Imagination and comprehension

The openness of summer ends and kids adjust to more structure – a different kind of play. The structure of homework, buses, teachers giving lessons, and bells mix with giggles, romping in groups, and time set aside for magical stories. It is that time of year again and schools are opening their hopeful doors.

Story is a common tool for teaching students. Stories give examples, explain, describe experiences, and ignite the imagination. Imagination! When children listen to or read a story, the imagination is critical – it is a partner to comprehension.

This imagination-comprehension process has been called concept imagery. Significant research on this subject has been done by Nanci Bell, M.A., director of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, and author of several internationally acclaimed programs. She defines concept imagery as the ability to create an imaged gestalt (whole). She believes concept imagery is the underlying sensory-cognitive function needed for comprehension and critical thinking, and that it is essentially important for learning how to read. More on Nanci Bell.

Teachers have picked up on this breakthrough and applied it to their own work. Robin Hammons and Nicole Amstutz of the Ozark R-VI School District have created a Prezi presentation outlining the reasoning behind concept/visual imagery instruction and how it can be used in the classroom both for reading and writing. More on Imagery Instruction.

The stories in Many Ways to See the Sun include much of this concept imagery framework, helping to build reading comprehension in the following ways:
1. Using prior knowledge: the stories are general, everyday experiences that could happen to any child
2. Visualization: each story comes in the form of a guided visualization, using suggestive words to invoke the imagination
3. Questioning: Questions are embedded in the story, modeling the questioning-while-reading technique
4. Making connections: stories are told in the second person to mimic personal experience (real or imagined)
5. Inferring: each story is predictable, yet can also be surprising with little twists, keeping the listener/reader guessing
6. Synthesizing: each story has a formulaic beginning-middle-end, and it all comes together as a whole for children to experience gestalt (synthesizing the whole meaning)

As a former public school teacher, I both love and am critical of our boxed-in schools of four walls. I  understand the challenges of the system. It will never be the silver bullet that many strive for, as learning is as complex as each individual. But, a school’s structure and curriculum can be a part of how we support our children’s learning. Consider using these nature stories to extend learning at home through: family time, reading for pleasure, reverence to nature, daydreaming (imagination), and stillness. These methods all touch on Nanci Bell’s reading comprehension framework too, all in the one experience of sharing a story.

There are many ways we can build on our child’s learning. Understanding concept imagery is one more. Children teach themselves, really. But we can offer that exclamation point, be there to guide, and understand the why behind the what. Because, as you have likely noticed, they will probably ask!