1 Comment

Thanks to @nwinton for the photo.

Here is my talk on Digital Storytelling and Dyslexia that I gave at TeachMeetLothians11 last night and here’s a wee summary for those of us who can’t bear audio files (me!):

I talked about the false dichotomy between the purists who regard anything but print as being beyond the pale to the techno-zealots who declare that print is dead. This debate is only useful if it challenges assumptions and makes us think about literacy now.

I quoted extensively from Bill Boyd  here when I said that the ability to read in itself is meaningless as it begs the question, ‘The ability to read what?’. The ability to read and the ability to access texts in all their forms are not mutually exclusive.

My thesis was a familiar one – at least to this audience: we must teach children to thrive in this century rather than preparing for the last. The need for creative and critical thinkers is never more desperate – and it is learners with dyslexia who are often able to think laterally beyond the confines of the conventional. That’s why I like them!

I talked about membership of the ‘Literacy Club’: membership of which in the past was dependent on children’s ability to move through a set of hierarchical skills – something that learners with dyslexia find hard. Reading is a life long endeavour which develops in confidence and competence the more it is practised across increasingly more diverse and difficult texts. The children I teach have often failed spectacularly at traditional reading but  flourish with the broader range of texts we are urged to use in Curriculm for Excellence.

I went on to talk about digital storytelling, Inanimate Alice in particular; reprising some of my thoughts already posted on this blog (all in 7 minutes!).

I finished with the wonderful quotation from Thomas West and make no apology quoting once more:

We should encourage diversity,

  • not only to be civil,
  • not only to be respectful,
  • not only to be humane,
  • not only to be just,

 but also because we have  a particular stake in diversity.

We want there to be people who have

  • abilities that we have not ever tried to measure because we didn’t know that we needed them,
  • abilities that may be in no way associated with the abilities and talents that we now measure by formal or informal means,
  • abilities we don’t yet know we need.


 TM was at the Scottish Book Trust’s headquarters on the Royal Mile. What a beautiful venue! And thanks to Fearghal and the team for organising such an invigorating event.


Discussion on Transmedia Storytelling and New Media Literacies

1 Comment

It’s a while since I wrote about my experiences with the digtial story, Inanimate Alice. I plan to post the episodes that my wee group have made but they won’t let me till they are ‘finished’ I keep saying that they don’t have to be perfect, but they are insistent. I’ve grabbed some more time with them although we are meant to be working on transtion to high school. Hey ho.

Here, Laura Fleming highlights some of the ‘outstanding points’ made in a discussion thread on the use of transmedia storytelling techniques within education which featured members of the Inanimate Alice team.

Do take a look.

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”(Saturo)

1 Comment

We are moving rapidly from an age in which the tendency to treat individual texts as discrete, closed-off entities is over. We are learning to ‘delimit’ boundaries between what is to be included and what excluded. To illustrate the notion of intertextuality, Kristeva (Kristeva) refers to 2 axes: the horizontal connecting the author and the reader and the vertical which connects the text to other texts. Uniting these 2 axes are shared codes: ‘every text is from the outset under the jurisdiction of other discourses which impose a universe on it’.

Intertextuality refers to far more than the ‘influences’ of writers on each other. Traditional notions of authorship encompass originality, creativity, individual expression. However, language is a system which was there before the individual speaker so that when writers write they are also ‘written’ in the sense of being interpreted. To communicate we must deploy existing concepts and conventions. Consequently, whilst our intention to communicate and what we intend to communicate are both important to us as individuals, meaning cannot be reduced to authorial ‘intention’.

A text is… a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations… The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them. (Barthes 1977, 146)

Reading and writing are not neutral acts.

Now I have studied neither English literature, nor philosophy and I think I have reached the limits of my ability to discuss linguistics and semiotics. But this is relevant as it helps me to edge towards an understanding of the way that digital technologies are altering the ways we read.

