling encourages students to tell their stories, and the stories around them, through photography.


As a doctoral student at Mercer University, Bailey found that her studies “opened her eyes to the essential things that children should get out of a school – more than a book sense. There are more intelligences.” This new understanding of students’ multiple intelligences inspired Bailey’s project, Improving Divergent Thinking Through Digital Storytelling. Divergent Thinking is the ability to think through problems using a variety of perspectives. Through purposeful classroom conversations and lessons, students are able to better understand others’ perspectives as well as their own sense of identity, while developing key problem solving skills.


Bailey didn’t have to look very far to see that by failing to equip students with the ability to understand themselves, and the skills to work through problems, you fail to meet the needs of students. One of Bailey’s sixth grade star art students could not keep up in her other classes. Bailey struggled to understand how a student so gifted artistically was repeatedly in trouble with her colleagues and the school administration. Bailey felt that this student had a story to tell and telling that story could, potentially, help her succeed. However, before Bailey could act on her beliefs, the student was expelled. Filled with passion to help her students that were full of potential, but not able to engage in a traditional school model, Bailey set her project in motion.


To get her photography project off the ground, Bailey needed to find funding for the thirty or so cameras. In 2016 Bailey was awarded The Teach On Project grant, and her project took off. Though some students had their own cameras to produce their projects, with her TOP project stipend she was able to purchase equipment for those students who were without a household camera. Now all of her students are able to record and analyze their lives and culture outside of the classroom.


The project asks that each student take fifty photos that answer the following questions: Who are you? What is your story? What makes you, you? Bailey also challenges her students to consider a social problem around them and to also find a solution to that problem. Through project implementation, she provokes and encourages her students to critique and analyze everything going on around them. And it works. As Bailey shared:


“The Social Consciousness Awareness Scale was given to the students before and after the commencement of the study. The data from the scale indicated that students became more aware of social issues that directly impacted their lives, their role in them, and the need for them to become advocates of change through acknowledging the roles tolerance and individual value play in societal justice.”

Now several years in, Bailey continues to ask herself, “what can I do to help the same marginalized students overcome adversity?” As she grows more comfortable with her project experience, she has found herself engaging her colleagues in discussions around critical social issues and how they intersect with the role of education. Bailey believes that each teacher “has to be socially conscious of what you’re doing.” Through the help of The Teach On Project, Bailey continues to challenge those around her as she challenges her students to do the same.


Teach On Project

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