Tips for Imaginative Educators: #1 Find the Story

Here’s the golden rule of Imaginative Education: Identify the emotional significance of the topics you are teaching.

This rule applies to all educators. No matter what you teach, where you teach, or the age of your students, engaging teaching starts with you identifying what it is about the topic that evokesyour sense of wonder. On one level,this is obvious. Students know when their teachers are interested or engaged in a topic. A teacher’s passion and enthusiasm in general can inspire students to learn. In imaginative teaching, the teacher’s engagement with the curriculum lies at the very heart of effective practice. It is not an option. It is not a frill. Ateacher’s emotional engagement with a curriculum topic is an essential part of all good teaching. Finding an emotional connection to a topic is how you find the story; it is thefirst and most important step towards teaching asstorytelling. (Read more about teaching as storytelling here: How To Make Your Teaching Meaningful And Memorable.)

Story vs. Storytelling: Defining Terms

Let me clarify terms. Using “story” in your teaching does notmean you are going to create a fictional story. Nor does it meanthat you must endlessly tell your students personal stories. Lastly, it doesnotmean you need to find a “story” to readalong with all of your lessons. These activities are uses of story and may, on one level, support learning and formation of relationships with your students, but they donottap into the potency of the story tool for imaginative learning.

For the imaginative educator, a“story” is more profound: it is a way of shaping information to bring out its emotional importance.

The Good News

Any and all topics in the curriculum can be story-shaped. Whether primary explorations of numbers, advanced study ofquantum physics, a lesson on counting to 100, or exploration of world literature, topics that are taught in ways that leave students feeling a human emotion such as care, concern, awe, fear, intrigue etc. are more meaningful and memorable. This is the great educational power of the story.

More Good News

All human beings make meaning in their lives in storied ways: all human beingsfeel something for the events in their lives. If I asked you how 2016 has been treating you so far, you would tell me a “story”; you would describe your year in a way that wouldleave me feeling something about the events that have shaped it so far. This is “story-shaping”; it connects human emotion to information. The trick for effective teaching is to tie up emotional responses with the curriculum content you are dealing with.

Remember the golden rule:Begin with your emotional engagement–find the story–and you will be able toevoke the wonder in your math concepts, language arts concepts, or biology lessons.

I have had the great honour of learningabout the power of storyfrom amaster thinker and teacher: Dr.Kieran Egan. Over the course of his rich career he has focused a lot of his energy ondescribing the power of storyfor teaching and learning. The Imaginative Education Research Group (IERG) has spent over a decade bringing his ideas into practical reality.

Quick Example: Punctuation

If you want your students to learn to effectively use punctuation—like I mean really know how to correctlyuse a semi-colon—then you’ll be more effective if they feelsomething about it. So, remembering ourgolden rule, start by asking yourself:

What’s the story on punctuation? How is punctuation wonder-ful?

(These maynotbe questions thatyou have ever asked yourself before. I know.)

I’m curious…what do you think about punctuation? (I would loveto know what you think…Post a comment below!) One thought I had is that punctuation marks are ingenious; they are tidy little packages of meaning that help convey body language that we physically experience in face-to-face interactions but that islost in written communication. Imagine, for example, the facial expressions and bodily gestures that may be conveyedwith an “!” Or, think about the way a “;” can replace a wink (e.g. I got a new car; it is a midnight blueMazarati.) This could be my story on punctuation: punctuation marks are unsung heroes; they are great conveyors of meaning upon which human beings rely for clarity in all aspects of life.

Summary of Tip #1: Find The Story

Find the story in the topic you are teaching. To do that, begin all of your planning by feeling your way into a topic. Explore with your emotions alert. Seek what it is about the topic that engages your passion or evokes your sense of wonder. When you have found that emotional core then you, like the reporter sent to get “the story” on some news-worthy event, know what emotional aspect you can evoke to engage your students in the topic.

Stay tuned for the next Teacher Tip in the Tools of ImaginationSeries. Learn what different features of story-shaped lessons will most engage your students.

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