Being able to imagine is one of the simplest and paradoxically, the most complex tasks our brains perform.
‘Imagination’ is the tool through which famous novels, music, choreographic pieces etc. are created. I would like to share a certain experience I had in my class. During one of the first-grade classes, I was asking the students whether they knew what a water cycle was? Enthusiastically, a lot of students raised their hands. The first person said, it is a cycle that runs on water. Another said it is a motorcycle for water. Although these two answers may be incorrect for the actual process of the water cycle, it leads me to think whether it really was the wrong answer to my question. I had simply asked ‘what is water cycle?’. In these classes, I witnessed the beautiful power of imagination. Simply, the words ‘water’ and ‘cycle’ lead to the student’s ability to imagine a vehicle which could run on water. Since we are hard-wired to look at things only in a certain way, it was nearly impossible for me to imagine the description they were giving me! One may ask, why would imagination be such an important thing? Stephen M. Kosslyn’s research on fMRIs proves that imagining things visually was no different from seeing them. This sort of process, which is referred to as Motor Imagery, is a mental stimulation or cognitive rehearsal (Collet et al, 2011). Thus, imagination provides mental stimulation and is one of the most important cognitive capacities in learning (Greene, 1995).
Beau Lotto (2017), in his book “Deviate”, suggests that in the process of imagination, the “realness” becomes much larger and open rather than the conventional understanding of real only through physical experience. As a person in the field of dance science and education, I often find myself reminding everyone that the brain is very much a part of our body and just like the muscles of our body, needs to be strengthened. Although it seems like quite a complex process, ‘imagination’ is one of the easiest ways to activate the brain muscles. However, one must be careful of negative imagination, which is counterproductive. Imagining challenging and complex possibilities helps the brain to adapt and enriches our physical environments.
The next important question is – How could one use imagination in the learning process? In a classroom, simply asking the students to imagine a certain thing may not evoke their interest and might look like quite an uninteresting task. However, when movement is used as a tool to develop the process of mental imagery, it can be shaped by various activities, depending on the learning objective of a particular class. In the process of doing the movement, a child may be imagining a certain character or an object and putting their brain muscle into action, which could aid in the stimulation of imagination. Movements make it possible to use mental imagery according to the context and learning implications of the class. They could be abstract or could be a very clear and simple representation of the given topic. The movement could also be done in pairs or as group work, allowing the children to learn from each other’s imagination as well. It could also be adapted to a given space or promote both the educator and children to explore learning in different spaces.
A technocratic approach to education has made us forget the importance of imaginative power (Egan, 1989). In the current scenario, education has become more and more product driven, eliminating the scope of implicit learning. Visualization allows learning which may be implicit and which could be just as important. It is essential that the learning outcomes of each class are drawn out by the educator. A classroom as an environment is much more important than simply a place to learn answers to certain questions. It needs to be a place where students can explore and learn in the process of doing.
In conclusion, I would like to quote from Egan’s and Nadaner’s book, “Imagination and Education” (1988), which beautifully sums up the importance of imagination in the learning process: ‘…imagination is not some desirable but dispensable frill, but … it is the heart of any truly educational experience; it is not something split off from “the basics” or disciplined thought or rational inquiry, but is the quality that can give them life and meaning; it is not something belonging properly to the arts, but is central to all areas of the curriculum; it is not something to ornament our recreational hours, but is the hard pragmatic center of all effective human thinking…. Stimulating the imagination is not an alternative educational activity to be argued for in competition with other claims; it is a prerequisite to making any activity educational’
Christian Collet et al., “Measuring Motor Imagery Using Psychometric Behavioral and Psychophysiological tools” Exercise and Sports Sciences Review 39, Pg.85-92.
Egan, Kieran. (1989). “Memory, Imagination and learning: Connected by the story” Phi Delta Kappan, 70(6), pp.455-459.
Egan, Kieran, & Nadaner, Dan. (1988). Imagination and education. New York: Teachers College Press
Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Lotto, B. (2017)
Deviate: Seeing reality differently. Great Britain: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
By Bhargavi Gopalan
Creative Movement Specialist – GAIT