Imagine that!

6th June 2003 at 01:00
Word association and unexpected questions are only two of the ways to get those neurons firing, says Rosemary Westwell

Creativity, or a sense of joy in exploring the imagination, is vital if children are going to learn. But being creative alone is not enough. Practical experience tells us that without engaging the imagination with learning material in a memorable way, children learn very little.

Take learning new words. One method is to imagine amusing pictures associated with the sound of a word. Remembering how to spell the word "conscience", for example, is easier after playing around with the word in pictures. For me, this spelling would be remembered by imagining a picture of a Greek ex-boyfriend in a science park. His name is Con and "science" reminds me how the final syllable is spelt.

Time spent on exploring connections with material to be learned by applying the imagination in this way should be both rewarding and entertaining.

Recently, a primary pupil was losing interest in his English work, and although he was conscientious and keen to succeed, he knew he needed help.

After extra lessons over a period of three months, he informed me that he had progressed from reading age 10 to 12. He was delighted. I had not taught him reading - Ihad simply engaged his imagination and given him the power to respond positively to his difficulties.

For example, after he had read no more than one laboured phrase from his book, I stopped him and asked what pictures he had in his mind. He gave me a look that only a primary pupil who thinks his teacher is mad can give, and paused. After asking him a series of questions that could not be answered from the text, such as "Did Jim like ice cream?" or "Why do you think he doesdoesn't like ice cream?", and after giving him suggestions like "I think Jim liked oysters too, becauseI", he soon joined in and his imagination took off. As a consequence, so did his reading.

Real learning comes not only when the imagination is applied in this way, but when there is personal interaction with the material. For example, if I commented that I thought Jim liked oysters because he liked slippery things such as his pet worms, the pupil was encouraged to argue. He might say:

"No, Jim did not like to eat oysters because they are living things and his worms are living things. He certainly wouldn't have eaten worms!" This helped the pupil develop as a learner. He became more confident in expressing his own opinions and more positive about his understanding of the material.

R J Westwell is an independent educational consultant in Cambridgeshire.

Her book Spontaneous Lessons in English is to be published by Zigzageducation in September

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