Winged Sandals: Thinking Around Writing Myths from a Multimodal Starting Point

In this post I want to share a great website I discovered last year. From the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Winged Sandals is themed around Ancient greece, and plays host to 4 beautifully presented flash movies of Greek Myths.

Our narrative unit in literacy sessions this term is based around Myths and Legends. and so I wondered if the materials presented here, might ignite the students enthusiasm, for a genre where the language structures can be complex and difficult to understand.

During the first week of the teaching sequence we used some of the beautifully illustrated traditional texts we had available to introduce how Myths as oral stories, were created to explain natural phenomena. We chose three stories from Nordic and Greek mythology around the theme of creation. These were photographed and the resulting images used in smart notebooks as shared texts. Once in the notebook, pens and highlighters were used to annotate the texts, and to help us identify and highlight the features of the text type for charting and inclusion in our VCOP displays and writing ladders.

Another way to share texts from digital photographs, is through use of the slideshow tool, an integral part of Windows XP's fax and picture viewer. On Smartboards, though I am sure other whiteboards will allow something similar, images can be annotated, and then captured along with additions to the notebook for saving and later reference.

Despite loving the stories and the strange names and places, accessing the text itself independently was problematic for some of our students. To support this, and the key reason we chose to embed these images in a notebook for sharing, was that we began the stories with a rub and reveal activity. This was intended to develop the idea of using the images as reading prompts, and to begin introducing more complex words, such as character names before we engaged with the story itself.

"Rub and reveal," is an Interactive whiteboard technique that involves inserting objects to a notebook page, painting over them and then with students, using the eraser tool to uncover sections of the object a piece at a time. In 2 previous posts, Images from the Past 29/04/07 and Hide and Reveal Techniques 17/02/07 I expanded on this technique, which I have found particularly useful in using images to support student talk in inferential work and reasoning around texts.

Returning to Winged Sandals, this week we decided to use the story of "Perseus and Medusa" as our focus text. Our choice of this as a text was in part due to the appeal of presentation, but also the structure of the movie and how we thought it lent itself to the key objective we wanted to explore
  • To use beginning, middle and end to write narratives in which events are sequenced logically and conflicts resolved
Organised like a TV series, the movie presents this quest myth in 3 short episodes, bite size pieces that essentially divide the story into its beginning, middle and end. Over three days, the students were involved in 3 very similar tasks, where we invited them firstly to engage with and respond to the text, through paired, group and class discussion, before finally using the outcomes of these activities to develop storyboard based plans for their retelling of the tale during big write time this week.

As the shared text, we drew on multimodal analysis techniques to engage with the story. First of all episodes were engaged with minus one of their key modes,
  • Without sound
  • Without visuals

Children were encouraged between "viewings" or "listenings" to talk about and think together around key ideas, such as
  • Where the story or this episode might be taking place?
  • what clues did we have from what had been seen or heard?
  • What were the characters like? How did we know?
  • What happened as the episode progressed? How was this different to the previous episode? What might happen in the next?
  • Who did the children think was the hero and why?
  • What did we find out about the other characters?
Following this inferential process, the students watched the story again, but this time with all modes available. In talking twos and small groups the children were asked to compare what they thought, with what they had gained additionally from the whole text. Had their opinions changed? If so how had they changed? What clues were there in the story that supported their ideas?

As follow up from the reading activity, students were given storyboards, including screen captures we had made that featured key moments from the story, and encouraged to compose super sentences, that they could use later, when they came to write their own version of the myth. Openers for each new episode were of particular importance, because we wanted to be able to move our readers from one part of the quest to another, and begin to think about how we enable changes in "sequence, place and time in a way that would give coherence" to our story overall.

Explaining paragraphing can be difficult, but I think this video offers enormous possibilities for helping with this too. Each episode, as representation of a beginning, middle and end, allowed the children to see this story recount as existing in 3 parts. Each episode representing a particular part of the story, was in a sense a visual paragraph, and the sentences we developed in our storyboards, the beginning middle and end of these. The students really enjoyed this story, and the visual and auditory nature of the experience I hope, through the charting process will give us points of reference to draw back to as we move into the guided and shared creation of our own myths.

This week as we move on we want to familiarise the students with a local legend. Our school at the base of the Dundry Slopes is very close to the Stanton Drew Stone Circle, a site with a story all of its own. Building on the multimodal approach we have begun, We want to introduce not only the text, but also to begin thinking about the setting and scene. We have made a collection of photographs, at different times of the year and day, have a version of the story retold by some Y4 students a couple of years ago, and as I ponder this morning, am thinking about how music might help stimulate thought and thinking about language use, perhaps adding the use of Clannad, Enya or even well chosen Mike Oldfield tracks to support slideshows and zones of relevance activities we already have planned. Placing the students in the story, the legend tells of a wedding feast that goes wrong, so we have decided as later authors, needing to retell the tale, they should be the official wedding photographers, and as things begin to unfold, they discover they have only space for three photographs that tell the story of the day. The magical nature of events and the place opens a window that means they can move back and forward through the story to capture and revisit key events. Using a film strip story board/map, and based on freeze framing, the children will be encouraged to record pictorially key scenes from the wedding feast and so the legend, to form the beginning middle and end of our writing week next week. Drawing on these we should be able to relate back to the episode structure of "Perseus and the Medusa," to help the students see, how our story might be presented as three paragraphs, featuring a beginning middle and end. Our big write , rather than a narrative this week will be a poem, (though some students might decide to structure this as a narrative) using figurative and descriptive language or phrases collected from our engagement with images and the story, that will hopefully inspire adventurous use of language when we develop a version of the story we can publish. Interestingly when we were discussing this, we wondered about the idea of writing a picture book for younger students, however we also began to discuss whether since we wanted to challenge the student's use of language, whether we might not rather consider writing for an older year group instead. This is something I think we still have space to negotiate, and it will be interesting to see what the students themselves have to say about their preferred audience.

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