The Future of the Book


The Future of the Book. (from IDEO on Vimeo).

Here is a thought provoking video – sorry I am defeated once more and can’t embed it.

Thanks to Ollie Bray for the  link.

I was particularly interested in the section of this video about ‘Alice’ as there has been some discussion of ‘Inanimate Alice’ here and here.

Bill Boyd describes ‘Alice’ (I assume it’s the same thing) as

a genuinely new concept in reading which combines elements of the written word, digital still photography, moving image, drawing, painting, puzzles, music, sound effects and elements of computer gaming. Unlike a computer game, however, it does have the linear progression of a book, and the reader ‘turns the page’ when he or she is ready to move on.

He quotes a teacher who thought it

so wonderful seeing some of my most challenging students and struggling readers completely engaged with this text.

I am sure that for those ‘developing their transliteracy skills’ it is a great resource. And I couldn’t agree with Bill more when he writes that if young people are to be considered literate,

we have a responsibility to equip them with the critical skill necessary for them to be able to interpret and create the kinds of narratives with which they will be surrounded.

I’m just a bit concerned about thowing the baby out.

I am trying to stop myself from ranting so will leave this here and post another time!


Stumbling over the .. Truth

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 Photo from Times Online

 Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.  Winston Churchill

The 2 year old in my extended family has progressed, with the development of an increasingly sophisticated vocabulary and understanding, from merely biffing her older sister to blaming her for all sorts of misdemeanours (at times with some justification). Yesterday while alone for a moment she fell off the sofa. When asked the source of her distress, she said ‘Leila did it.’  And where was Leila? At school. Totally innocent.

I frequently astonish young people by declaring that it’s okay to lie – when we’re using our imaginations at least. After all, the most exciting and engaging stories are fabrications. The most interesting people can create different worlds, envisage alternative solutions to problems – and be aware of this ability and when it is appropriate to deploy it.

Of course, a moral stance is an imperative. One important task for society, particularly for parents, is to turn babies into civilized beings — social creatures who can experience empathy, guilt and shame; who can override selfish impulses in the name of higher principles; and who will respond with outrage to unfairness and injustice. People who know the difference between fact and fantasy, integrity and falsehood.

As Bertrand Russell wrote: ‘If we were all given by magic the power to read each other’s thoughts, I suppose the first effect would be to dissolve all friendships’. It is not only children who lie.

The ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast-developing brain. A team of Canadian academics have found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick-witted they will be in later years and the better their ability to think on their feet.

Lying involves multiple brain processes, such as integrating sources of information and manipulating the data to their advantage. It is linked to the development of brain regions that allow executive functioning and use higher order thinking and reasoning.

Dr Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, and his team tested 1,200 children aged two to 16 years old. They found at the age of two, 20 per cent of children will lie. This rises to 50 per cent by three and almost 90 per cent at four. The most deceitful age, they discovered, was 12, when almost every child tells lies.
These researchers say there is no link between telling fibs in childhood and any tendency to cheat in exams or to become a fraudster later in life.

‘Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib,’ said Dr Lee. ‘Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks’.

 Dr Lee continues: ‘They may make bankers in later life.’ Well that’s another story of course. You have to wonder if that is the same kind of ‘executive functioning’ that got all the big banks and subprime homeowners into trouble and is threatening to implode the whole economy.

 I shall watch our little one with care!

Games based learning for little ones

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Like it or not, there is now a significant – and perhaps widening – gap between what children do in school, and what they do in their leisure time. There is a considerable danger that this new digital divide will cause even more young people to lose the will to learn in the formal setting of school. Until such time as we truly have a ‘classroom without walls’, then we need to address this mismatch.

Despite massive investment in technology in schools, and despite the far-reaching enthusiasm that has accompanied it, much of what takes place in education has remained relatively untouched by technology. Yet outside school, children are living increasingly media-saturated childhoods. It seems that beyond doing functional tasks for homework, very few children are using technology for anything that much resembles school learning. We have a responsibility to address what happens in the lives of our students before and after school. This is not to say that we must pander to their demands for instant and constant entertainment. ’Formal’ learning which encompasses hard work, practice and sometimes doing things even if you can’t understand the potential benefit is always going to be necessary if we want our children to become independent and autonomous.

