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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.


Inanimate Alice – Afghanistan by Burak, Luke and Sahashra

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Wow! Watch this short episode of Inanimate Alice from Afghanistan, and weep.

Thanks to @katepullinger for the link.


TeachMeet Lothians11 Tuesday 7th June

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Why don’t you come to TeachMeet Lothians next Tuesday? Should be fun.

Two minute micropresentations

1. Fearghal Kelly: Education Futures : Scotland pedagoo.org

2. Kenny Pieper: Standing on Our Heads: What if we turned everything upside down?

3. Olivia Wexelstein: Using wix.com to Jazz up your Glow Groups


Seven minute presentations

1. Hilery Williams (@HileryWilliams): Digital Storytelling and learners with dyslexia

2. Elizabeth McGillivray: Creative Learning in Science

3. Jenna McBirnie (@jenna_v_mc): Children Reflecting on their Learning

4. Jackie Sangster: Scran for creative CfE

5. Alan Coady (@alancoady): Literacy, Numeracy & Games in Instrumental Lessons

6. Neil Winton (@nwinton): Wikis and Horribly Gruesome Dismemberment – How to engage the reluctant learner… or die trying!

Round Table Discussion Questions

Table 1: How can Scran help?

Table 2: How can we, in genuine dialogue with the learners, use a range of assessment approaches and draw on a wide range of evidence of progress?

Table 3: What does a creative classroom look like and to what extent has Curriculum for Excellence led to more creative classrooms?

 Table 4: What’s the future of handwriting and does it have one?

Table 5: Should Nursery/Early Years practice influence the Primary/Secondary context? If so, how?

Discussion on Transmedia Storytelling and New Media Literacies

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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)

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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.

Inanimate Alice and Me 5: Creating Episode 5


My first post about my project using Inanimate Alice with a group of P7 learners with dyslexia quoted the author:

Kate (Pullinger) described how her attention had been drawn to alerts to the publication online of episode 5, and not just one but several versions. ‘to have students taking a piece of writing by someone else and engaging with it in an entirely new way is a very exciting form of interactivity’.

And I went on to say:

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.

Well, at last we have begun our own storytelling venture. The children were keen to get started weeks ago but I held them back. I don’t often discourage children from writing but I felt we needed to have studied the components of the original episodes before embarking on creating our own. This is not least because these inexperienced writers require strong models and significant support. 

We have spent a good deal of time examining the first 4 episodes of Inanimate Alice and exploring the common elements in the story line and in the presentation.

I used a terrific article, ‘What do Good Writers Do?’ to help me focus on the work to be done. Good writers can

identify and articulate what makes a narrative. They also understand the structures and features of the narrative before using what they know about narratives to transfer to their own writing.

I had prepared cards illustrating the storyline and presentational aspects about Alice for reference to help them develop these crucial skills. The cards – laid out on the floor throughout the session – helped them to ‘consider all factors before and during the writing process: characters, setting, plot, main idea, length, audience’. Thus they were able to ‘use their prior knowledge of the text type and the topic to help them develop a text’.

We debated whether this would be a joint or individual venture but the decision was made for us when only one computer was available. Welcome to the real world. As it happened I felt this was a positive thing: the collaboration between the children ensured that the soppiness of the girls was countered by the violence of the boys. Apologies for being gender specific but you’ll get the point when you see the final version!

We resisted the temptation to find pictures and structure our tale around them as I had done when using Storybird. Rather than having a specific plan for our storyline to develop in a logical sequence we went with the flow. I guess if Philip Pullman can do it, so can we:

I don’t exactly choose [themes and storylines] so much as surrender to them. I couldn’t write at all if I had to choose, in a sort of cold-blooded way, between this idea and that one. If they both excite me, I’ll write about them both.

When I wrote Northern Lights I had a rough idea of where it was all going, and I knew a few things about some places I wanted to stop at on the way. I knew it had to end in a garden; I wanted to bring in the hornbeam trees in Oxford; I thought I might have to go to the world of the dead. That’s all. I discovered most of it as I went along.

However, as we’re not (yet) as experienced as Pullman, some scaffolding is important. This is why basing our story on Alice’s adventures is so useful for these children who have found writing so very challenging.

The children were bursting with ideas which, to my pleasure, centred firmly upon the story rather than the telling of it. I suggested they use Audacity to record their story as an alternative to written text but this suggestion was summarily dismissed.

In the end I haven’t given them the option of using Storybird or Glogster. (I had also considered trying  Scratch  but couldn’t get access at school.) I felt learning these tools would distract from the composition. So PowerPoint it is.

While the children had refused any offers from me to read the text of the earlier episodes, they were content for me to scribe.

We ended yesterday’s session with a story that contained many of the elements embedded in Inanimate Alice but which was unique.

Next week, all being well, they will fill out the bare bones of the story with images, sounds and (possibly) music.  They will also put their own individual stamp on that skeleton.

Many young writers find being aware of an audience hard, especially those who do not read a great amount. I will encourage them to ‘use descriptions, details and language to help the reader visualize and make connections to the setting of the narrative’. I hope to ensure they ‘plant seeds throughout a story for characters and the plot to develop for the reader to keep interested and want to read on’.

The aim is to present their story to the whole class in a fortnight.

The motivation’s there; let’s hope there is enough time.

Inanimate Alice and Me 4: New Media Literacies

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Thanks to http://www.freerangedesigns.co.uk for the picture of the Storytelling Chair.

I really want one.

Henry Jenkins  on New Media Literacies proposes a set of new media skills, including Play, Performance, Simulation, Collective Intelligence, Visualisation, Transmedia Navigation. I shall use these ideas to think about how I help my students to go about creating their own digital stories.

This week the P7’s andI  focused on ‘Transmedia Navigation’: the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.

We are beginning to identify narrative elements that are common to and also divergent from books and digital stories. The overwhelming sense, unsurprisingly for these learners with significant literacy difficulties, is that ‘books are boring’ and that this form of accessing story is ‘cool’ and ‘magic’. At present they perceive working with Inanimate Alice as ‘much easier’: we are still in the first flush of enthusiasm where content rather than decoding is emphasised. They haven’t realised that this way of storytelling can also be challenging; that it just requires a different set of skills.

This might all change over the next couple of weeks when we delve into the convergence of text, sound, image to create our own story. We need to be careful not to get so carried away by the production that the fundamental elements of telling a good story are lost.

The story must be engaging, with a beginning, a muddle and an end. It must be told with as much detail as to make it coherent without becoming impenetrable. The story needs to flow, and sound and images must reflect, enhance or stand alone to move the story on. Adding gizmos because it’s possible will be very tempting, I’m sure and we may have to accept that less is more. We will have to ensure that we carefully consider what is an appropriate and engaging medium for each part of the story and eliminate extraneous extras which might detract from the whole tale.

First and foremost, we need constantly to be aware of our audience and ensure that the story has a clear purpose and narrative.

I also have to be conscious of balancing the necessity of learning how to use the tools with the demand for a compelling tale. The Tale is the thing!

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