START with Interactive Fiction

Interactive fiction has an excellent shot at being the best preparation kids could have for the incredibly boring NAPLAN reading comprehension tests. I think there are some sensible approaches to explicit instruction of key skills for standardised reading comprehension tests, but even the best of them leave me cold as a teacher when I think about the true reason for having the explicit instruction in the first place. I am somewhat resigned, in the short term at least, to having to prepare kids for NAPLAN. However, I am keen to find ways to modify existing strategies to make them more engaging for students. That’s where the happy union of the START framework and interactive fiction come in.


Scharlach’s START framework (Students and Teacher Actively Reading Text) breaks down comprehension skills into 8 distinct and linear stages:

1. predicting/inferring
2. visualizing
3. making connections
4. questioning
5. determining main idea
6. summarizing
7. checking predictions
8. making judgments

Students also utilize a metacognitive reading journal where they are prompted to record their thinking according to these 8 stages. In her study, Scharlach concludes that it is the metacognitive step of the reading process that sees the greatest gains in later test performance.

The Engagement Problem

Unless the texts chosen for reading comprehension practice are of particular interest to the students, it is hard to find anything truly engaging about preparing for NAPLAN. If you consider engagement according to Schlechty’s model, borrowing from Daniel Pink, student motivation that hangs upon scoring well or simply following teacher instruction because that is what one does, will lack the long term effectiveness a teacher should strive for (or a student will enjoy).

Learning any skill ‘because it is on the test’ will always come a distant second place to learning a skill because it is in one’s immediate interest to learn it.

Games-based-learning is a education trend I have been wary of adopting, but I think there is real potential for interactive fiction to give kids engaging games to play that provoke an immediate need to learn comprehension skills. If kids want to win the game and progress through a text adventure successfully, the same comprehension skills required by NAPLAN are the ones most likely to help them solve the various puzzles they will come across.

Modifying START for IF

The START framework provides prompts for the reading journal to help students with their thinking as they read. In order to successfully modify this framework to suit interactive fiction, I propose adding alternative prompts to aid with interactive fiction problem solving. In a classroom, I would likely have these on a poster, with their original START counterparts, so students can be made aware of the cross over these skills have into all reading.

NB: In the context of IF, the reading comprehension strategies become useful at the point when a player is stuck. This usually means they have encountered a puzzle of some kind.

START stem Skill IF stem
 In this chapter I think… Predicting / Inferring  I think my immediate objective is…
 In my mind I see… Visualizing  If I explore the environment I see…
This reminds me of…  Making connections The objects I can access can be used to…


People usually do or say things like that when…

 I wonder…  Questioning  I wonder…
 I think the most important thing…  Main idea  My priorities are…
 In 10 words of less…  Summarizing  The current problem I have is…
 My original prediction…  Checking predictions  I have tried…it did not work because…
 My favourite part…  Making judgements  I am / am not pleased with that solution because…

I would recommend playing through one text together as a class, with the teacher modelling these strategies. I think Lost Pig is a wonderful place to start (play it online here). Once the thinking / comprehension strategies have been conveyed and practiced, I’d further recommend continuous free exploration of other titles throughout the year, letting kids choose their own adventures. If you are in the habit of assigning weekly / fortnightly comprehension passages and accompanying worksheets / quizzes, stop those immediately and replace them with interactive fiction.

[Edit: Previous article in this series can be found here: NAPLAN Reading Comprehension: Teaching to the test, the fun way with Interactive Fiction]

START with Interactive Fiction

TPACK – Some more thoughts…

After reading about TPACK over at the Concrete Classroom and writing up a brief response over on the staff training feed on the classroom blog, I have been thinking about a way that the concept raised by TPACK could inform the approach to better echnology integrating in the classroom.

I was also inspired by a comment on the CC blog (from Delta Scape) that pondered the TPACK Venn Diagram disks’ ability to ‘spin’, which I think I understood. My understanding of this ‘spinning disks’ idea was that the various pedagogical approaches are displayed as segments on the appropriate disk (like a perfectly equal pie chart), that similarly the available technologies are displayed as segments on the tech disk, and likewise with content. These can then be ‘spun’ to align the appropriate technology, to the appropriate pedagogy, to deliver the appropriate content.

As I stated back in my IWB post, I am all about the decision to use technology because it is appropriate in that context. I feel that this augmentation of the TPACK concept with the notion of ‘spinning disks’ could be a good starting point for thinking about how individual teachers choose to integrate ICT into the classroom appropriately.

TPACK – Some more thoughts…

AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 1

Had a fantastic day today, led by Tom March, looking at incorporating web 2.0 into the classroom effectively.

As a result of the workshop I have set up another blog designed to host materials for each of my classes and the training material that I provide to the staff at school. It can be found at if you are interested.

The primary focus of the workshop was to build an online learning space that can be used to disseminate information to kids outside of class, so that class time can be used more effectively for learning (not just ‘teaching’).

Tom emphasised that there are 4 things that are needed for Web 2.0 to be used effectively in the classroom:

  1. We need an online space which is smart and user friendly…that’s where we meet.
  2. It needs to have a pedagogical validity – relying on what has previously worked as a framework using other tools.
  3. It needs to provide rich resources – things that we didn’t have 5 years ago. Schools used to be the place you would first access the internet…now it’s the least technologically advanced area in a child’s life!
  4. It needs a student self managed framework – 1:30 is not as effective as 1:1, but we can’t afford 1 student:1 teacher, 1 student:1 device is feasible…the role of the teacher is going to change.

So in response to this we set up the blogs as the smart online space that allows for the dissemination of rich media resources. The Look to Learn activities are based on thinking routines that have existed for a while and have proven pedagogical validity, and in a 1:1 environment or at home, students can navigate and respond to the tasks autonomously. My school is not at that stage yet, but it good to see that so much can be achieved with a tool as simple as WordPress.

I’m looking forward to the next 4 sessions.

AGQTP Web 2.0 Workshop, Day 1