Reflective lines of questioning

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
POEMS FOR THINKING. By Robert Fisher. Nash Pollock Publishing Pounds 9. 99. GAMES FOR THINKING. By Robert Fisher. Nash Pollock Publishing Pounds 10. 99

In Poems for Thinking Robert Fisher's words "the meaning of a poem is not fixed" promise breadth through focus. Poems range from traditional to modern and include diverse cultures and forms. Children are encouraged to question, reflect, and, most importantly, form a "community of enquiry" which honours the individual. Although talk is not directed through the teacher, his participatory role goes far beyond the outworn notion of "facilitator".

The poems are not linked clumsily to issues. For instance, Chief Seattle's "How Can You Buy the Sky?", spoken in response to governmental designs on his people's lands, is interpreted first through questioning dependent on close reading of the text. In a sense, this is a "found" poem, crafted through time and listener response into lines on the page. Analysis is part of that collusion with the speaker. Only then is conversation explored through questions such as "Do you think the earth has a spirit?" Then even the suggestion "Design a little bin" transcends bathos as simply a practical outcome of a process of thought.

Issues explored range from bullying to happiness, from dialect to miracles, the poets from Shakespeare to Adrian Mitchell. Throughout, children are alerted to their own experience, made reflective about all too familiar worlds and, through sensitive procedures, encouraged to talk. When Fisher quotes D H Lawrence's words: "Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending," they address our unlistening culture and are a fitting testimonial to the intention of this book.

At first glance, Games for Thinking promises a life-saving resource for supply teachers and end-of-term activity. Fisher's intentions, however, are justifiably more serious. Again, the "community of enquiry" gives purpose and structure to children's play which, left to itself, usually "reaches stalemate and becomes intellectually aimless".

Fisher's argument is persuasive. It is not so much the game itself that matters but the quality of thought before, during and after participation. "Haste, narrowness and lack of focus" are identified as blocks to thinking challenged by the structure of the activity. The areas specifically addressed are language, mathematics, and visual, spatial and kinaesthetic awareness, and the games themselves range from the traditional "Twenty Questions" to the more unusual.

I found this book less exciting than Poems for Thinking simply because it inevitably lacks the focus and context the poems provide. It is, however, valuable for top junior to middle secondary and, perhaps because Fisher's claims are modest, (he concedes results are not easily measurable) a convincing argument for these kinds of structured games.

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