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Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ALIS (Associating Literature and the Imaginary with Science: Early Years Education)


Since the turn of the millennium, French and British primary school curricula have been moving towards a cultural perspective of education involving the articulation of science and literature. This process has been defined by the emergence of a veritable “scientific...


Since the turn of the millennium, French and British primary school curricula have been moving towards a cultural perspective of education involving the articulation of science and literature. This process has been defined by the emergence of a veritable “scientific literacy”. The issue at the heart of such an approach is the development of a pedagogical perspective on science that grasps the modes of elaboration of the subject both from the point of view of its practices and the language used to describe them, and that articulates the reading and writing of texts with the work of scientific understanding. It supposes that primary teachers know how to lead a fertile convergence between science and literature in class with young children. But, most often literature teaching is based on fictional storybooks while science teaching is based on informational children books. In order to develop a real integrative approach of science and literature, it is necessary to find out narrative fictional children books that could be used in science teaching and to study to what extent their reading in science classroom could be relevant for the young children science learning.

The ALIS project supports the idea that children’s literature can be used as an instructional tool in science because it can provide a relevant context as well as introduce the scientific question for encouraging inquiry with young children. Not only have children a sort of predisposition for stories but also, the narrative structure is an effective teaching tool because it places concepts in acceptable, easily assimilable and memorable form. Stories which give shape and meaning to the world, help children to identify relationship between the real world and their own personal world. In addition, the fiction which functions as a metaphorical reference to the real world also contributes to develop an interpretation of the possible worlds by contrasting with real world.
It is important for society to prepare pupils as future citizen to critically grasp the heterogeneity of documents dealing with scientific topics. Whether these include, stories, testimonies, fictions, scientific reviews or documents that mix different forms of texts, the future citizens need to know how to identify the boundaries between the real and the imagined of these documents. Furthermore, it is important to expand and to articulate various ways in science education in order to make scientific culture accessible to the greatest possible number of young children and to allow them as future citizens to continue autonomously developing their scientific acculturation. Exploiting the imaginative dimension of science, the power of metaphors, the children’ abilities to the narrative, are the way to engage more people in science culture.

The overall objectives of ALIS project are to understand firstly to what extent the reading of fictional storybooks can participate in the development of a scientific culture and secondly the role of imagination and narrative in young children’s science thinking. This project aims:
- to define a category of fictional storybooks that could be helpful in primary and preschool science teaching and to analyse their scientific and epistemological potentialities.
- to analyse the functions of fictional narrative in young children’ s science thinking (3-11 years old),
- to provide teachers (from preschool and primary school) with the means (didactic situations) to develop integrated science teaching, linking science and literature.

Work performed

The ALIS project focused on the concept of animal metamorphosis because the idea of metamorphosis plays an important role in children’s literature and the idea of metamorphosis represents a major obstacle to biological knowledge. In metamorphosis, the transformations are irreversible according to the logic of living things and not determined by mysterious causalities what it is often the case in stories. We choose to develop the ALIS project in England where children’s literature is rich and is a main part of the children culture but also the practices of multidisciplinary readings at primary school are prevalent. The acronym ALIS makes reference to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where the idea of metamorphosis appears in the narrative through a number of changes in size of Alice.

The first challenge was to compose a corpus of fictional storybooks having a purpose related to the idea of metamorphosis but also where it would seem that the transformations undergone by the animal characters correspond strictly to the intra-specific biological laws of animal metamorphosis. Among the fictional storybooks we distinguished specific storybooks where the narrative is structured on a plot, which deals in background with a content based on animal metamorphosis as biological law. We composed a limited corpus of metamorphosis realistic fiction books that can be read from 3 to 11 years old. Our first result was to define a general category of these specific fictional storybooks, that we called ‘realistic-fiction storybooks’ by identifying relevant characteristics in terms of science didactic potentialities.

The second challenge was to implement different exploratory studies to analyse to what extent reading metamorphosis realistic fiction storybooks lead young children from 3 to 11 years old) to test and question their representations of metamorphosis. We choose a nursery and a primary school located in multicultural area in which the teachers were interested in developing language and scientific skills with their pupils by using our corpus of metamorphosis fictional storybooks. In the nursery school we studied the reading situations implemented by the teachers with their young pupils (3-5 years old) without following a protocol imposed by the researcher. By contrasting, in the primary school the teachers implemented the reading situations with pupils from 6 to 11 years by following the same protocol imposed by the researcher. One first main result show that reading modes and strategies of dialogue impact on the way in which young children (3-5 years old) make concretions from the fiction to their own world, their actual experiences and indeed being able to relate this fiction to related stories. Another main result is that from 7-8 years old, pupils are able to switch from narrative necessities to scientific reasons based on the consequences of the metamorphosis (as change of habitat).

The third challenge was to develop helpful didactic reading situations based on such storybooks for the primary and preschool teachers. The issue was to elaborate material curricula, which are appropriate to various ages of children and to various modes of teaching. In fact, teachers in early years have no or little identity as science educators but Alis seeks to identify through using of fictional storybooks how to help them acquire such.

Final results

The ALIS project allowed to opening a new perspective of scientific teaching less hermetic to the potential for narrative, fiction and imagination. In a certain way, it appears that reading realistic fiction storybooks liberate primary and preschool teachers from a normative scientific teaching that focuses on what is true and false to what is possible or not, to what is a fact and an interpretation. This change of perspective could contribute to develop new skills in science education as part of preschool teachers’ practices.

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