One way to fulfil our responsibilities is to encourage young learners to use, analyse and critique games. Computer games are not simply neutral means of delivering information, and we should not use them in a merely functional or instrumental way. What is needed is a coherent and rigorous conception of ‘digital literacy’- in other words, of what children need to know about these media. Investigating media in schools can provide a challenging, rigorous and engaging perspective on technology. Media education can offer a way of connecting in-school uses of technology with out-of-school, popular culture – in a critical way.

Ollie Bray’s reflections on a Games Based Learning Conference, especially one which promoted ‘the power of narrative and the importance of story telling in education’  has made me wonder at what point do we introduce the whole notion of media education. It is too late, surely, if we leave it until high school.

Ollie includes a long but fascinating video of the designer of ‘The Land of Me ‘, an interactive game for children aged 2 and up. James Huggins’ world illustrates ‘why stories and open ended imagination are so important within a modern education system’.

I approached this with some trepidation. I am, after all, one of those ‘old grandmothers’ James mentions, sitting with little ones on her knee reading endless stories! I believe many small children spend too much time in front of a screen and not enough time interacting with people, although I don’t think anyone could question my commitment to the use of digital technologies where ever appropriate.

Whether or not to use digital technologies as yet another electronic baby-sitter for pre-schoolers (and this happens) is the decision of parents of course. It is well documented that many children arrive in early years settings with a tragic paucity of language experience which is often exacerbated by the ubiquitous screen. It would be a shame if this software were deployed to keep them quiet.

However, having seen this video and looked at the site (still in construction), I am on my way to being converted. If used in the way James envisages, then it seems to be a lovely tool to help youngsters to make the transition from situational to symbolic learning which is so hard for some. (as well as a fun experience in its own right). The emphasis on interaction and physical play and activity away from, but related to, the story on screen is very welcome. It encourages the fearlessness to explore, create and communicate that is such a wonderful characteristic of pre-school children.

That the ‘Land of Me’ is a terrific vehicle for creativity, collaboration and communication I have no doubt – when used in the way that is intended with a progression from the computer to the context of the real world.

I am passionate about the power of story to enable us all to lead fuller, richer lives and am looking forward to trying this out with the 6 and 2 year old in my life.



‘Reading was just something that came to me’



One of my best beloved books (and certainly my favourite film) is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I identify with Scout, aged 5, who horrifies her infant teacher with her precocious ability to read anything in sight:

As I read the alphabet a faint line appeared between her eyebrows and after making me read most of the My First Reader and the stock market quotations aloud, she discovered that I was literate. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me anymore, it would interfere with my reading. I never deliberately learned to read… Reading was just something that came to me… Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

I declared, aged 6 or so, to my head teacher that I had read all the books in the infant school. Where my school friends saw notches of ink on incomprehensible pages, I saw light, life, people. That was why I seemed distracted in reading lessons: I was always several pages ahead of the others reading laboriously aloud. On many occasions I had to be recalled to the here and now in order to take my turn.

Luckily Miss Bennett sympathised and managed to purloin some more challenging readers from the junior school. These did not enchant me as thoroughly as did the Narnia books or offer me friendships with characters as entertaining and complex as Alice, Anne (of Green Gables), Heidi or Pippi Longstocking, or even as fiercesome and ‘other’ as the boys stranded on Coral Island, Laura in her house on the prairie or the Family from One End Street. They did keep me semi-satisfied until I could return to my library books.

Words, stories, fascinated me, and I saw in them a key with which I could unlock a boundless world and safe haven.

Although I am becoming fonder of my e-reader this is largely because of its convenience. The greater the proliferation of electronic solutions to the problem of locating sufficient words to inhale, the more I seem to need the real thing.

