Sunday, August 31, 2008

Do you let your student's minds wander?

What do you think of wandering minds in school? Is there a place for letting children get lost in their thoughts and do we let them actually daydream a bit? Do we encourage this as teachers or is it one of the many things we try to drill out of our students with work to keep them busy. What about teachers? Do we allow ourselves to just daydream a bit in our hectic days in the classroom?

According to Jonah Lehrer in the article "Daydream Achiever" in the Boston Globe scientists are telling us that a wandering mind cam do important work and may even be essential.

We read about a choir member's mind wandering during a Sunday sermon and coming up with the idea of Post-It notes to keep his place in the choir book. With that inspiration Arthur Fry invented one of the most successful office supplies today and I bet it made him a very wealthy man!

Even though thinkers like Einstein were notorious daydreamers, Lehrer writes, "In a culture obsessed with efficiency, daydreaming is derided as a lazy habit or a lack of discipline, the kind of thinking we rely on when we don't really want to think. It's a sign of procrastination, not productivity."

A daydreaming mind is an important tool for creativity, making connections, abstract thought, and imagination. It even helps us socially as we imagine "what if?" scenarios to problem solve or to rework social circumstances to explore what we could have or should have done or how things should be in the future.

One researcher, Teresa Belton, wanted to find out why schoolchildren were writing "creative" stories that were vastly uninspired. Lehrer writes, "After monitoring the daily schedule of the children for several months, Belton came to the conclusion that their lack of imagination was, at least in part, caused by the absence of "empty time," or periods without any activity or sensory stimulation. She noticed that as soon as these children got even a little bit bored, they simply turned on the television: the moving images kept their minds occupied. "It was a very automatic reaction," she says. "Television was what they did when they didn't know what else to do."" Television takes away from the practice of daydreaming and daydreaming takes practice.

Lehrer writes that that daydreaming is easy, the hard part is recognizing that when you have a creative insight while daydreaming and then to use that idea!

Other interesting ideas that research is uncovering is that people with autism may daydream less and people with schizophrenia daydream more: "people with autism tend to fixate on things in their environment" and people with schizophrenia may be unable to "differentiate properly between reality and the ideas generated by the imagination."

So if daydreaming is so good why are we so frightened of allowing others to do it? One of my favorite books on teaching is "Time to Teach, Time to Learn" by Chip Wood. In it he writes about some of the busyness in today's school and the need for reflective time throughout the school day.

And I know what I am going to be doing during the next church sermon I am sitting through. I will be daydreaming my way to solving a simple problem with an easy solution.

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