Tag Archives: Imagination


“Mostly, however, readers – and especially younger readers – wanted to know about the minutiae of how the fiction was stitched together. The children who asked questions or made comments almost all homed in on exact points of detail.” (From John Mullan’s “Material Worlds.”)

Educational philosopher Kieran Egan notes that collecting is particularly pronounced from ages 8 to 15. We think often of collections in terms of things — stuffed animals, plastic dinosaurs, every single Warrior book; but kids also collect information. Whether it is everything about the Yankees or Harry Potter, if it is something they adore they want to know it all. This helps explain, I think, why some are so attentive to details in beloved books. In the case of Harry Potter or His Dark Materials, those that are besotted with the worlds of those books want to know everything about them and so they collect every bit of information they can find about those worlds. John Mullan’s report on readers’ questions at a recent Guardian book club event with Philip Pullman is a great example of this.


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Nostalgic Notice: Catalog Play

Julius Lester at A Commonplace Book has two important posts on Catalog Pollution here and here. Now I am completely with him on this ever increasing problem. But I’m also with him that there are catalogs that are fun to look at. And that makes me think back to my childhood when I actually played with the Sears catalog. (That really, really, really big one — the size of the telephone book?) That is, my sister and I cut out things, created little houses full of stuff, and even dolls. Who plays with paper dolls these days much less catalogs?

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Art for our sake

A few weeks ago I read a New York Times article about the kerfuffle over Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland’s new study on art in the schools. They had concluded that art education does not result in improved academic test scores sending many advocates of arts education into a tizzy. These folks were understandably worried that the new study would support further erosion of arts in the school and continued to insist that the arts do help kids in their academic studies, that they do help them do better on the all-important tests.

But Winner and Hetland, while concluding that the arts do not help kids do better in the academics, are not arguing that there shouldn’t be arts in the schools. Not at all. Instead they are pointing out that the arts have their own skills, worthy of study all on their own — and that they need to be in schools because of this. In this Boston Globe article Winner and Hetland describe distinctive and worthy “studio habits of mind” that students learn in arts classes that are worthy all by themselves, not because they prop up academic studies (e.g. math, reading, writing, etc.). These include , “visual-spatial abilities, reflection, self-criticism, and the willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes.”

As I read the article I thought, “Well, I do a lot of this in my language arts teaching,” and so was glad to see toward the end of the article a note that there are teachers like me whose curriculum encourages this sort of thinking.

Despite the pressures to prepare students for high-stakes tests, some teachers and schools continue to use methods similar to those in the art studio. Ron Berger, a fifth-grade classroom teacher in a public school in Shutesbury, Mass., provides an inspiring example. He adopted an arts-like approach to all subjects, including math, language arts, science, and social studies. His students engage in long-term investigations rather than one-shot assignments or memorization. Their work is continually assessed publicly in critiques so students develop the ability to reflect and improve. Projects are “real work,” not “school work” – work that is original and makes a contribution to knowledge.

Yay, Ron! It is easy for me to argue for this sort of teaching because I’m in a private school and don’t have to deal with NCLB. But here is someone who does and can still create a thoughtful, creative, and thinking classroom.

Anyway, enough from me; go read the article: Art for our sake – The Boston Globe

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Remembering Harry: An Imagined Community?

On child_lit someone noted how extraordinary it was to be part of a world of readers that Saturday, July 21. To be aware that millions all over the world were all reading the same book you were. Incredible …. And so I am now fascinated by the way so many of us are experiencing this particular story. We often read and then extend our readings by talking about a particular book. Sometimes we see a movie of it too. And sometimes we may also read or see interviews with the author about the book. Hear them talk about their books and read from them. But I feel this is somehow different (or maybe just more). To have the story of Harry Potter heightened by Jim Dale, Rupert, Emma, and Daniel; by the online conversations, the release parties, Rowling’s interviews — all of this is turning it into a very interesting new kind of story I think. Does anyone else feel this way or am I just getting carried away?