Good pedagogy allows the learner to act first and attempt to make sense later. So it is with my trial of the ‘born digital’ story, Inanimate Alice. I’ve had a shot and am now beginning to grasp more about how the reading experience of my grandchildren will differ (is already differing) so greatly from my own: I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn’ (Robert Frost).

I mentioned here the possibility of the screen watching us, adjusting to our perceived needs. Kevin Kelly, from whom I’ve gleaned much for this post,  describes the next generation of e-books thus:

Eventually e-ink paper will be manufactured in inexpensive flexible sheets. A hundred or so sheets can be bound into a sheaf, given a spine and wrapped with two handsome covers. Now the e-book looks very much like a book of old. One can physically turn its pages, navigate the book in 3D, and go back to an earlier place in the book by guessing where the spot was in the stack. To change the book, just tap its spine. Now the same pages show a different tome. Since using a 3D book is so sensual, it might be worth purchasing a very fine one with the most satin, thinnest sheets.

Fascinating though it is to dwell on the various containers that are likely to hold stories this is not at the heart of the changes that are happening. The article continues:

Such flexibility recalls the long expected, but never realized, dream of forking stories. Books that have multiple endings, or alternative storylines. .. there’s no reason images in digital books must remain static

or, I may add, singular. Kelly cites Wikipedia as a prime example of ‘the first networked book’, one that is ‘not only socially read, but socially written’.

The ‘deeply collaborative nature’ of scientific research has always led to joint publications, but Kelly is unsure whether fiction with its ‘self-contained story, unified narrative and closed argument’ will be constructed in a similar way: ‘ the central core of most books will probably continue to be authored by a lone author’.

Interestingly there are some writers who are breaking the mould, one of whom happens to be my son. He and a collaborator, Natasha Soobramanien, have,

recently begun work on a joint novel-length project. This will tell the story of the Chagossian islanders and their illegal expulsion from the Chagos archipelago in the 1960s at the hands of the British government, in order to expedite the leasing of the largest island, Diego Garcia, to the US government for use as a military base. …

This will be a ‘hybrid work’ which uses a variety of documents and texts both fiction and non-fiction.

Luke continues:

Apart from the Italian collective who write as Luther Blissett, I don’t know of other writers currently working this way. Collaborative practice seems to be more common in contemporary art practice.

Interesting times.

Another Animated Alice

Leave a comment

What an energetic and intelligent depiction of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s an iPad app. We are informed that we can, tilt our

iPad to make Alice grow big as a house, or shrink to just six inches tall. This is Alice in Wonderland digitally remastered for the iPad. Play with the White Rabbit’s pocket watch – it realistically swings and bounces. Help Alice swim through a Pool of Tears. Or hand out sweets that bounce and collide with the magical talking Dodo. This wonderful lite [sic, in more ways than one] edition is the first instalment of Alice’s journey and includes an amazing selection of animated scenes. Watch as full screen physics modelling bring the classic illustrations to life.

One commentator was impressed as ‘you don’t even have to read’. But let’s not go there.

As a game it looks intriguing; as a rapid summary of a part of a story in an exciting alternative format it looks great. It’s the sort of stimulus you could show to a group of learners as a model for them to practise analysing, synthesising and evaluating knowledge and understanding of a text.


Episode 5 of Inanimate Alice on Storybird

1 Comment

I made my own wee story on the terrific free storytelling site, Storybird, to show my Inanimate Alice group tomorrow.

I used the free pictures under the tab, Alone, to write the story so I can’t claim it to be a very imaginative work of great literary merit. All the work was done by the artist, Nidhi Chanani.

And there’s little ‘multi -media’ about it either: just a story book that happens to be online. However, I think it may be a useful starter for the kids to contemplate more realistically the scary process of beginning to write. We shall, of course look at other episodes created across the world to help us on our way.

My ambition to support the creation of a multi-modal text may be too much at this stage. I think we will have to accept that publishing a story such as this one is okay.  Adding speech, music, video can be another project.

Oh that blasted Mindset that demands perfection!

And I’ve had a day off with a sore head. So I’ll go and relax now.

