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Paths into the mind

When Tony Buzan, the originator of Mind Maps to unlock the brain's potential, came to Renfrewshire to talk to teachers, and Katrina Bowes of Tapestry followed up with training for teachers in every school in the authority, the response was very positive, says education adviser Gary Johnstone.

"As an authority, we decided to support the training because of what it offered the kids. They were learning how to learn, not just content, and it was raising their self-esteem. I've seen youngsters happy to stand up and talk about their mind maps who would never talk about their writing."

Teachers and pupils seem equally enthusiastic about the creative approach to learning. At Langcraigs Primary in Paisley, headteacher Glen Dawson says: "The practical tool we learned was mind mapping. The reason the kids took to it, I think, was the build-up over five sessions which caught and held their attention. It was very visual, very physical.

"One thing I noticed particularly was how much praise Katrina gave the kids. The title of her course was Your Amazing Brain and right from the start the kids were made to feel special. She would say: 'That is fabulous!' I expected some difficult kids - those who had decided it's not cool to learn - to have a laugh, but they loved it. They took it very seriously."

The sessions with Ms Bowes were followed by a lesson by Mr Buzan, which was eagerly anticipated by pupils curious to see a millionaire. Four months later, now in P7, they are more interested to talk about the message than the messenger.

"I liked it when they put on music and we had brain gym," says Darren Jones: "We did exercises like touching the tip of your nose and your toes.

"I remember your brain looks like this." He makes two fists and holds them together. "It has a left side for school work and a right side which is for colours, daydreams and emotions."

"If you look after your brain, the halves join together like this," says Laura Watson, putting her fists together, then opening them up and interlocking her fingers. "That makes it much better and stronger."

"And your brain needs plenty of water to work well," says Jordan Woods. "Ms Bowes got us to put a raisin in water and it swelled up and went back to being a grape. She said if you drink water your brain is like a grape, but if you don't it dries up and goes into a raisin."

Class teacher Lesley-Ann Connick pulls out multicoloured mind maps produced by the pupils during sessions with Tapestry and explains the effects on their work.

"The kids were asked to write about themselves and first we got: 'My name is so-and-so. I am 10 and go to Langcraigs.'

"But then they had to build up mind maps of themselves and their interests, following which they were again asked to write about themselves. This time you could hardly get them to stop. It was quite an achievement, because writing is a real barrier to learning for a lot of these kids."

Later this year, Ms Connick will deliver in-service training sessions to colleagues who have seen the impact of the methods.

Music, art and brain-based learning have been woven together in Tapestry to create a big picture that seems to appeal not only to international experts in music, art and education, but also to heads, teachers and schoolchildren.

Jordan sums it up: "It was work and fun put together - which made it a lot of fun doing the work."

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