Tips for Imaginative Educators #9: Let them Obsess

Don’t worry, theyaren’t hoarders.

You may be relieved to hear that it’s very common for young peopleto collect things. Starting fromabout age 7 through to about age 14 or 15, collecting is a popular pastime formanyyoung people.What did you collect? One thing Icollected was stickers. I still have my sticker books and–believe it or not–30+ years later those smelly stickers are still smelly. (Probably not organic.)

In addition to collecting things, many young people also take up hobbies, focusing their attention on learning a new skill or learning all they can about someone or something. What was your obsession? Did you attempt to master a musical instrucment? Did you dedicate hours to the basketball court or hockey rink? Did you read everything from a particular author or spend hours absorbing the music of a particular singer or band?

Collections andhobbiesare features of the imagination andimportant learning tools.

What is going on?

The last tip in this teaching strategies series (#8: Identify The Heroic) indicated one way in which learning to read and writeimpacts our lives: we get a sense of how vast reality is and, simultaneously, a sense that we are vastly insignificant. Identifying heroes and idols is one way wedeal with that feeling of uncertainty and to begin to identify oursense of place in the world.

Collecting things and engaging in hobbies is another important way that we get a handle on the big wide world of which we are one small part. Our collections and hobbies engage us inamassing a lot of information about something or someone (like knowing all the stats on a hockey player or all the songs of a recording artist). Our students’ “obsessions” to “collect the set” or “know all they can” reflects a search for some kind of security. It is far from inconsequential for learning.


The theory and practice ofImaginativeEducation, or IE, is all about employing the features of our imaginative lives in all educational contexts in order tomake learning more engaging.Dr. Kieran Egan–educational philosopher and developer of the Imaginative Education approach–acknowledges that our students’ passion for collecting things and/or their obsession with knowing “all they can” is something we canemploy in the classroom to maximize learning.Like all theTools of Imaginationdescribed so far in this series, students’ interests in collecting is a cognitive tool that evokes emotion with whatever content knowledge it is tied up with.

How can this feature of students’ imaginative lives be employed to increase engagement and the effectiveness of teaching?

Imaginative educators know thateverythingin the curriculum has some aspect in it that students can learn exhaustively. Within all subject areas there is some aspect in which students can become experts. Studying the French Revolution? Divide up topics so students“collect” as much information as they can on topics like food or drink, fashion, housing, family structure, transportation etc. Allow each student tofeel that sense of intellectual security that comes from knowing more than others and knowing a lot in detail about some aspect of the world.

Enhance Learning & Imagination: Learning in Depth

A very powerful way to extend student engagement is to allow them to investigate a topic for their entire schooling–this is what the Learning in Depth, or LiD, project is all about. LiD offers students an on-going inquiry that they direct and they pace. Unlike any other aspect of their education, the LiD projectallows–but doesn’t rush students–to developexpertise on their topic over time. This long term inquiry projecttaps into the collections and hobbies cognitive tool, it affords students an arena for intellectual security and has powerful impacts in other subject areas resulting fromthe experience students gain in research, critical thinking etc. You can read Dr. Kieran Egan’s recent post on the value of Learning in Depth for student imagination here: “The more you know about something the easier it is to be imaginative about it.”Or more about the programhere.

The urge to “collect the set” is something savvy marketers often tap into: whether sets of books, charms on bracelets or customized coffee cards, collecting is a feature of our imaginative lives.


Learn more about Imaginative Education through the other posts in this BAM series!

Tips for Imaginative Educators #7: Identify Mysteries

Tips For Imaginative Educators #6: Laugh As You Learn

Tips For Imaginative Educators #5: Engage The Body

Tips for Imaginative Educators: #4 Metaphors Matter

Tips for Imaginative Educators: #3 Evoke Mental Imagery with Words

Tips For Imaginative Educators: #2 Find A Source of Dramatic Tension

Tips for Imaginative Educators: #1 Find the Story

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