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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Verbal and Visual Power in the Narratives of Preschool Composers: OR Image is Everything when You're the Baby

Susan J. Britsch.

This presentation will focus on the ways in which the 3 and 4 year-old storytellers in one preschool classroom used multiple modes and media to carry out a discourse of power, and attempted control, through the creation of original stories. In this study, self-selected dyads of child storytellers created spontaneous and competing narratives. These narratives made use of various combinations of color, size, and placement of drawings, as well as segmental and supra-segmental language features, written language, and gesture. These modes were used to carry out each narrator's moment-to-moment design, or conceptualization, for the discourse in response to the competing storyteller. Because these designs were not preplanned, but were artifacts of the children's relationship within the ongoing discourse, their real world social relationships were simultaneously played out through the competing narratives.

Over the course of one academic year, the children carried out their power/control discourse through three types of storytelling events. In the children's early "visual stories", the use of visual imagery comprised the story itself. As the storytelling carried on, the children transformed this visual imagery into physical dramatization and the oral retelling of familiar fairytales in "borrowed stories". Finally, their later "visualized stories" came to rely less on graphically depicted imagery and more on verbal images that enabled listeners to visualize for themselves the characters, setting, and event development of the story. Children used these verbal, graphic, and physical devices in differential ways to establish fictional truth. At the same time, they made real world power moves by placing real friends in the fictional worlds of their stories - worlds in which the storyteller's discourse design created the version of reality that the storyteller desired to make real. As possessors of fictional realities, then, these child storytellers used their narratives to devise successive attempts to invade - or at least touch - corners of each other's realities in a constant game of one-upmanship.


Susan J. Britsch  (United States)
Associate Professor of Literacy and Language Education
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Purdue University

Susan J. Britsch is associate professor of Literacy and Language Education at Purdue University. A former nursery school teacher, her research interests include the nonfiction composing and original storytelling of young children, the integration of science and literacy curricula in elementary classrooms, and the role of Internet communication in literacy development. She is the author of "Beyond Stories: Young Children's Nonfiction Composition" as well as numerous academic articles addressing the multimodal literacy development of young children.

  • Multimodal communication
  • Emergent literacy
  • Early childhood education
  • Literacy development

(30 min Conference Paper, English)