Inanimate Alice and Me 2: What makes a good reader?


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.

Inanimate Alice and Me 1: New notions of authorship


The act of writing is an act of optimism. You would not take the trouble to do it if you felt it didn’t matter. Edward Albee

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to hear Kate Pullinger speak on the theme, Digital Literacy: Keeping it Real! Kate is the author of the digital fiction story, Inanimate Alice, along with other very interesting projects. Inanimate Alice tells a story through sound, text, image and video and gaming components which become increasingly important as it develops.

I was somewhat mortified when I was introduced to her as the teacher who had so loathed her first experience of Alice! She was very charming about this however, especially once I had explained that my initial reaction was being tempered by further investigation and a commitment to trying digital storytelling with some of my students.

Kate described how her attention had been drawn to alerts to the publication online of episode 5, and not just one but several versions. ‘Which was interesting. Because I am the author of Inanimate Alice and I’d only produced 4 episodes … For me this was a really big moment: to have students (in the US) taking a piece of writing by someone else and engaging with it in an entirely new way is a very exciting form of interactivity’.

The notion of text is evolving. We need to think again about what we understand by ‘literacy’ and the way that we read and interact with text and stories. ‘The children are redefining ideas of what authorship means, who owns the text, who is allowed to tell stories’. There are real opportunities for learning in delving into the digital realm to motivate and inspire youngsters, particularly perhaps those who have traditionally considered that storytelling is not for them.

Enabling students to create their own content as opposed to pushing it on them and creating these standards-driven story-worlds is the key to learning in the 21st Century. Inanimate Alice forces us to pay attention and change the way education is conceived. As Ian Harper states, “The kids get it, even if you don’t.”

I began working with a group of 11 year old learners with dyslexia once a week for an hour in their writing time in mid-January. After 3 weeks of our project the impressions the children have of Inanimate Alice are changing. At first they were wary of the whole concept, although prepared to indulge me when I explained I had recruited them to help me learn about this new form of storytelling. Children with learning difficulties notoriously fear the new; expect to find learnng hard; prefer to stick with what they know rather than try something new in case they fail even further.

However, they seemed pleased to take responsibility for reviewing this new form of text.

Initial negative reactions to the speed and ‘blurriness’ of the text as it appears and disappears have become less dominant as they realise that they can review whenever they want. This is important for these children whose decoding skills are considerably slower than others of their age. It is interesting to note that they decline all offers from me to read it to them: they are determined to read for themselves although they are prepared to allow me to scribe their thoughts.

The initial focus was on the story itself and the puzzles they encountered in episodes 1 and 2. Once they had ‘read’ each a couple of times – each at her or his own pace – we discussed the ‘digital’ aspects of the content. They appreciate that the music reflects the country where Alice lives and how it alters the mood. On the whole they like the video clips as they ‘give you more detail about the situation’. One boy is ambivalent about the benefits of ‘moving pictures’ as he feels too much visual information detracts from his ability to imagine for himself what is happening.

They like the puzzles on the ba-xi best, not least because ‘it’s not all about reading and that makes it more fun’. The reaction to the sounds, however, varies from ‘it’s a bit nippy’ to ‘it made me want to rip my ears off’. The most disliked element at this stage, apart from the electronic noise, is the rapidity with which the text disappears from the screen at times and the way that it flashes.  Learners with dyslexia often become visually stressed, especially when looking at strong contrasts. Inanimate Alice has white text on black background and thus is not particularly dyslexia friendly.

At the end of week 3 they are noticing common elements in the episodes, both in terms of the story itself and of the devices used to tell it. They are very keen to get on with writing their own episodes.

In our last session before the holiday, we read reactions from older students from ‘Just Another Teacher Rambling’s’ blog. This galvanised them into increased focus on the differences between traditional books and this digital story. They were delighted to discover that students a few years older are also investigating Inanimate Alice and clearly feel the whole project is becoming worthwhile in itself not just because of my whim.

Tomorrow we will explore in more detail the differences between print and digital texts.

I’ll report back.