What makes a multimodal story successful?
Generation Y or the Millenial Generation has grown up surrounded by image and sound. For today’s young people an old fashioned book, in black and white print is not as appealing as previous generations found it, resulting in unmotivated and low ability readers. Introducing the multimodal story. “Recent research demonstrates that attending to the rich, multimodal literacy practices of young people opens up ways of getting to know them and creating new points of learning and engagement” (Mahiri, 2004 in Vasudevan, 2006 – 2007).
The most basic element of a multimodal text is image. In Inanimate Alice the reader is exposed to both still and moving images. The use of image in a text aids comprehension. For struggling readers images give them an extra support in understanding the text. Inanimate Alice, while containing a lot of images, does not over do it and still leaves room for the imagination. This is important as it allows readers to still use their imagination and create mental pictures. It weans the reader from a text where images are given and little imagination is required to a text with no images where imagination is essential. This acts as a crutch for struggling readers and allows them to build confidence and get used to having to imagine what the setting looks like rather than be given the image. In Inanimate Alice, for example, we are given images of what the landscape looks like, her house etcetera, but we never see Alice herself, nor do we see her parents. We can’t be sure where she comes from and hence we cannot guess her ethnicity. Not only does this allow the reader to imagine what they look like, but it also leaves it open for readers from all ethnicities to identify with Alice and her family.
Another important part of multimodal texts is sound. In Inanimate Alice we do not hear a narrator of any kind, we hear background music and sound effects. A lack of narration allows the reader to read the text at his or her own rate and style, whilst the sound effects greatly enhance the reading experience. When Alice is about to fall and we hear her scream, the reader really feels like they are witnessing something horrible, and feel her fear. The sound of the crunching snow adds to the description of the cold and enhances the feeling and imagination of walking through the cold. Likewise when we hear Alice breathing. Sound effects add another dimension to the imagery of reading. The reader may have a mental picture of Alice walking through the snow, but being able to hear her do it makes it all the more real.
The background music makes it more interesting for young people who like to have all senses engaged. Silent reading for a lot of students can be really off-putting, so reading whilst listening to music is more likely to appeal to them. Considering that this is a generation that permanently has their earphones in listening to music from their iPods and other media devices, the fact that this story already has music attached to it would interest them.
In teaching English to high school students I often remark students checking how many pages are in a book that we are reading as a class. Similarly when teaching literacy if a book is too thick the student will not pick it up to read. Because the multimodal story is not a hard copy, the student has no way of gauging how long it is and therefore cannot be turned off reading it.
Another attraction for students who are not avid readers is that with the multimodal story a student is only exposed to short amounts of text at a time, thereby not being overwhelmed by how much reading they have to do. In Inanimate Alice the reader sees only one or two sentences at a time, a very feasible amount of text that the reader can read at their own pace before clicking the button when they are ready to read on.
One final attraction for the modern adolescent and therefore success of multimodal stories is the games and interaction they have to offer. This breaks up the reading of the story while still engaging the student and requiring cognitive action. For struggling and early readers reading requires a lot of concentration and can be quite tiring so having some short games and interaction in the story allows the reader to have a short break while still being engaged in the story before continuing on reading.
The multimodal story is a win-win. Students get their technology and entertainment while teachers get them reading.