A group of 11 year olds and I have started learning with Inanimate Alice. We are applying what we know about being a good reader to this multi-modal text in an attempt to extend our understanding of what we mean by literacy in the 21st century.

All the children struggle with the basics of decoding text, with equivalent reading ages at least 3 years below their chronological ages. On the whole their understanding and receptive vocabularies are on a par with others in their class when the barrier of print is removed. They are learners with dyslexia.

All believe that they ‘cannae read’ (and still less write and spell) although most valiantly make every effort to learn most of the time.

One of the characteristics of good readers is that they read for different purposes. Having a purpose is crucial for developing reading stamina, comprehension and for identifying key concepts.

We are finding IA so engrossing that there is no need to provide any other incentive. The children are actively engaged in investigating the text.

They are also learning that they can use tools to hold on to their thinking so they can return to it later. Memory overload is a major difficulty for learners with dyslexia and panic often sets in if they are expected to decode and recall content at the same time. IA allows them to revisit parts of the story – for clarification, for reinforcement – with ease.

This is especially important for these readers as, at times, the text hurtles across the screen and disappears before they have had time to process it. They are finding out that there is no shame in re-reading something – and that in fact good readers frequently examine the text closely and often before drawing conclusions. Because this is a multi-modal text they feel more liberated to move between pages and to express bewilderment than with a conventional book.

This group of learners is beginning to understand that, if they don’t make sense of the text at first, it’s okay to look again; it’s okay to change reading pace, to be puzzled. Deploying strategies to support comprehension is a novel notion. They are beginning to understand that this is something that everybody does – in particular those people who appear to be more able than them. They don’t yet really believe that ‘even’ experienced readers get stuck or that when they do, they use different techniques to unstick themselves.

So, they are making connections between the story and their own lives, games they’ve played and, less frequently, books they have read. (When reading ‘contamination’ J suddenly realised that he could decode this long word by segmenting it – putting all those years of phonological awareness training into practice.)

We are practising making predictions with a view to creating an episode of our own and this involves asking questions of ourselves and each other as well as of the text itself. Gradually we are noticing more and more about  the writer’s craft; how the text is structured; considering why, for example, music plays in some scenes and not others, what activates the electronic sound and what effect this has upon our understanding (and nerves!).

We have done little as yet to record our experience of reading Inanimate Alice apart from plenary video clips from the first session and my jotted notes. However, the children are keen to start producing their own story and will hopefully make and extend connections while undertaking this process.

There can be no doubt that this is real literacy with which we are engaged.

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