An Imaginative Approach to Teaching
Kieran Egan, 2005
Built on the premise that “engaging students' imaginations is crucial to successful learning,” this book takes the reader on a voyage—or maybe a crusade—to revamp traditional ideas about lesson planning and teaching. Kieran Egan leads the way with an enthusiastic, engaging presentation that offers down-to-earth ideas and examples. The idea behind Egan's approach is to recognize the connection between learning, imagination, and emotion. When teachers use instructional strategies that activate students' emotions and imaginations, students not only become eager to learn but also retain and use the knowledge they gain, writes Egan. As a bonus, they gain increased cognitive flexibility and creativity.
The book describes “cognitive tools” that human beings employ as they go through three stages of cognitive development: oral language, literacy, and theoretical or abstract thinking. The “tool kit” related to oral language, for example, includes such cognitive tools as story, metaphor, binary opposites, jokes and humor, mental imagery, gossip, play, and mystery. Binary opposites (for example, good/bad, security/fear, competition/cooperation) are the most basic and powerful tools for organizing and categorizing knowledge. We see such opposites in conflict in nearly all stories, and they are crucial in providing an initial ordering to many complex forms of knowledge.
Egan describes a planning framework that teachers can use to incorporate these cognitive tools into specific lessons—lessons dealing with curriculum content ranging from place value in math to the life cycle of a butterfly in science. He provides specific and detailed examples showing how to draw students into the content, drive their intellectual inquiry, and create a sense of wonder as they pursue their learning.
There is something in this book for teachers of all age groups and all subjects. The book is a refreshing, thoughtful read that stealthily engages the reader's imagination and may become the basis for a real revolution in teaching.
Published by Jossey-Bass, 989 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94103; 800-956-7739; www.josseybass.com. 251 pages. Price: $24.95 hardcover.
—Reviewed by Judy Ochse, Associate Editor, Editorial Services, ASCD
Education Review: A Journal of Book Reviews. April, 2005.
Reviewed by by Robert F. Walch, Retired educator, Monterey, California
Egan, Kieran. (2005). An Imaginative Approach to Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Pages: 351 Price: $24.95 ISBN: 0-7879-7157-x
Explaining how to create imaginative engagement in every class not just language arts, music and art, is the stated goal of this book. A professor of education at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Egan's focus has been on teaching practices that develop a youngster's imagination.
According to Egan imagination is not peripheral to the core of education but, rather, at its center. He explains that no matter what the subject, imagination can be the "main workhorse of effective learning if we yoke it to education's central tasks" (p. xii). Of course, the trick becomes how to actually engage a student's imagination in subjects such as math, science, foreign language, or history and make this engagement a part of the daily routine of every class.
Egan provides a new way of understanding how a youngster's imagination works. He then suggests a series of practical frameworks and projects that will engage a student's imagination and emotion.
Addressing the concern of how his approach will affect test scores, Egan acknowledges that many educators believe developing a student's imagination has little to do with improving his test scores. He responds in the introduction, "My aim here is to show how increased focus on students' imaginations will lead to improvements in all measures of educational achievement, including the most basic standard tests" (p. xvii).
The book's three main chapters tackle the cognitive tools of a child's imagination. First the author identifies the tools that accompany oral language, then the tools associated with literacy, and finally the grouping related to theoretic thinking. Egan's contention is that the acquisition of cognitive tools drives students' educational progress so, obviously, the more a teacher knows about them, the better. Another piece of important information — knowing at what age they appear.
Each full chapter is followed by what the author calls a "half" chapter, which shows the practical relevance of the cognitive tools already discussed. Explained here are a wide range of "frameworks" from how to prepare for teaching the life cycle of a cool-blooded vertebrate and a unit on trees to an introduction to the tools and methods of differential calculus.
A quick way of determining if this is a book you want to purchase is to turn to one of these half chapters and start reading. If what you find makes sense and is applicable to your teaching situation (and it probably will) buy the book, digest the theory, and use one or two of the frameworks and sample lessons. Once you've done your "homework", you'll be able to devise assignments and lesson plans unique to your own classroom.
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