‘I long for the day when Amnesty is needed no more’. Michael Morpurgo

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In a lovely article Michael Morpurgo writes about the 50th anniversary of Amnesty, saying that ‘giving children a love of literature could help make the pressure group redundant’.

He descibes so beautifully the importance of literacy and the power of story to help us be human:

… developing in young children a love of poems and stories (fiction and non-fiction) is vital … It is through literature, not simply literacy, that we learn to understand and empathise. As readers, we learn about the lives of others, other places and cultures, other ways of seeing the world. We find out about the past, understand better how it made our today and how our today makes our tomorrow. We learn we are not alone in our feelings, that joy and pain are universal, that humanity is to be celebrated for its diversity but is ultimately one humanity. Through literature, we can find our place in the world, feel we belong and discover our sense of responsibility.

Amnesty understands this very well and it seeks out, encourages and endorses literature that it believes can help children develop this great skill of empathy, a skill that is vital for tolerance to grow, hatred to diminish and human rights to flourish.


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!

Scotland’s Stories

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News from LT Scotland:

The strange and fantastical stories of Scotland have inspired writers, artists and poets for centuries. Scotland’s Stories website aims to inspire children and young learners to explore this rich vein of literary and cultural heritage. It provides a variety of beautifully illustrated classic Scottish tales, with background information, transcripts of all stories as well as fantastic audio and video versions of the stories as told by some of Scotland’s finest storytellers.

Browse the variety of classic tales suitable for all ages here.

Ministry of Stories launched

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I wrote here some time ago about Dave Eggars’ project, stemming from his passion for the power of reading and of writing, to establish places where children can come after school for help with homework and to learn to write stories. Now Nick Hornby has set up a similar venture in London.

The Guardian reports on this exciting venture:

The Ministry of Stories Literacy Project will turn an empty shop in Hoxton, east London, into a purveyor of monster supplies intended to draw a stream of young people across its threshold. Once inside, the children will find, in Hornby’s words, “a ministry of stories secreted behind its humble facade”.

Acclaimed fellow writers Roddy Doyle and Zadie Smith are backing the scheme, which has been inspired by the success of the American novelist Dave Eggers’s 826 National movement.

And now Hornby has put his money where his mouth is, bringing Eggers’s crusading spirit to the streets of the capital in an effort to make writing a universal skill. As the American writer said this weekend: “The most democratic means to self-empowerment is through education and the written word and a centre like the Ministry of Stories will be life-changing for the youth of London.”


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!

Story telling at its best

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In ‘Rapconteur‘, Baba Brinkman serves up comedic retellings of ‘Beowulf’, ‘Gilgamesh’, ‘Kalevala’ and  a little Chaucer. An academic, Brinkman translates epic tales into hip-hop marvellously well. His fluent and speedy renditions are interspersed with information about the poems he bases his raps on and the nature of storytelling in times when story tellers held sway.

He ends his re-telling of Beowulf (the audience agrees the film should not be mentioned) at Grendel’s demise. To find out more we must ‘read, read, read’ the text (preferably Seamus Heaney’s translation).Beowulf: A New Translation

I can only agree with the critics: ‘Brinkman is an excellent performer, combining the boyish energy of a rapper with the clever wit of a comedian’. ‘Brilliantly done; with unflagging energy and prodigious verbal skill’.

And it’s free at the Caberet Voltaire.

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