Parallel Pedagogy: Make New Friends…But Keep The Old…

About Parallel Pedagogy …One is silver and the other’s gold. In Digital Literacies: Social Learning and Classroom Practices, Kevin Leander defines parallel pedagogy as “a way of describing how old and new literary practices, including print texts and visual texts, may be fruitfully taught side by side, rather than the ‘old’ being a precursor to the new or being replaced by it” (2009).

I decided to explore how to potentially use such parallel composing in the classroom for vocabulary instruction. Unfortunately, a lot of vocabulary instruction (presently and for many years) looks something like this book below…

Definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and complete the sentence…You would think that Vocabulary Workshop must be effective as many schools have been depending on this little orange book for decades. Well….WRONG! (probably, mostly…) Students memorize the words to get the grade they want on a quiz/test and then “dump” the knowledge! In other words, there is not continued application. So how can learning transfer more effectively occur in classrooms?

Wiggins and McTighe (2011) discuss that learning transfer is more likely when students are given multiple opportunities to apply their learning in meaningful (authentic) contexts or new situations (p. 4).  Using digital platforms is extremely authentic for Gen-Z. Furthermore, when the learner is able to understand underlying concepts and principles, transfer is much more likely to occur.  Wiggins and McTighe offer the flip side by examining that poor conditions for learning transfer include when knowledge is learned at the level of rote memory (p. 5) (i.e. memorizing words from an orange book) .  An example of proper transfer conditions would be using these new vocabulary words in multiple contexts and to continuously employ them throughout not only the semester, but also across grade levels.  Otherwise, students “dump” words that they have memorized as soon as the corresponding quiz has passed.  Wiggins & McTighe cite experiential learning as a method of avoiding memorization-only knowledge as it stimulates multiple senses in students and it is likely to be stored in long-term memories (p. 6). 

So while some of the activities in the orange book may be beneficial, for students to gain long-term transfer and to move beyond memorizing words just for an assessment, students must apply their learning to other contexts in the classroom and also to their lives. Many teachers are having students create vocabulary flashcards where they draw a picture depicting a word’s meaning (or they can paste on computer graphics). I decided to take that a step further and investigate using storyboards for vocabulary instruction. Enter Before I started making my own storyboard, I selected six commonly taught vocabulary words for ninth graders: absolve, escalate, mediate, alleviate, mortify, and pacify. The story that I wrote is about a student who gets his calendar dates mixed up and shows up to school dressed as a cowboy and utilizes/revolves around these words. In my model, all vocabulary words are underlined and in all caps to make them stand out for the student.

Panel #1 of my storyboard creation. Using the 9th grade vocabulary word- “Mortified.”
Panel #4 of my storyboard. Using vocabulary words- “Escalate” and “Pacify.”


About/Analysis of StoryboardThat:

StoryboardThat is relatively easy to use and the free option includes a large image library and flexible layouts. There are specialized versions available for the education, business, and film industries. Constraints Teachers get 2 weeks for free and then can choose to pay monthly or annually based on the number of students in their classroom.

Affordances The free version allows you to select from a number of Scenes, Characters, Textables, Shapes, Infographics, etc.. In my example, I mainly just used scenes (different school settings- music classroom, basketball court, hall with lockers, etc.), characters (can select adults, teens, jobs, sports, cultural, etc..), and textables (where I got the speech bubbles and a banner that I used in the final panel). With the characters, users can select a color for their hair, eyes, clothes, and shoes). There are also options to record audio and to comment on your own and other users’ creations. Users can run their storyboard as a slideshow presentation on the site, or download the individual panels and insert them into a program such as PowerPoint.

A blank storyboard with the image library and layout options listed across the top two menu bars.

StoryboardThat serves as a strong example of using parallel compositions in the classroom because it takes the traditional strategies of writing a sentence (print texts) and/or drawing a picture (visual text) using a vocabulary word and fuses them together with digital technology (animations). Students (especially those who love animation) will have a fun time creating their own characters and placing them in various situations that may either mirror their lives or implement some fantasy options (monsters and myths option). Because students/users are coming up with an original, continuous story across several panels, they are more likely to remember the words and their definitions beyond a quiz as they are using them in multiple contexts and are stimulating multiple senses. Furthermore, students can print, download, and share their storyboards with each other, permitting them to learn from each other as some may be using the words in contexts/situations that others had not considered.

Connection to Standards:

Using storyboards as a means of parallel pedagogy aligns with the following ELA/Georgia state standards for 9th and 10th grades:

  • ELAGSE9-10RI4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone.
  • ELAGSE9-10W3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • ELAGSE9-10W6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
My Suggestions: 
  • Have students plan out their storyboard on paper first (how they are going to use the necessary vocab words and what their story is going to be about) prior to creating it on the site (in the event that their work does not get saved/technology issues).
  • Be Flexible! While there are a lot of options available with the free version, there will be some characters/settings that are not possible. Adapt/overcome!
  • Permit Student Choice! Don’t confine students to StoryboardThat. Perhaps they know of another storyboard platform or another way to parallel compose that will better suit their preferences/learning/creative approaches and allow them to transfer their knowledge using the old and the new.
  • Have students share their storyboards with one another as this will allow them to question how might different people understand this message differently from me? (Bruce, p. 40).
  • Save Money!!! Be strategic and utilize StoryboardThat just a few months out of the year to either stay with the free version or just buy a few months of the pay version.
  • Users must sign-up for a free account with an email address and verify that address prior to saving their work. It would be best for teachers/students to go through this verification process prior to spending too much time on their creations to ensure that everything gets saved! If you do not push “save,” your work will be lost (constraint).
Questions for Teachers:
  • What types of assignments/activities have you used storyboards for in your classroom? Which have you found to be successful and which would you advise against?
  • When using parallel compositions, do you find that students tend to embrace/push for one (perhaps the contemporary/digital) over the other (traditional print)? (Potenital constraint to parallel pedagogy).
  • Have you experienced students having too much fun with storyboards (creating big characters and grand adventures) to the point that they miss the learning objectives? (Potential constraint).
  • How often would you employ storyboards for vocabulary instruction? Is it best to keep trying other forms of parallel pedagogy in order to connect with a variety of learners?


Bruce, D. (2012). Learning Video Grammar: A Multimodal Approach to Reading and Writing Video Texts. In Multimodal Composing in Classrooms: Learning and Teaching for the Digital World (pp. 32-42).

Leander, K. (2009). Composing with Old and New Media: Toward a Parallel Pedagogy. In Digital Literacies Social Learning and Classroom Practices (pp. 147-163). 

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2011) Understanding by Design, Modules A & B

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