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Friday 14 January 2011

No Longer Living Next Door to Alice

For about a year and a half now I’ve been peering enviously over the wall at those incredibly inventive teachers who been teaching and enjoying the amazing Inanimate Alice, the interactive digital narrative which has been lighting up classrooms for a few years now. The blog posts, the wikis, the web pages I visited all glowed with the originality and depth of this new, modern and ground-breaking narrative form.
A mixture of words, sounds and visuals, the intended ten episodes follow Alice as she grows up in an increasingly complex world. My envy has finally got the better of me. Following a New Year bout of soul-searching about the things I could teach easily and the things which would challenge both the students in my class and me as a teacher, I have taken the plunge. This week, Inanimate Alice has consumed my teaching life.
The key word in that last paragraph was ‘challenge’. After ten years in the classroom I think I could happily take any written text and teach it well but over the last couple of years it has increasingly felt like I’ve been ‘phoning it in’. The challenge was not always there. I could also say that, while my students enjoy the texts I teach, I was missing out on a bigger part of their ability to access information and different ways of interacting with stories and other texts. Inanimate Alice looked like it could be perfect.
So, for the purposes of my own reflection, as well as a record of the success and failures we experience as a group of learners,  I’m going to blog my thoughts and findings as I work my way through the series of lessons, perhaps noting my ‘Eureka’ moments along the way. Perhaps, if you’ve been tempted to enter Alice’s world, there may be some helpful advice here.
  1. I read everything I could find on Inanimate Alice on the web. I found Wikis, the ‘Alice’ website, Bill Boyd’s excellent blog post. Alice’s School report was particularly helpful for advice and tips. There are some great people out there who’ve been fighting Alice’s corner. Pull on their coat tails. Learn from them.
  2. I watched Episode One – China – over and over until I was happy with what I thought the students might get from it. I would normally read a text at least twice before teaching it so this was standard for me. I would recommend this as it focused my mind on the idea of reading a media narrative. What did I see and hear? What might my students think as they watched and listened and read?
  3. Before I began, on Monday of this week, I wanted to construct a list of questions which I wanted to answer as I progressed through the lessons. I was holding off on Learning Intentions as I wanted this to remain open to an extent. I’m hoping the students will adapt those LI s as we go.
·         How do you read a text?
·         What do we mean by ‘text’?
·         Are there different ways of reading texts?
·         And others along those lines...
  1. We discussed the title ‘Inanimate Alice’ as a class. What did ‘Inanimate’ mean? How could we break it down to work out the meaning? Are there many different meanings?
  2. We, as a class, read through a printed text of the story. I deliberately left the meaning open and asked the students, in groups, to ask as many questions as possible. The evidence is in the photos below. I think I made my first error here. They rushed into the task and came up with what were, at times, fairly bland, poorly thought out questions. ‘Why is she frightened?’ Why is it dark?’ With hindsight I would have taken more time to discuss the types of questions I was looking for. However, there were flashes of gold in there which we followed up in discussion in the next lesson.
  3. For homework I posed the question, ‘How do you read a text?’ They came back with excellent responses about how we construct meaning traditionally through words in a story and those words develop as we get more sophisticated in our reading and our experiences. I believed that these thoughts would act as an effective entry point to discussion of the digital narrative.
  4. Today, we watched the digital narrative and were blown away. Students couldn’t believe at first that they were reading the same story. We discussed the differences in reading both versions of the text and, on Monday, we’ll continue with that. What impressed them most was the ability to move on when they chose and look back and forward at bits they wanted to see again. Yes, like a traditional story but even then they were seeing the visuals in a different way.
So there you have it. My first week with Alice. It has been everything I’ve been waiting for. Dipping my toe into the future of Narrative text. What I’ve learned is that the ability to change our practice is within us all. Don’t stand on the sidelines wishing you could do that; you can. I have. I’ve seen the future and it is rooted in Inanimate Alice.
We are all looking forward to the coming weeks.


  1. Excellent post Kenny. Look forward to hearing how it goes with the rest of the lessons. Check out what others have been doing in the Educators section on Alice's Facebook page.


  2. Thanks for this Kenny, very inspiring to see what you are doing with our stories in the classroom.

    Kate Pullinger

  3. Hi Kenny
    I'm starting IA with some P7s tomorrow. I was thinking of beginning, like you, with the printed text but wonder if you would recommend engaging their interest first with the 1st episode as is. They are learners with dyslexia.
    I shall follow your progess with great interest.
    Best wishes

  4. By the way, I wasn't able to post my comment using my Wordpress url so here it is: http://hileryjane.wordpress.com. Do visit.
    I have found blogging and Tweeting so exciting in terms of my own professional development - so best of luck!

  5. Hi Hilery,
    Thanks for your comments. Love your Blog. I think it was a great idea for my kids to discuss tht title first. Depending on what your final aim/ LI is, I'd always start with the written text. The relief and surprise when the same story is presented in a more accessible way is obvious. Good luck and let nme know how you get on. completely agree on your thoughts on Blogging and Twitter! Changed my working life!

  6. I decided to start with the digital narrative with my group of P7 learners with dyslexia. I was thrilled how keen they were to read the text independently and at their critical discussion of the merits of both modes. I expected them to be overwhelmed with the digital and decry the print. Not so!
    We're making a wee video evaluation each session.
    Keep in touch!

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