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The Good, the Bad, and the Ambiguous

For a long time I’ve been thinking about the fiction read in primary classrooms – in particular about characterisation. Overwhelmingly, if characters are morally ambiguous in any way they tend to have come right by the end of the story – “I used to think my brother was a bit of a loser but now I realise he’s kinda cool” sort of thing. But what is there to say about a character like this? The “reformed character” theme has been spelt out for the reader; there’s no work left for them to do because any indeterminacy present at the beginning has been neatly removed by the end – presumably because the writer and/or publisher thinks kids can’t handle moral ambiguity. Our research, in contrast, suggests not only can kids handle indeterminacy, but their thinking becomes deeper and more complex as a result of engaging with it.

Our research (The Lifelong Literacy project funded by the Cognition Education Research Trust) includes an exploration of kids’ meaning making of morally ambiguous characters. One of the teachers we are working with chose the father in Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story because in this version of the story he doesn’t just have “goody” or “baddy” status – he has both. We have provided a brief outline of the teacher’s first lesson in the Thinking Object: How much is Cinderella’s father to blame for her situation? In this resource we briefly describe the support given to the teacher prior to the lesson, and the teacher’s and researchers’ thinking about why the lesson was so successful.

It’s our hope that you will take a look at the Thinking Object and leave comments about how useful you think a resource like this might be for classroom teachers and teacher educators. In effect, your comments will provide an informal review and will help us to refine the design of future resources of this type.

Click here for a pdf version of the Thinking Object.

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