I don’t think I am alone in feeling deeply romantic about books. I not only want to handle the books themselves – weigh them, smell them – I revel in the sense of cultural exchange while I’m doing it. If the context is right, then book buying delivers retail therapy like no other. We’re not just buying words and paper after all, we’re buying little pieces of humanity wrapped up in book form. That intimate experience often develops into a desire to discuss a book with other aficionados.

Fables teach us that we can absorb ideas and concepts through narrative, through stories, not through lessons or theoretical speeches. Characters must confront life and overcome obstacles; they are figures setting off on a journey of enrichment through exploits and revelations.

Everything is a tale. What we believe, what we know, what we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content.

We only accept as true what can be narrated.

Stories are the currency of human contact. R McKee


I was startled to have my pre-conceptions about the importance of narrative as a teaching tool challenged by a re-reading of Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed‘. Here Freire states that ‘Education is suffering from narration sickness’.

I have long believed that the most effective teachers are those who can tell a good story. Embedding complex ideas and concepts into a narrative framework enables youngsters to contextualise and move from situated to symbolic learning.

Everything is a tale: what we believe, what we know, what we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.

Fables teach us that human beings can absorb ideas and concepts through narrative, through stories, not through lessons or theoretical speeches. Characters must confront life and overcome obstacles, figures setting off on a journey of enrichment through exploits and revelations.

However, Freire claims that the story-teller is taking control and encouraging passivity in her listeners. The fundamentally narrative character of the teacher-student relationship ‘involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening Objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified’.

If ‘the teacher’s task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration — contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance’ then of course this eminent commentator is right. But I disagree that ‘the outstanding characteristic of this narrative education, then, is the sonority of words, not their transforming power’.

Narration (with the teacher as narrator) does not have to

lead the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content’ turning them ‘into “containers,” into “receptacles” to be “filled” by the teacher.

This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits.

Freire’s book was published in 1968 and it describes education as it was then. Freire goes on to say that ‘knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry, human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other’. I vividly recall the excitement with which we read ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ as student teachers soon after it was translated into English and the attempts we made to make learning more relevant, contextualised and fun for our pupils than it had been for us.

And how much better we have become since then. And I still believe that narrative is the basis of most good teaching.

The case for story-telling in education is powerfully made by Pat Kane in his report of a visit to a school in New York where computer games form the basis of everything that’s taught. He describes the school’s response to ’20 years of debate about how educators should respond to the gaming revolution’ where “highly immersive” learning experiences are created.

The pupils move through the curriculum by means of 10-week “missions” – scenarios in which they have a problem to solve, and take on dramatic roles (explorer, scientist, investigator, for example) to do so. .. Pupils here are “finding relevant resources, doing mathematical calculations, reading and analysing texts, designing tools, repairing broken systems, creating models, doing scientific experiments, building games, or a host of other activities”.

These missions are richly narrated and imagined. In The Way Things Work – a science-maths curriculum “domain” (a themed area of the curriculum), a video will be disrupted by the appearance of the Troggles, small creatures which like to invent things (but are terrible at it), and who leave mysterious packages of materials and messages around the school that the pupils have to piece together.

Thus, ‘the solution is not to “integrate” them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become “beings for themselves.”’

A recent example appears in LTS’ Connected magazine (not online yet): Science being taught through an interdisciplinary approach with a project based in the study of castles. The emphasis was on alchemy in the Dark Ages:

With the teacher writing letters from the King of the castle and setting the children a series of science-based challenges, including cleaning old coins in different liquids and examining tooth enamel erosion and blood types of mythical creatures, it’s little wonder that the pupils were fully engaged.

These examples beautifully illustrate Freire’s point that,

liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information.. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. .. Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other, mediated by the world …

Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of persons as beings who are authentic only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation.

Problem-posing education affirms [learners] as beings in the process of becoming.

So the narrative becomes a point of departure, affirming learners as ‘beings who transcend themselves, who move forward and look ahead, for whom immobility represents a fatal threat, for whom looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future’.

I’ll continue to tell my stories and try not to let my own interpretations get in the way of real learning.