Ever given a thought to how important imagination is? Today, imagination is generally seen as something useful when the internet is down. However, the ability to imagine is the driving force behind creativity, inspiring a sense of humanity, and providing the foundations for critical thinking.
Imaginative play comes naturally to children, but like any skill, it also needs to be reinforced and taught throughout life. By sending children to school, they are stimulated both mentally and physically to prepare them for life better; personal growth, health, competence, and even happiness.
However vital for growth imagination is, it is not something widely taught or understood. In a prevalent TED talk on creativity and schooling, Sir Ken Robinson said that “humans are born with creativity, but we get educated out of it”.
Traditionally, schools are oriented towards core subjects such as mathematics and the sciences, whereas the creative classes like art and music seem to hold a less vital stature in curriculums. Teachers’ are expected to achieve certain learning benchmarks and follow lesson plans faithfully, meaning teachers often lack the time and or flexibility to work in areas that can promote creative learning. With this teaching paradigm, students respond by attempting to please the teacher: for example, by getting straight A’s, often through memorisation and rote learning. Through time these methods can promote a students loss of any intrinsic enthusiasm they had on the subject, and because of this trend, schools can become a place devoid of imagination and creativity.
On the flip side teaching, imaginative thinking can yield many benefits, including sharpening creative skills and improving their social and emotional skills. Incorporating imaginative thinking in lessons can activate dormant imaginations. Here are a few strategies we believe work well.
Flip the system. Loosening the classroom structure and allowing students to have more control over their learning and work can stimulate curiosity. Doing this makes students understand that learning is for them, not only for test scores. Practically, this might mean allowing students to determine the length of their output or not offering a deadline for submission – in essay writing exercises. Inviting students to decide how to assess the assignment, or evaluate their work. When students feel in charge, they often become more responsive towards their education.
Improvise, and improv’ may have only been used when referring to jazz musicians or stand-up comedians, but it has found its way into schools. Improvisation (improv) is a method of telling stories (or playing music) without a script. Our teachers apply this in language and grammar classes where one needs to both speak and listen. For example, a student starts a story with a few lines and then the next person, and the next continues until the whole group has contributed. The relevant rule is to say, “yes, and,” to every contribution which implies acceptance regardless of randomness. Improv sparks spontaneity and creativity; and, because it is nonjudgmental and tends to be playful, it frees up the introverts and allows lightness into the classroom, making learning a fun experience.
Doodle up. Drawing pictures while listening is a common sight in classrooms. Contrary to popular belief that doodling is a distraction in classes, it can be useful as it enables the doodler to stay focused on the subject and heightens mental arousal, especially in visual learners. Teachers capitalise on the benefits of doodling by including it in class work. For example, a teacher can ask students to ‘doodle’ while listening to the lesson and after doing a content analysis of their work, being mindful of the value and how it can improve focus and enhance imagination.
Introduce real-life scenarios. Many students lose interest quickly if they feel they cannot use their knowledge from lessons practically. To bring energy into these subjects, teachers engage their students by letting them create new things using the concepts gained from their classes.
With a lot of required work to be done and grades to achieve, students (especially older ones) can often get the message that learning is not fun. High school students, for example, get regular reminders to be serious about their studies and are under extreme pressures to achieve. Eventually, they may lose their natural sense of playfulness and curiosity and replace it with a solemn determination to do well. Teachers can also feel the weight of standardised tests and get constrained by lesson plans. By relaxing some structure in the lesson plans, giving more power to students in their learning, teachers can often restore joy and creativity in the classroom and ultimately impart lifelong learning skills.