Fiction and the Internet: Connecting Curriculum

Educators and researches have easily adapted fiction to teach online reading comprehension to students at all grade levels. Classroom literacy instruction often focuses around works of fiction and this may allow narrative texts to be an easy road for both the teacher and student to travel when delivering lessons in online reading comprehension. Educators can use interactive read-alouds and multimedia stories, plot analysis and video games, and collaborative writing and wikis to teach narrative fiction content.

Online Fiction and the Multimedia Learning Center

Maria De Jong and Adriana Bus (2004) used electronic books in kindergarten to introduce students to the features of hypertext. They found that students spent similar times listening to oral stories in electronic books as they did listening to adult read alouds. De Jong and Bus also found that the animations did not distract students from comprehending the meaning in the text. The students also followed e-books in a linear fashion while using hypertext features. In fact students did not fully explore features until second readings. This may mean students used animated features to develop comprehension beyond the oral text or used animations to support deficiencies in comprehension from the first reading.

Furthermore, Castek, Bevals-Mangleson, and Goldstone (2006) suggested using fiction to develop the dispositions students need for online reading comprehension. They suggested five activities using narrative content classroom teachers are familiar with: online read-alouds, interactive read-alongs, online story boards, and online book clubs. Students engaged in these activities will build offline reading comprehension but they will also be afforded the opportunity to explore the changing nature of literacy.

Learning centers play an important role in establishing active learning in early elementary education (Hohmann & Weikart, 1995) and teachers can create a multimedia book center to teach students the basic navigation of hypertext through interactive read-alouds. Fountas and Pinell (2006) identified six components to successful interactive read-alouds: selection and preperation, opening, reading aloud, discussion and self-evalutation, record of reading, and a written or artistic response. Each of these still applies to multimedia books, but they must evolve with hypertext.

First, there are many free and great resources online for teachers to select and prepare. For example, Storyplace, located at https://www.storyplace.org/storyplace.asp. The site has interactive multimedia stories leveled by student grade. The stories for preschool include text, sounds , and animations. Interactive sing-alongs are built into the story. The elementary stories give the audience more control of the tale by naming the characters and choosing the “hero” of the story. Starfall, located at https://www.starfall.org, has a wealth of activities for any level of early reader. The instructor should assist students in choosing multimedia books at the child’s independent reading level.

Second, while the software will take on many of the instructor’s role during the opening and reading aloud of the text the teacher still needs to define the goals of the center. The opening of an interactive read aloud sets teachers expectations and defines the students’ role, and if teachers are going to use multimedia book learning center these roles should be defined by the students. Furthermore the instructor should reinforce these roles before and during the reading.

Third, the discussion and evaluation of the text during a multimedia interactive read aloud should still focus on traditional text evaluation such as plot and character analysis. Students should make connections to other text they read. Learners , however, should also evaluate the hypertext features if they are going to build the navigation skills. Teachers should ask students about the animations an author included, how easy it was to navigate, and about any sounds or videos included in the story.

Finally, the record of reading and the artistic expression should also incorporate elements of online reading comprehension into the multimedia book center. The teacher should post links on her classroom website to any online narrative read by the class and include a summary of the story by the students. This summary could be written in higher grades or an audio recording in lower grades. This will not only share progress with parents, but it will build online classroom libraries outside of school. There is nothing more rewarding then encouraging students to read outside of classroom walls! Also the artistic expressions can be shared online. After reading a story students could use a simple paint program to draw their favorite picture or teachers could scan pictures drawn by hand. These images could then be uploaded to a classroom website and shared with the world.

Digital Fiction and Online Reading Comprehension

The combination of narrative elements such as character backstories, plots and symbols combined with play features such as fantasy and escapism make videogames an intriguing literary text (Squire, 2008). Video games are quickly becoming the new narrative and as the technology evolves these interactive stories become more autonomous with increasingly altering plots. For example millions of people interact in online communities such as World or Warcraft in a world defined by the actions of a player. Furthermore in games such as Jedi Knights of the Old Republic the plot of the storyline changes based on the decisions of the main character. Educators can expand on the multimedia book center and use the new narrative of videogames in the classroom for plot and character analysis.

Many simulations such as Oregon Trail, where students must successfully migrate West and SimCity, where students must manage a city provide opportunities to extend learning beyond the new narratives of video games. Video games provide opportunities to make connections using ICT’s and afford students the opportunity to think and reflect critically on the decisions they make during the narrative.

For example students can use blogs or other ICT’s to record their travels through the West or their stint as Mayor of SimCity. First students could be put into small groups and guide their family through the perils of western migration or work together to build their city. Then at the end of the lesson students could complete a blog detailing what decisions they made. For example, in SimCity students could blog about the tax rate they set, and to make the lesson more challenging teachers could have students write from the voice of a mayor responding to citizen complaints. In the Oregon Trail students could blog about the places they visit during their journey and the condition of the family, and once again this activity can become more challenging by assigning students specific family members. Students would then have to write from that point of view.

Each of these blogging activities can be expanded to include lessons to build online reading comprehension. Teachers could ask students playing the narrative of Oregon Trail to search for information on the Internet about families who traveled the trail. Students could then compare their families simulated adventure with that of an historical account writing a compare and contrast essay or a blog posting. Students could also read about the trials Native Americans faced during Western expansion and compare those historic accounts with the depiction of Native Americans in the video game for a critical literacy lesson. In SimCity students could research natural disasters cities faced and compare their outcome with the simulation. Students could also search the Internet for information about historical challenges actual cities faced such as pollution, traffic, and housing cost and compare those challenges with the game. These lessons not only require students to reflect and compare their experience in the simulation with historical accounts, but they will also require students to search, locate, evaluate, and communicate online information.

Collaborative Fiction and Online Reading Comprehension

Theresa Dobson (2006) explored the use of e-literature with older students. She took the opening paragraphs to Munro’s Love of a Good Women and then had students create their own hypertext stories using wikis, which are websites, which that allow multiple authors to edit. She found that none of the students’ stories progressed in a linear fashion. Using the traditional content of fiction, Dobson suggested that hypertext writing allowed students to adapt their imaginations to a more creative stance, and forced students to focus on more complicated narrative elements other than plot. She posited that this prepared students to comprehend the more complicated and complex narratives that are in print today. In other words, having students engage in an “activity” that highlighted the nonlinear language of hypertext, students developed the ability to further comprehend offline text.

In the classroom teachers can use a similar approach to teach hypertext fiction and as a pre-reading activity for a novel read in class. First teachers should sign up for one of the many free educational wikis such as https://www.pbwiki.com. Next place students into groups and set up a page for each group. Then read a passage at the beginning of a novel read in class, and post this passage to each page of the wiki. Ask students to expand on the passage by writing a short story predicting what the tale will be about. Students should be encouraged to use hyperlinks to words or background knowledge they feel the audience will need. For example if students are reading Armstrong’s Sounder they might want to have a link that brings the reader to websites about coonhunting. Other students may even want to expand on the nonlinear version of hypertext fiction and have hyperlinks that allow the audience to control the plot.

Teachers can also use collaborative writing to prepare students to write hypertext. For example students could be broken into groups and could use an online word processor such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets to write a story. Students could use these features to understand authorship of hypertext. First have students brainstorm the story elements such as characters, plot, and setting. Next have students create an online document using Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Then the students can begin to write the story. The authors could get feedback and critique from each other using instant messaging or email. Teachers could track progess of students by looking at the documents history to see who is doing what editing.

Using fictional content such as multimedia books and narrative games combined with instructional routines such as learning centers and collaborative writing may build both offline and online reading comprehension.

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