Set creativity soaring with make-believe birds

18th December 2015 at 00:00

The other day I confiscated an imaginary parrot.

Let me explain. I’m on a mission to encourage my class to use their imaginations more in extended writing. After lots of reading and conversations with some of the most creative people I know, we came up with some ideas.

Enter the parrot. Recently, children have been striving to win points for good work and behaviour. They can exchange them for items on an imaginary price list – a pretend cake, a unicorn, control of the weather, you get the idea.

I’m not sure how long it will last, but there’s something magical about seeing the class tough nut skipping down the corridor, chattering away to his theoretical hamster.

When squawks started emanating from a cluster of boys during a maths lesson, however, I was worried. “Miss, Johnny brought his imaginary parrot into class,” I was informed. Not a line I ever expected to hear outside of a Monty Python sketch.

“You know the rules, Johnny,” I responded. “Take it to the door quickly and quietly, and let it fly to your bag.” Johnny didn’t speak – except with his face, which quite clearly said, “Or what?”

My every instinct was to say, “Don’t be so ridiculous, it’s not real.” And there, in one, frustrated put-down, we’d all be squashed back into the whimsy-free limits of real life.

So we did the confiscation dance. I stalked towards him, hand outstretched, eyebrows raised. He swithered. The class looked on, bemused.

After an interminable moment of tension, he extended his index finger to his shoulder. In silence we all watched the not-bird step on, and get lifted on to my hand. Gingerly, I carried Polly to my filing cabinet and settled him (her?) inside the top drawer.

Crisis averted, we continued with maths. Twenty minutes later, I was basking in that delicious almost-silence where all you hear is the scratching of pencils and heads, and you fool yourself into briefly thinking that this teaching lark might not be so hard.

My self-congratulation was interrupted by a muffled caw. Johnny had his hand over his mouth and was doing his best parrot voice, “Miss, let me out. I can’t breathe in here. Parrots have rights too, y’know!”

Given the near-daily conundrum of whether to laugh, cry or shout, I chose to shout. “THE PARROT IS IN AN IMAGINARY SOUND-PROOF BOX!” Honestly, I’m not yet sure whether these interventions make any difference to the quality of creative writing, but they’re as effective as any classroom management strategy I’ve seen.

Of course, Johnny had the last word. As he scampered out that day, he turned back with a parting shot: “Hey Miss, I’m gonna take my imaginary parrot home tonight and teach it to swear.”

What his parents made of that, I can only imagine…

Names have been changed. Joanna Rose is a recently qualified primary teacher

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