Pondering on visual storytelling

We have been sharing adventure stories and traditional tales with a twist, during Literacy Sessions for the last couple of weeks, and this week we have particualrly focussed on another of my favourites The Paper Bag Princess, By Robert N. Munsch.

My students seem to really enjoy, my taking a story I love and then trying to retell it in my own words. Perhaps this has come from the podcasting work we have done and their appreciation of how challenging this can be for them at times, or perhaps it simply comes from watching and listening as I try to recount and embellish the tales going through the mental processes I expect of them, visualising, mentally rehearsing and then retelling the tales as they develop. Hopefully though it is also because they recognise the magic of ideas. A story although in existence can still be reshaped, reformed, and refined in the mind of the teller. Even great stories and books such as this are made and altered through performance and enhanced by our interpretations and imaginings. This story telling process however I feel closely models and mirrors the path I currently using in encouraging the talking for writing process. Multimodal views of literacy see written text as "oral text," a symbolic permanent or semi permanant record of what it is we want to say or wish others to hear. Maybe as experienced writers this is something we have lost sight of in the teaching of writing. How many times do we say to ourselves, "hang on that doesn't sound right!" Perhaps we have forgotten over time that the voice we hear, and link to our actions as writers, took years not only to perfect but also to internalise. A forgotten part of our writing repertoire, however this is something which in the primary sector particularly many of our students are either only beginning with or are still in the process of developing. It took an introductory course in Semiotics, communication and representation recently, to actually challenge my perceptions and help me to realise just how complex this process must be. It was great this week then, when the students having eventually read The Paper Bag Princess themselves for the first time, to hear expressions about how they had already read this story, not heard it as I might have expected, and beginning I hope to make the link even if inadvertently between the spoken word and written text they were engaged with.

Over the last couple of days the students have begun to move on from the reading process to begin talking together, planning, mapping out and rehearsing potential plot elements for their own versions of the story. We have discussed and collected new titles for the story to help us innovate on the text, these include such barnstormers as; The Trash Can Princess, The Wheely Binbag Princess and so on, all of which have potential to influence the reactions of other characters in the story, and effect closing dialogue between the princess and the kidnapped prince charming she sets out to rescue. In the process the children have also created some fabulous story maps, and it is these that have prompted this post.

Stimulated by the discussion which began to emerge from the class and the quality of the illustrations the children generated around the story, I have decided to trial something a little bit different in tandem with the story writing process itself. We often use role play and freeze framing as part of our talk for writing process and in a previous post I talked about how interesting it might be to use elements of the Commoncraft approach to animation to support visual storytelling. Having watched the recent release of the Indiana Jones trilogy that featured some really great animated storyboards, I was really fired up to have a go at using this to frame my in to the process. This week we began making scenery and cutout characters, to support the idea of multimedia storyboarding. I am hoping this will inspire the children and help with rehearsing story sequence, something one or two are still finding difficulty with. The idea revolves around using the scenery and character cutouts to frame scenes from the story, capturing these as digital photographs and then using Photostory to sequence the scenes and events. From here I would like the children to add voice overs to tell the story with completed outcomes for publication as simple group movies.

For my more able students I hope this will help extend and expand their vocabulary use and help with the text revision process as they write, while for others, some who are still reluctant to record, or having problems in maintaining logical sequencing as they move from plot element to plot element, that this visual and oral story prompt will help scaffold their progression through the story events they want to tell.

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