Character Mastery with the Improvisational Puppets Program

Reference: Huard, R. Character Mastery with the Improvisational Puppets Program. Knowledge Systems Laboratory, February, 1998.

Abstract: Characters can make a story come alive. Characters are animate beings with personalities, emotions, and motivations. They move in time and space of a story, interacting with others, reflecting, experiencing, and taking action (Wolf & Gearhart, 1993). The stories which captivate us are ones not only with an exciting plot, but ones with dynamic, engaging characters. In general, in-depth characterization is critical to a good story (Allen & Bradley, 1993; Galda, 1989; Phillips & Steiner, 1985), and by focusing on characterization, storycrafting can become an arena for developing a more mature understanding of others (Cowie, 1983; Fox, 1991; Polkinghorne, 1988). Character mastery refers to our ability to create dynamic and well-developed characters and our ability to have a coherent understanding of these characters. Given that character mastery is important to literacy development as well as the social-psychological understanding of others, this study investigated the environments which support this skill. In particular, I examined first-grade children's story production, story comprehension, and person-perception skills, prior to and after using a computerized interactive storycrafting program called Improvisational Puppets versus using a more traditional storycrafting activity, namely puppetry.

This research shows that experience with the Improvisational Puppets system does facilitate children's character mastery development, particularly children's ability to craft and understand stories with in-depth characters and their person-perception skills. After using the Improv Puppets for three sessions, the children were more likely to provide elaborate descriptions of their characters (e.g., provide psychological descriptors such as general personality attributions); show meaningful relationships between characters; and mention an overarching attribute of the main characters that framed the story events and the character's actions/behavior. In terms of person-perception, the majority of children's person descriptions included a more comprehensive range of internal states and attributes. In addition, the Improv Puppets children were more likely to mention a general relationship between person's attributes (whether psychological or peripheral) and the person's actions/behavior. These findings suggest that the Improv Puppets is an appropriate environment for children to learn about characters in stories and in everyday life.

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