Today, having studied the 1st 3 episodes of Inanimate Alice (though one of the children has viewed the 4th at home) we focused on summarising and characterisation: we made Wordles about ourselves and then about Alice. (And the praise they heaped on my wee story when we took a quick peek at it was very flattering. Suddenly they saw that it might be possible to become a published author!)
Laura Fleming quotes the novelist and teacher, Ralph Ellison, in a fascinating post. Ellison (whose book ‘Invisible Man’ was hugely influential in my study of American history years ago) once stated that ‘education is all a matter of building bridges’. He spoke about ‘the importance of crossing religious and cultural divides to build bridges of opportunity for all learners’.
This is as crucial today as it was in 1963.
Laura continues: ‘All too often children feel a disconnect with school’; and this is exacerbated when specific difficulties hinder fluent reading, comprehension and expression of understanding.
The Curriculum for Excellence approach (project-based learning, grounded in real-world problem-solving through investigations and explorations of learners’ own passions), enables them to create cohesive and fluid links between subject areas.
With Inanimate Alice it feels as if the kids are connecting learning with their own personal experiences more than they do when reading print. This is not a criticism of their dedicated teacehrs. The books they are given in school are chosen very carefully so that they are high interest level /low reading skill, of course. They access fact and fiction aurally (with text to speech software, peer or adult readers, audiobooks) whenever possible and have many other interventions in place to support literacy. They perform understanding in various ways to circumvent the barrier of print.
Their peers and teachers are, on the whole, tolerant of their requests for help in recalling instructions or identifying correctly the nature of the tasks; support in decoding and encoding those elusive symbols; helpful in keeping them on track and relatively organised. When they get tired from concentrating so hard, when their words and very thoughts get muddled, when the exertion of keeping up becomes unsustainable and they act out in frustration, then sometimes their companions react negatively; understandably.
However hard we all try, at times they still feel that they are failures.
One of the reasons why I became excited – and am becoming increasingly so –about using transmedia storytelling with learners with dyslexia is partly the obvious thrill for us all of doing something different that doesn’t reinforce their reading difficulties. Avoiding too much of the stuff that they are not good at, while developing critical thinking skills leads to higher levels of engagement. Higher order reading skills can be developed even when you struggle with print. All can learn to Make Predictions, Ask Questions, Make Comparisons, Look for Patterns, Make Pictures/ Visualise, Summarise and Evaluate: these are not dependent upon fluent decoding skills.
But the interaction the children have with Inanimate Alice is now ‘transmuting into a real desire to communicate. It is straddling the divide between the skills I want them to learn and the content in which they are interested’. We are building an environment (in the one short weekly hour we spend with Alice) to connect technologies, language, curricula demands and the world outside school. The children are beginning to believe that they can create and share their learning with other children, with their parents and teachers, and ultimately with the wider community.
Transmedia builds bridges that allow will our children to cross into their futures and hopefully empower and encourage them to create bridges of their own. (Laura Fleming)