inanimatealice is a multi-modal text used to teach digital literacy and narrative to Year 7 students. We use it at my school as the first text we teach. It’s a flash-based website. The reader becomes involved in the story, which is told with images, sound, text and interactivity. Alice is a young girl who has an interest in video games. She lives with her parents in a variety of locations around the world, including China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. There are four episodes, beginning when Alice is 8, in China, and ending when she is 14, in her home town.
It’s a great choice for first text of the year because it’s possible to walk through it as a class together. Students aren’t required to buy or borrow a novel. It’s a good text to talk about together as a class, building an open, collaborative classroom culture. It’s easy to explain and see how a narrative works, and to emulate that in your own text. It’s possible to extend and support students as needed. There are lots of topics and issues raised by inanimatealice that make for great classroom discussion. The text is easy to read, using short, punchy sentences. It is also complex and rich, welcoming interpretation. It’s a good text to teach.
However, there have been issues. Not everyone likes inanimatealice. There are technical issues, especially load issues as it’s an online text. We’ve started an iPad program at our school, iPads don’t run flash without tweaks (inanimatealice is flash based). This means that the teacher has to show each episode off a laptop and smart board. We had issues this year with creating our own texts that include sound, without losing that interactivity. Some staff have suggested that narrative can be taught using alternative, good old paper stories.
Although inanimatealice is fantastic for teaching narrative, this is not the main reason why we use it. Digital literacy is important: our students will not learn everything they need for the net by immersion. While immersion is great, we do expect our kids to go to school and do English, even though they complain that they can already speak it. The curriculum writers at ACARA have recognised this, including ‘multi modal text’ in the standards for Year 7 English. Our inanimatealice unit addresses these nine ACARA descriptors.
- Compare the ways that language and images are used to create character, and to influence emotions and opinions in different types of texts (ACELT1621)
- Compare the text structures and language features of multimodal texts, explaining how they combine to influence audiences (ACELY1724)
- Analyse and explain the effect of technological innovations on texts, particularly media texts(ACELY1765)
- Recognise and analyse the ways that characterisation, events and settings are combined in narratives, and discuss the purposes and appeal of different approaches (ACELT1622)
- Experiment with text structures and language features and their effects in creating literary texts, for example, using rhythm, sound effects, monologue, layout, navigation and colour (ACELT1805)
- Create literary texts that adapt stylistic features encountered in other texts, for example, narrative viewpoint, structure of stanzas, contrast and juxtaposition (ACELT1625)
- Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts, selecting aspects of subject matter and particular language, visual, and audio features to convey information and ideas (ACELY1725)
- Use a range of software, including word processing programs, to confidently create, edit and publish written and multimodal texts (ACELY1728)
- Use interaction skills when discussing and presenting ideas and information, selecting body language, voice qualities and other elements, (for example music and sound) to add interest and meaning (ACELY1804)
The replacement for inanimatealice will need to be multimodal, emulateable, and foster digital literacy. While we wait, here are some suggested solutions to the problems we’ve faced.
Load issues: perhaps we can host a mirror of inanimatealice on our own server. This will fight the issues of bandwidth and connectivity. In the mean time, make sure your laptop is up to date, and that you test each episode before class. Make sure that you preload the episode. As with all things internet based, have a back up plan.
Flash and iPads. There are solutions, such as the Puffin browser, which allow the students to watch the episodes themselves. Yet this limitation is perhaps not so restrictive as first thought. I found walking through the episode as a class extremely valuable. I was able to ask questions and guide the students as we watched, exploring together. I had the students take turns in ‘driving’ the story on the smartboard. The quick students weren’t able to skim through and finish too fast, and I was able to support the weaker students. This technological limitation turned into a real benefit.
iPads and sound: this one I need to work on. We were all brand new to the iPad, staff and students alike. It is possible to create movies with sound quite easily. Keynote allows readers to click through the story at their own pace. The issue is combining these, I have not found a simple solution for doing both.
inanimatealice is a fantastic story that enables our students to learn about narrative and multimodal texts. Yes, there are some issues, but it will be worth it to overcome these problems. inanimatealice addresses so many of the curriculum descriptors and allows the class to develop a collaborative culture. It would be a shame to throw that away.