Harnessing the power of positive imagery;The Learning Game

6th March 1998 at 00:00
So you think you can't alter your level of intelligence? Try playing The Learning Game, says Seonag MacKinnon

The creator of The Learning Game and her assistant can't get a word in during the first five minutes at the launch of their development programme for teachers and pupils. At Govan High - one of the main pilot schools - words of enthusiasm tumble out of the staff.

For a queasy moment they bring to mind born-again Christians, partly because of the programme's major emphasis on the role of language in creating a positive school. People in the school are encouraged to replace remarks like "it's freezing" with "it could be warmer".

Assistant head Jackie Purdie acknowledges the problem - sorry - challenge. She assures us that staff sometimes customise The Learning Game's language principle by salting it with tongue-in-cheek emphasis.

Positive language, which draws inspiration from the computer term GIGO - if you put garbage in your brain processor, you get garbage out - is the theme in The Learning Game which Ms Purdie highlights. "It is so simple, but it has transformed my classroom. We've got energy, we're going forward. Nobody takes to the principle of positive language easily, particularly teachers. But when you do it, it makes a big difference, drip, drip over time."

She stresses that in striving to be positive, staff and pupils do not have to deny the reality of a situation. "If they hate maths, they don't have to suddenly start saying that they like it - only that they could like it better. They don't have to change something, only the slant they take on it."

Essentially, the aim of the four-part game is to help children develop confidence and open themselves up to learning, then use techniques such as mind-mapping or rhymes which also help boost achievement.

A workshop involving eight cards depicting different forms of confidence such as the confidence to dream and think big or the confidence to fail, to lead or to change, encourages children to realise that confidence can be built on. The discussion and evaluation, with individuals and groups, helps build self-belief.

Inspiration can also be drawn in from scientific evidence of how the brain works, keeping a picture diary recording positive events and from lessons such as Thomas's story. Thomas was always in trouble at home and school and was described as "downright stupid" by his teacher and expelled. He, Thomas Edison, later became deaf, but still managed to invent the phonograph, the battery, electrical generators and the light bulb.

Headteacher Iain White who hopes to break the cycle of deprivation in his school, where 70 per cent of pupils are on free school meals, encourages positive attitudes by inviting parents to an evening meeting on the theme and giving news of successful former pupils in the school newsletter. Former pupils include Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Leo Blair, father of the Prime Minister.

As regards learning techniques, White saw pupils learn the characteristics of living things - reproduction, respiration, removal of waste, sensing, moving, feeding, growing - by making up a rhythm (appropriately positive): Running Rapidly Round on a Saturday Morning Feeling Great.

Bobby Coates, principal teacher of technology, remembers the dropped jaws of his pupils when he demonstrated mind mapping by instantly committing to memory their Tuesday timetable. Another technique is to ask pupils to shut their eyes when the teacher demonstrates an exercise for a second time. It means that when they come to do it for themselves, they succeed because they have rehearsed it in their minds.

Mr Coates offers this assessment of The Learning Game: "I've taught for 18 years. This has changed the way I teach. My kids don't try any more - they go and do it."

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