This book is offered as an alternative approach to planning teaching. An alternative to what, and what kind of alternative? It is an alternative to the dominant procedure recommended for planning lessons and units of study, and an alternative to some of the dominant principles recommended for selecting content for teaching. In nearly all teacher preparation programs students are taught that in planning lessons and units they should first identify and list their objectives, then select content and materials, then choose appropriate methods, and then decide on evaluation procedures. Students are also taught as guiding principles that children's learning proceeds from the concrete to the abstract, from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, and from active manipulation to symbolic conceptualization.
My first task will be to try to show that we do need alternatives to this model and these principles. I will argue that the objectives--content--methods--evaluation model can lead to an inappropriately mechanistic way of thinking about planning teaching. Similarly, I will try to show that the principles about children's learning are at best inadequate, and lead us largely to ignore the most powerful tools for learning that children bring with them to school. The dominant model and principles are derived from educational research and theorizing that has almost entirely ignored the power and educational uses of children's imagination.
A continuing theme of this book is that children's imaginations are the most powerful and energetic learning tools. Our most influential learning theories have been formed from research programs that have very largely focused on a limited range of children's logical thinking skills. That research has largely neglected imagination, because imagination is, after all, difficult stuff to get any clear hold on. Consequently the dominant learning theories that have profoundly influenced education, helping to form the dominant model and principles mentioned above, have taken little account of imagination. A constant focus of this book, then, will be on areas of children's intellectual activity in which we can see imagination at work, or play. Especially I will focus on children's stories, particularly fantasy stories. By keeping imaginative intellectual activity to the fore I will try to redress an imbalance in our general view of the child as a learner.
What kind of alternative is offered here? It is a model for planning teaching that encourages us to see lessons or units as good stories to be told rather than sets of objectives to be attained. It is an organic approach that puts meaning center-stage. It is an approach that draws on more adequate principles of learning; principles that use and stimulate children's imagination. This book is built around a new planning model for teaching; a model primarily concerned with providing children with access to and engagement with rich meaning.
This is not a book about how to teach using fictional stories, nor is it about how to tell stories effectively. Rather it is about how to use the power of the story form in order to teach any content more engagingly and meaningfully.
The story form is a cultural universal; everyone everywhere enjoys stories. The story, then, is not just some casual entertainment; it reflects a basic and powerful form in which we make sense of the world and experience. Indeed some people claim that the story form reflects a fundamental structure of our minds (Levi-Strauss, 1966). Whatever the case, it is clear that children are readily and powerfully engaged by stories. This book is an attempt to design a model that draws on the power of the story form and uses that power in teaching.
I will describe the model in detail and give a number of examples of its use in different curriculum areas. Because it conflicts at a number of points with some of the presently dominant principles and procedures, it seems best to begin by discussing those principles and procedures.
In the first chapter, then, I will consider such prominent principles as "from the concrete to the abstract" and "from the known to the unknown." Few people take these as universally true, of course, but I will try to show how such principles are enormously influential, sometimes in subtle ways.
Also I will try to show how that influence can be educationally destructive. My main concern will be to show that these are principles of learning that have been formulated very largely with no reference to children's imagination. By considering children's imagination, particularly as it is evident in fantasy stories, we can see clearly some of the inadequacies of these principles, and can formulate for ourselves more adequate and practical principles.
Because the model draws primarily on the story form, I will discuss stories in detail, in the second chapter. As an introduction to the model I will describe some of the elements of stories. I will focus on just a few such elements; those that are crucial to the power of stories to engage children. With these in mind, the inadequacies of the objectives--content-- methods--evaluation model will be examined.
In the third chapter I will present my alternative model for planning teaching. The basic model is quite compact, designed, following the example of Ralph Tyler (1949), as a set of questions, the answers to which will provide a lesson or unit plan. The purpose is to shape the lesson or unit to use the engaging power of the story form and to ensure that the most important meanings inherent in the content are communicated. I will show the way the model can be used in planning a unit on Communities and a lesson on the Vikings.
The fourth chapter will be taken up with various additional examples of using the model in a variety of curriculum areas. We tend to assume that the story form can deal only with events, but I will try to show how it can also shape the teaching of mathematics and science to fulfill the aim of meaningful teaching.
In the final chapter I will discuss some implications of the alternative principles I propose for the curriculum. One cannot, of course, separate teaching and curriculum in any radical way. Attempts to dispute principles used in selecting content for particular lessons and units will necessarily have some impact on the overall selection and sequencing of content in the curriculum. I will make a case for considerably enriching the content of the elementary school curriculum, in order to provide children with things to think about that challenge and stimulate the imaginative powers they think with.
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