After writing this in a post to the ccbc-net list serve yesterday I received an interesting email from Marc Aronson who suggested that this was what sociologist Benedict Anderson called the “imagined community.” One compelling example Marc offered was that of large numbers of people reading a particular part of a religious work all over the world at services on a particular holy day. Completely unfamiliar with this idea and curious to see if I could find a bit more about it in terms of books and reading, I did a little looking around and found this article about bloggers being an imagined community and this conference built around the idea, “The notion of the imagined community in our program title, of course, refers to Benedict Anderson’s concept of the nation as a particular kind of imagined community, in which experiences of commonality, and a sense of the self as being part of a wider national community, are to a large extent facilitated by shared practices of reading mass mediated texts.” Unfortunately, I truly don’t have the time to go down this path, but if anyone knows more and/or has some sources to explore, please do provide them in the comments. And, of course, if you just want to weigh in on the idea, please do that too!


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Thoughts on Newbery: Some Kids Weigh In

My wonderful, wonderful 4th grade class gave me a wonderful, wonderful end-of-the-year gift yesterday, an”educating monica” scrapbook filled with the children’s ideas on what makes a great story — all to help me in my Newbery quest. It is a work of art — in addition to the children’s writing, each page is filled with images related to our studies of the year, my ladybug fixation (related to September 11th — but that is a story for another post), and more. It is one of the most lovely testimonials I’ve received as a teacher.

To begin with they recommend that our Newbery winner have imagination, emotion, purpose, humor, action, funny words, interesting scenery, and empathy. And then they want it to be exciting, hilarious, happy, sad, adventurous, surprising, interesting, visual, cliffhanging, understandable, great, and creative. Here are some more of their ideas:

AM tells me, “It can’t be too much action, but it also can’t be too boring.”

MD points out that in one of her favorite books, Harry Potter, “…. in the end of the book you figure out the answers to some secrets…”

AI noted that a writer of a great book needs to “use lots of humor; kids love it.” and also to “use fun words like willy-nilly. I used those kinds of words in my Pilgrim story.”

CK thinks a great story, “… must be laugh out loud funny. Not the kind of funny where you laugh and one minute later you forget; the kind of funny where it is hilarious and you can never get it out of your head.”

XF thinks a great story is “…should not be too sad that a person should start crying when reading it. It should not be too happy that they would get bored. And, it should not be too funny that they would laugh themselves to death!”

SF thinks it needs imagination!

HU wants a story that is humorous and one worth listening to ” over and over again.” She also wants fascinating characters like the Gryphon, Mock Turtle, and Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

OF thinks it should be “interesting, exciting and sometimes funny…”

SS recommends that it have “adventure, humor, and mystery.”

JG believes, “every story should have a great beginning….”

OS highlights as great stories, Charlotte’s Web, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The Tale of Despereaux among others.

EC notes that, “You know you read a good book if you can say to a friend, ‘Oh, last year I read a really good book.'”

MB thinks, among other things, that it has “something that can take you away.”

BW wisely reminds us that we need to “be creative and write all your good thoughts before you forget them.”

FL thinks a great fantasy book “is a balanced blend of fantasy fairy-tale, excitement, humor, and creative-ness.”

ZB sees a “wonderful novel of far away lands as well as a stunning but diverse cast of characters to play out a cliffhanging fast pace, page turning, eventful masterpiece of literature.”

LK feels there “there needs to be excitement or a trick so that the book is not boring.”

Thanks, Edinger House 2006-2007; I will keep all your important ideas in mind as I read, read, and read some more this summer and next fall!


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My Brain, the Imagination Machine

I’ve long been interested in the idea of imagination. As a child I played imaginary games with friends, with my sister, and alone. No doubt I love Wonderland and Oz because it was easy for me to imagine myself in them. And I think my love of history stems from also being able to easily imagine myself back in time.

I’ve done some research on imagination and would have to say that just about all the scholars I’ve read have come from the fields of philosophy, psychology, history, and other social sciences. But today I came across a completely new way of thinking about imagination — biologically.

Via one of my favorite websites, Arts & Letters Daily, comes a most fascinating article, “The Biology of the Imagination” by Simon Baron-Cohen. I tend to be a bit skittish of education being built around brain research (e.g. right/left and such), but this article made me really sit up and pay attention.


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