At the end of summer, as teachers get ready for school, students go supply shopping and final summer plans are executed, there is an excitement in the air. Students are anxious about starting school and teachers are looking forward to a new year with new students. When the first couple weeks of school go by, children are asked what they have learned. Some students new to the school might talk about the rules, their new friends and the positive changes, some students might list the new content that they have been exposed to and then there might be some children who might respond with nothing.
The first couple weeks is known was the time that teachers build community in the classroom. Students learn about and become acquainted with their new peers as well as their new environment. The first couple weeks are spent on growing the students socially and using this growth to continue to improve the student’s academics throughout the year.
Peter H. Johnston refers to this development as “Social Imagination” in Chapter 6 of Opening Minds. Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of a student’s social development as “the foundation for intellectual, emotional, and physical health”. These are some of the main points of importance for my classroom instruction.
Many students are not taught how to read other’s faces and gestures. Students need to build these skills to look each other in the eyes, make eye contact and listen to their partner. This is a skill that many of my students need constant reminders to continue as well as feel comfortable doing. There have been many discussions about how the idea of eye contact is not required in all cultures and if it is necessary to make part of the classroom environment. We ask students to code switch when coming to school and this could be an important code switch for social development.
Some students spend more time watching television than conversing with other peers or adults. Social Reasoning is “the ability to imagine and reasons about other’s actions, intentions, feelings, and beliefs from multiple perspectives (Johnston, 2012). This ability is developed when students are exposed to a variety of feelings, actions, etc. and then they are encouraged to have conversations after the event. Children can experience multiple perspectives through read alouds, classroom discussions and opinion activities.
Johnston (2012) discusses the importance of different perspectives through inquiry, dialogue, uncertainty and differences in Chapter 5 of Opening Minds. The chapter discusses how teachers and students need to be on a level playing field in order to learn from one another. Johnston encourages teachers to encourage conversation between students and as the teacher sit on the sideline. Students should be encouraged to discuss differences by defending ideas as well as actively listening to one another. This strategy of differences can increase the students social reasoning and as well as the process of understanding one another.
Taking Social Imagination Seriously – Self-Regulation
As a student’s social imagination increases the student starts to imagine other’s feelings, emotions, and motives in order to manage their own feelings. When adults encourage students to talk about how they feel, how others feel, then the students are able to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions.
Talk and Social Imagination AND Social Problem Solving
When students are given opportunities to problem solve by talking to one another and taking responsibility for their actions, the students are developing their social imagination. Giving students the responsibility is only productive when students have seen modeling of the appropriate social interactions, practiced with a peer and then been successful when interacting in the classroom. Students need to be able to advocate for themselves, but they need the skills and practice to be successful.
Well all of the above are important practices to use in the classroom; the students will only be successful if these practices are used throughout the year. Many years start with the teacher expecting the students to practice social imagination, but then they taper off as the months pass. These practices are as important the last day of school as they are in the beginning of the year.
I will leave with this quote, an idea that all teachers should reflect on constantly throughout the year.