How Our Imaginative Lives Change: Implications For Teaching & LearningShare
Whether in pre-K or graduate school, our students learn best when their imaginations and emotions are engaged. This post introduces an educational idea that will allow you to maximize your students' imaginative engagement.
There’s a “new kid” on our (educational) block.
Tilt your head a little more to the left—just there. See? Tucked in among all the faces you easily recognize is one that’s unfamiliar. He doesn’t look that different, really, but he’s definitely new. And he’s looking right at you.
Will you walk toward him or walk away?
Walk Toward: Meet “Kinds of Understanding”
This “new kid” is a concept called “Kinds of Understandings.” It will help you understand the unique features of your students’ emotional and imaginative lives. Indeed, the concept isn't "new" at all--it’s been articulated in many dozens of books and well over a thousand articles. It’s been studied in universities around the galaxy for over thirty years.
Dr. Kieran Egan uses the concept of Kinds of Understanding to describe the different ways we make sense of and imaginatively engage with the world. Consider your students—or perhaps your own kids—as you read on.
Have you ever noticed that our youngest students’ imaginations are alive with stories? They envision the world in ways that are ripe with dramatic images and fantasy, rhythmic with patterns, rippled with mystery and awe. Our youngest students make meaning of their experiences—of your curriculum—through the tools oral language provides. These include story, dramatic oppositions, rhyme/rhythm/pattern, engagement of the body, and a sense of mystery. (Find a summary of the tools of oral language here.) As a result of employing these tools, our youngest students predominantly have a MYTHIC Kind of Understanding of the world (Egan, 2005). Their worlds are shaped by the richness oral language offers them.
Have you ever noticed that learning to read often coincides with a shift in the kinds of things that emotionally and imaginatively engage children? When children learn to read a whole new set of tools functionally “rewires” the brain—now, the stories that engage children tend to have dramatic extremes and limits within them, they have strong heroic and human dimensions, they evoke a sense of wonder. Our literate students are less likely to believe in the fantasy of, say, Santa Claus, because they are now fascinated with reality and its fantastic dimensions. Our literate students make emotional meaning of their experiences through the tools of literacy. These include story, extremes and limits of reality, heroic qualities, humanization of meaning, sense of wonder, revolt and idealism, and change of context. (Find a summary of the tools of literacy here.) Outside of your classroom—whether hanging out with friends, playing an online game or reading a favorite book—these “tools” are the features of the world reading students find most engaging. They have what Egan (2005) refers to as a ROMANTIC Kind of Understanding of the world.
Have you noticed that in late high school—or perhaps later, or earlier, depending on the learning opportunities they have—our students may begin to ask different kinds of questions about the world? Our older/adult students often realize that a world of theory exists to explain the immediate experiences they have had and all of the events they have studied in school. When introduced to theoretical thinking and abstract ideas, these more mature students begin to seek certainty and “Truth” in big ideas. The big ideas or theories that explain how society, government, culture, or nature work (or indeed these very concepts—society, culture, nature etc.) begin to contribute to their own identity. Theory now feeds an interest in gaining a sense of intellectual security and expressing personal agency. Now, tools of theoretical thinking shape a PHILOSOPHIC Kind of Understanding (Egan, 2005). (Tools of Philosophic Understanding are currently being added to the Tools of Imagination Series—See #16 Take Them Out Of This World, #17 Employ A Meta-Narrative Structure, or #18 Introduce General Theories And Anomalies)
Becoming familiar with your students' Kinds of Understanding--and the unique tools of imagination that shape it--can help you make your teaching as memorable and meaningful as possible.
Our students' imaginative lives change--so should the tools we employ to make the content we teach them most meaningful.
From Theory To Practice
All educators know when their students are engaged. How can that engagement be made stronger and more frequent? I've tried to show that tapping into students’ Kinds of Understanding has a lot to offer in that regard. Conceiving of our students as demonstrating features of Mythic, Romantic, or Philosophic Kinds of Understandings gives us a frame of reference for how to best engage them with any and all subject matter. It gives us access to powerful “sets” of learning tools that engage imagination.
What other “kid” on our educational block takes the elusive goal of emotionally and imaginatively engaging all learners and translates that into practical teaching strategies?
The Tools of Imagination series describes a whole set of tools you can employ to develop your students Mythic/Romantic/Philosophic Understandings.
Learn more about Imaginative Education here. Or read Three Toolkits To Help Maximize Student Engagement & Learning (published on GettingSmart) that goes deeper into how different tools impact our imaginative engagement and development.
Read: Egan, K. (2005). An imaginative approach to teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
[This post was first published on Robert Ward’s “Rewarding Education” Blog For Teachers And Parents. See it here.]