Unleash The Power Of Curriculum with Cognitive Tools

Curriculum has latent power. It containspossibilities of all kinds, including possibilities for engagement, empowerment, joy, inquiry, and transformation in learning. Ourchallenge asteachers is to enable thesepossibilities for ourstudents, to activate a process that leaves our students feeling knowledgeable, capable, and inspired.

Are you using the best teaching tools to unleash the power of your curriculum?

No matter their age, our studentscome to us with active emotional and imaginative lives. They all frequently and routinely think about the world in ways that evoke their emotions and imaginations.

For example, they universallyenjoy stories or narratives of all kinds. They all enjoy jokes and humour. They all identify patterns in the world around them. Many are fascinated by extremes of experience and limits of reality–the stuff in the Guinness Book of World Records. Manyassociate with heroes and even idolize people, ideas, or institutions. Manystart collecting things and obsess over hobbies. Words causeimages to arise in all of their minds. They all enjoya good mystery and can be left awestruck by unanswered questions or strange events. Our older studentsmayenjoy abstract ideas and theories that represent them. Some seek ways to enact change in their environments.I could go on and on; our students’ emotional and imaginative lives manifest themselves in many variedways.

These different forms of engagement are not insignificant; they are actually ways of thinking thathelp human beingslearn. In Imaginative Education we call these features of our imaginative and emotional lives “cognitive tools“–they are emotional and imaginative ways human beings make meaning in theworld. They are also the best tools available for unleashing the latent power in your curriculum.

3reasons why cognitive tools unleashthe power of curricula

#1 Cognitive tools improvememory &stimulate meaning.

In other words, using a cognitive tool to teach somethingmakes iteasier for your students to remember the topic. Ted Hughes once called cognitive tools “little factories of understanding”–this is a great metaphor for describing whatcognitive tools do for our minds. Using cognitive tools in your teaching–the story-form, humanization of meaning, jokes & humour, collections & hobbies and more–will have a profound impact onstudents; they will leave studentsfeeling an emotional connection of some kind with the content. The curriculum content within students’ minds is nowtied up with the generativewhat iffeature of the imagination.

For example, ifyou embed the learning of a mathematical theorem within a conversation that evokes agreat controversy around that idea (Revolt and Idealism tool) or within the context of the mathematician struggling to propose a new idea (Humanization of Meaning tool) or within a vivid image of how that theorem works or was discovered (Mental Imagery Evoked From Words tool) then you tie up emotion and imagination with the theorem itself. (See many more examples of cognitive tools applied to subject matter in the Tools of Imagination seriesor within variouslesson and unit plans on the Imaginative Education Research Group website. Or check out this instruction table of cognitive tools.)

The great thing about cognitive tools, too, is thatall of your students arealready usingthem to make sense of the world. Rather thanteaching students to use them, your job is to engage these already-active features of their minds.

#2 Cognitive tools ignite YOUR passion.

Successful teaching requires an engaged teacher as much as an engaged student. Cognitive tools will ignite your passion for learning as much as your students. Take a few minutes and see what I mean. Simply pick a cognitive toolfrom those listed in the Tools of Imagination Series. Read what the tool isabout and see how you might use it to teach something in your curriculum. Sure, you might need to think differently about your topic (e.g. see Tip #8 Seek Heroic Qualities or Tip #2 Find A Source of Dramatic Tension), but that’s where you can spark your own curiosity. Cognitive toolsengage your passion. They set the stage for you to engage your students.

#3 Cognitive toolspowercritical, creative, &collaborative thinking.

The goals of schools are varied and have always been contested–you prioritize initiatives differently depending on your view of the purpose of education. But few would disagree with the need to educate students to be good thinkers. That is to say, to have the critical, creative and collaborative thinking skillsrequired to navigate a high-tech, multi-cultural and multi-modal world.At the end of the day,good thinking–thekinds of skills we describe as “21st century skills”–all require rich and flexible use of cognitive tools. The more we tie up knowledge of all kinds with the features of the human imagination, the more we support the ability for our students to think well.

Final Thoughts

The meaning of “curriculum” is changing. For many years it was simply the content–thestuff–to get through in a course of study. Thankfully, few people still hold this parochial view. Educatorsunderstand the complexity of the teaching-learning process, the complexity of “curriculum”. Theyunderstand thatcovering topics over the course of a school year is not as important for the overall intellectual well-being of the child asuncovering relationships of all kinds–relationships between topics(all knowledge is connected), relationships between students and knowledge (enabling curiosity, inquiry, feelings of autonomy), relationships between students (the power of collaboration and mentorship in learning) etc. Theyunderstand that curriculumis a fascinating network of processes and possibilities.

If you want to unleash the power of yourcurriculumthe best way to do so is to equip your cognitive toolkit. A cognitive tools approach to teachingis an easy and effectiveway to unleash the latent power of curriculum–toengage, enable, and inspire students. Learn more at imaginED.

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