Destination: Imagination

In a recent planning meeting for an arts integrated residency the classroom teacher, Karen (our education director who I’ll be working with on this residency) and I identified academic and arts objectives. The teacher that we’re collaborating with (let’s call her Mrs. M.) identified improving analysis and comparison skills as a goal for the academic area. The framework for the residency that we came up with is to go on a trip around the world and compare the characteristics of each place we visit, as well as discover what life would be like if we lived in each of these places.

The arts focus of the residency: imagination.

im·ag·i·na·tion (noun): the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.

How stoked are we?! Just the word “imagination” brings up all these warm and fuzzy feelings for me. It makes me think of some of my other favorite teaching artist words like exploration, creativity, process, and play. But before I become a total gusher, I’ll tell you how we arrived at this wonderful arts objective.

Mrs. M. shared a story with us about a writing exercise she had recently done with her second graders. She asked them to write about a trip they had taken. Many of them immediately replied with, “I’ve never been on a trip.” So Mrs. M told them to make it up. The results, which we’ll be using as a pre-assessment of our residency, were, at the most, a mix of short sentences like, “I went in a car. I ate a pop tart.” But many of the students didn’t even get that far. Mrs. M also told us that they struggle a lot in most creative writing exercises, and ask things like, “Well how can I tell the story when I don’t know what happens next.” They don’t have the confidence or cognitive skills yet to realize that they get to make it up.

I was baffled when I heard this story. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and as a kid I was always writing short stories or poems or drawing what my own planet would look like. I’ve already made a mental note to learn more about the neurology behind the imagination. I’m so excited by the enormous challenge of  help this second grade class strengthen and stretch their imagination muscles, not only so they can grow up to be creative thinkers, but so they can tap into it to enjoy learning as well.

To act is to portray something true under imaginary circumstances. But how often do we focus on imagination as a primary arts objective? The arts develop a myriad of skills that are applicable to academics and to life long learning, but these are all achieved through our impulse to create. To make something up. To express something true that we may or may not have experienced before in real life. Hopefully these second graders will gain more confidence to tell the next part of the story that hasn’t yet happened.

How do YOU exercise your imagination? 


4 thoughts on “Destination: Imagination

  1. If I am having trouble I try to imagine a limitation or a condition that I have to work around.
    For instance, if I was the second grade teacher you mention, I might have reframed the assignment to something like “Imagine you are coming to school. Everything is the same as usual except that you have to hop on one foot. What happens next?”

    I taught third grade in an urban school – okay, it’s a small city – Sometimes you have to really “scaffold” activities and tie them in to really concrete experiences. In fact, many times I’d ensure they had the experience by bringing things and activities into the classroom.

    Enjoy your time with the kids! Let me know if you want to bounce any ideas off me. I am now working as an “Artist in the Classroom” as part of my retirement, and I also took part in the Lincoln Center Institute Aesthetic Education – so I know a thing or two!

    • Hi Kim,

      Thanks so much for your comment! This year in particular I am really learning the value and necessity of scaffolding when lesson planning. It makes everyone in the room more successful- teachers, teaching artists and students. It’s going to be really interesting (and challenging!) to scaffold activities in this residencies so we can gradually build the students’ confidence in making those leaps. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Sounds like you guys are in for a fun time! Here’s a link to an article on the Teaching Artist Journal’s new ALT/space blog that I immediately thought of as you described your residency and its potential challenges. The author, Richard Jenkins, is a cartooning TA who is in the middle of a series of posts about a lesson he created called “Outer Space Immigrants” and how he utilized Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to reach all the learners in his class. The reason I thought of this piece (and the two the precede it) is the way that he uses UDL to scaffold (as Kim mentioned, above) his lesson and support his students in building imaginary characters. Here’s the link to the third post in the series (the first two posts are linked at the end the third) — I’ll be posting his fourth installment soon. All the best!

  3. Pingback: The Rollercoaster « ArtSmart

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