I am awash with recent academic reading about children's writing in a visual age, and realising that we know way too little about how our children are making their stories when they set to with all the power of the NWN toolset and the Adventure Author plug-ins at their finger tips. As teachers, we are going to have to bone up on changing views of literacy if we are to keep pace with our children; we are going to have to find out as much as we can about the interplay between word and image as children increasingly create narratives using both, with both modes carrying valid and often sophisticated meaning. We can't fall back on the old prejudice of placing less value on the pictures, giving the words higher status - there is a a symbiotic relationship going on that we need to understand and need to be able to talk about. In developing our research through the Adventure Author project, we are ahead of the game, but there is still much to be done to really understand how stories are made (and interpreted) in this multimodal way.
The world told versus the world shown
Gunther Kress, Professor of English Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, says of multimodal messages, "There is a consequence for notions of meaning: if the message is realised, 'spread across', several modes, we need to know on what basis that spreading happens, what principles are at work . . . Making meaning in writing and making meaning in reading both have to be newly thought about." He asks some searching questions to which, as a profession, we don't yet know the answers: "Can image do things that writing cannot do? Or what is it that writing can do that image cannot? . . . And so the really large question is, what is distinctive about the resource of writing [for making meaning]?" Kress also says, "I think we need to be wary of being fooled by the seeming stability of the word [notably the book]."
Kress is clearly a pioneer in the field of "visual literacy" - and there is a pressing need to update our thinking, our teaching and our children's curriculum - but much of his work is based on static images, and he admits that the surface has barely been scratched in terms of moving image and the animated, interactive experience of the video computer game. Enter the Adventure Author research team . . .
Writing: assembling according to designs?
I am keen to find out more about how children "write" using the tools we have here, but will need to set up a further project to really look at this in depth - as Kress says, "Writing is becoming 'assembling according to designs' in ways which are overt, and much more far-reaching than they were previously” - there is much to learn about the designer-writer and the 'assembling' of 'texts'. For now, all I can do is dig away as best I can at the children's area designs in conjunction with their conversations to see what connections I can make, and to hazard a guess at their thinking, their design intentions. The scope of our current project requires me to consider what domain skills are being developed (i.e. the skills of reading and writing) and how we are supporting these with our improved software - and believe me, there's lots of exciting stuff emerging - but the more I find, the more I realise that we are seeing a very different way of reading and writing than we perhaps envisaged when we set out to look at this aspect two years ago, and there is plenty of scope to go further and add to the body of knowledge about multimodal texts and their place in our schools/lives.
I am creating some case studies to try and tease out the development of some of the children's stories at Campie: to see how what they were doing relates to 21st century thinking about reading and writing, as well as identifying the development of the more conventional traditional skills set. I feel I have to take this approach and accommodate views that are not yet an established part of curricular thinking because the children are successfully harnessing the power of multimodal storytelling and it would seem that already their stories have much to teach us.
Reading pathways: Scott as a writer-designer
I have attached one such case study here for now, which I hope you will find of interest. Scott took great care to create a very beautifully designed world with a convincing (if not well-fleshed out) quest to save the land from a great evil. I have detailed the growth of his story with a mix of screenshots and commentary. One of the things that interests me is how he wanted the player to 'read' the game, i.e. find a way through and make sense of the land and the story it offered, making (perhaps intuitive) use of what Kress calls 'reading pathways' as he developed his design and storyline (and the two can't easily be separated). This idea of reading pathways is an exciting one, and in visual 'texts' it offers quite new possibilities compared with the book, or even a page of text on screen. Kress notes how words are empty, waiting to be filled with meanings, and they compel one particular, sequential, causal path, whereas images are filled with meanings and the pathways between them become more open. As he says, "The world told is a different world from the world shown." Our project involves creating worlds that are both told and shown, quite a complex and demanding challenge, for teacher and child alike.
Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age Routledge