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Students Daydreaming? That Can Be a Good Thing!

Posted by on in What If?
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daydreaming student

Do you see daydreaming students as a sign of disrespect? They say Albert Einstein was a daydreamer. And if it was good enough for him – one of the most brilliant individuals to walk the earth – shouldn’t you be excited to see your own students doing it? Or was Einstein an exception to the rule?

It turns out that daydreaming is actually essential to learning. I had stumbled upon a whole lot of research on the topic before inviting neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and educator Melanie Link Taylor to Studentcentricity to discuss it. Here’s what Mary Helen had to say following the interview:

When people daydream, they activate a network in the brain called the “Default Mode Network.” This network is important for thinking about things that are not in the here-and-now. It is involved in forming and reliving memories, imagining possible future scenarios, making meaning out of complex information, and deliberating on the ethical and moral implications of situations and actions. It is also involved in thinking about one’s self, and may be important for building a healthy identity. To learn optimally, students should be encouraged not only to attend to the teacher, to produce work and to complete tasks, but also to reflect on the work they have produced and on interesting and engaging ideas. Students learn to “do” things when they are paying attention. But, they learn to “understand” things when they are reflecting.  Both processes are essential for students’ academic and personal development.

Melanie added:

Daydreaming is productive when a student has the stimulation and opportunity to reflect and imagine outcomes and possibilities, even if it seems impossible or impractical. Daydreaming visualizes a world not yet seen, with the encouragement of a future creating it.

One important thing I learned during the discussion is that daydreaming and zoning out are not the same thing. You’ll want to hear what my guests had to say about that.

Then, to learn more on the topic, you can check out the following articles:

-  “Teach Kids to Daydream”: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/teach-kids-to-daydream/280615/

- “Why Daydreaming Is Critical to Effective Learning”: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/10/06/why-daydreaming-is-critical-to-effective-learning/

- “Daydreaming pupils who stare into space in class are actually the most intelligent, study finds”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1023712/Daydreaming-pupils-stare-space-class-actually-intelligent-finds-study.html

- “Why Daydreaming Is An Essential Part of Learning”: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1023712/Daydreaming-pupils-stare-space-class-actually-intelligent-finds-study.html

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Oskar Cymerman | @CrushSchoolSpy
    Oskar Cymerman | @CrushSchoolSpy Tuesday, 08 March 2016

    Thanks for this one Rae! This is great :) I believe daydreaming is part of the "diffuse mode" of thinking, which often leads to creative ways of solving problems or finding connections where the "focused mode" often fails. I will definitely read the articles you linked to. Thanks again.

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Wednesday, 09 March 2016

    You're so very welcome, Oskar! One of the (many) things that disturbs me about the way children are being raised today is that there is so little downtime! Children need quiet moments to escape into their own minds. I worry for those who never have the experience.

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