Children’s Comprehension of Time in Film

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Chiao-I Tseng @Tseng, Emilia Djonov @EmiliaDjonov

:classical_building: Affiliation: University of Bremen, University of Macquarie

Title: Children’s Comprehension of Time in Film

Abstract (long version below): This paper introduces a framework for analysing time in children’s films, which builds on previous studies of individual temporal devices, by combining three semantic systems - event time, sequencing and frequency. We demonstrate the framework’s value for examining children’s comprehension of narrative events through an exploratory study in which 28 children aged 7-10 years watched temporally complex segments from two Disney animations. We evaluated their comprehension of time relations as well as ability to interpret event and character development. The findings reveal that the multimodal representation of temporal relations play a key role in children’s comprehension of audiovisual narratives.


:newspaper: Long abstract


This paper proposes a multimodal discourse framework for analysing semantic features of temporal relations in children’s film and illustrates its value for examining children’s comprehension of narrative events in film. Temporal reasoning has long been recognised as essential for success in different learning areas, including language and literacy education, history and science (Skjaeveland 2017, Dunn & Wyver 2019). Motivated by the value of narrative as an effective vehicle for engaging children in learning and developing their understanding of time (Masterman & Rogers 2002), empirical research has examined how children comprehend temporal complexity in visual and audiovisual narratives. For instance, Hoodless (2002) compared how children of different ages understood time in picture books that included semantic features such as flashback, flash forward or parallel time. In her study, 3-5-year-olds’ descriptions of temporal relations within and between events tended to be inaccurate. 6-7-year-olds recognised longer sequences of events but found more non-linear sequencing challenging, and children aged 8-9 were more likely to engage in temporal reasoning. Abelman (1990) compared young children’s comprehension of realistic and non-chronological sequencing in TV shows. The results indicate that cognitive ability contributed significantly to the comprehension of the realistic but did not support the understanding of structures such as time-leap format.

These empirical studies have highlighted the challenges that temporal complexities such as flashback and temporal ellipsis, which many literary narratives employ, present for children’s comprehension. We propose that a key factor in children’s comprehension of visual and audio-visual narratives is how these temporal features are combined, that is, their co-patterning. Hence, in this paper, we integrate findings of previous empirical studies that have focused on individual features and put forward a comprehensive coding scheme for analysing the co-patterning of crucial temporal features and how different kinds of co-patterning impact on children’s comprehension of audiovisual narratives.

The analytical framework we propose supports a multimodal discourse analytic approach to systematically identifying three types of temporal relations (event time, sequencing and frequency) and examining as well as comparing how these relations are multimodally represented and combined in audio-visual narratives.
The novelty of our approach lies in offering a model for formalising the combination of these features and allowing us to formulate an empirically testable hypothesis on how different co-patternings of the temporal features support or hinder children’s understanding of time and causality of events in film.

We tested this hypothesis through an exploratory study in which 28 children aged 7-10 years watched two segments from the Disney animations Ratatouille (2007) and Tangled (2010). While both segments represent a flashback, our multimodal analysis of each segment demonstrates that the co-patterning of temporal features in Tangled is more complex and would be harder for children to comprehend. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a comprehension test after each participant had viewed each clip and used a free recall task in which each child was asked two questions: “What happened in the movie clip you just saw?” and “Have you seen this movie before?”. We coded whether the participants comprehended the main characters’ memories of the past and whether they grasped the logical links between the memory and the characters’ change of knowledge and behaviour after the flashback scene. We also tested whether familiarity with the movies supported children’s ability to comprehend the non-linear narrative segments and the character. All responses are recorded, transcribed, coded by expert raters and statistically analysed.

Key findings and conclusion
The results of our exploratory study show a significant difference between children’s comprehension of the Ratatouille and Tangled clips. As the structures established based on our analytical scheme demonstrate, the Tangled clip indeed poses more challenges for the children to comprehend the flashback. Comprehension of time is positively associated with the interpretation of event causality and character development. Familiarity with the film does not impact on children’s comprehension of narrative complexity.
Directions for building on this study include expanding the sample size and comparing the responses of children from different age groups. Cultural differences in children’s understanding of time and narrative comprehension are another avenue that merits attention.

Abelman, R. (1990). You can’t get there from here: Children’s understanding of time-leaps on television. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 34, 469–476.
Dunn, R. & Wyver, S. (2019). Before ‘us’ and ‘now’: developing a sense of historical consciousness and identity at the museum. International Journal of Early Years Education, 27, 360–373.
Hoodless, P. (2002). An investigation into children’s developing awareness of time and chronology in story. Journal of Curriculum Studies 34, 173–200.
Masterman, E. & Rogers, Y. (2002). A framework for designing interactive multimedia to scaffold young children’s understanding of historical chronology. Instructional Science 30, 221–241.
Skjaeveland, Y. (2017). Learning history in early childhood: Teaching methods and children’s understanding. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 18, 8–22.