Thursday, 12 August 2010

Daydreaming Students

How many times have you lost a student to daydreams?

How did you react to this question? Did you start counting incidents you can recall or did your thoughts wander more in the direction of the phenomenon itself? If you were one of the majority who would imagine the characteristics of such a student, his appearance, your responses and your own feelings about the incident you fall into the exact same category as that student. You have been daydreaming.

Two approaches

What you and your student did was to react to a prompter by automatically trying to contextualise or "wrap your head around" it, in this case the scenario above. When encountering new impulses you may react by taking a structural or associative approach to them.

This child has chosen the latter approach

The first one is you using the skills you have learnt to familiarise yourself with and internalise new material. You could take notes, try to focus on the impulse itself by for instance trying to remember the wording or making an internal list. In this way you impose a structure on your perception of the world around you and thus perform a miniature version of the advancement of human knowledge.

The associative approach is less focused and less logical. Rather than trying to conform the impulse you recieve to knowledge patterns you can recognise you let your mind wander. This process establishes connections to earlier knowledge, possibilities and experiences across the boundaries established by a logical, structural approach. This is daydreaming.

To exemplify, coming across the character of Galahad Threepwood in P.G. Wodehouse's Blandings novels one could settle down and methodologically register physical traits, response patterns and so on. Alternatively, one may be transported to the world of the Monkey Island games and their protagonist Guybrush Threepwood or to the film Notting Hill with the Spike character who shares a number of traits with Galahad Threepwood. This would be the initial response of an associative daydreamer who would, by disconnecting from the more standardised procedures of character analysis, be able to proceed with a much wider intertextual basis than someone using the structural approach.


This child possesses astounding
powers of imagination
According to Kalina Christoff in Psychologies Magazine's August issue daydreaming is beneficial for both our problem solving skills and your social skills. Far from being absent minded and lazy daydreamers are more able to see solutions and patterns than more logical thinkers and since they spend their time daydreaming of other people, hypothetical future scenarios and remembering old memories they are more adept at dealing with social situations. They might be better at handling conflict since one of the future scenarios treated could have been one of just such a conflict. Furthermore, daydreaming is a prime tool alleviating loneliness since it can induce a sense of presence. In this respect daydreams excel dreams by involving a measure of conscious direction which will avoid the feeling of loss upon "waking".

 Contrary to most beliefs, daydreaming is not detrimental to productivity. Daydreaming can both reveal hidden options, as mentioned above, and provide a respite thus improving productivity, motivation and focus. Many also find that daydreaming can offer stress relief. Since the level of conscious direction is lower than logical thinking but higher than dreaming the amount of energy used is favourable for the purpose. Like any other form of relaxation; knitting, general home maintenance, computer gaming etc., the brain relaxes by concentrating on something that requires just a small portion of it, allowing the rest to recharge.

Daydreaming in the classroom

So, in these respects daydreaming can be a useful tools for teachers. Keeping in mind that daydreaming can hinder learning if it is not channeled properly; how can you as a teacher use this?

  • One approach could be to let the student daydream for a while before asking him to rejoin the lesson. Daydreaming is much about getting a personal relationship to whatever is dreamt about and resembles learning in this respect. This approach requires quite some courage from the teacher and its effects should be tested.
  • Another response could be to try to combine an associative and a structural approach. Proceed as above, but have the student somehow retell his daydream. This could be through verbal or written narration or possibly through visual representations such as mind maps depending on learning style.
  •  Constructive daydreaming is teachable. One of the methods which can be used is the Shock Talk activity. Each student is given a short subject without any further instructions. Then, for five minutes the class should stay quiet and try not to focus on anything. Finally, each student should present his subject, what his last thought was before the time ran out and how he got there. This would provide a few laughs before the teacher explains about association, daydreaming and how to use this as a working method
This fall I will be teaching English to a number of vocational classes which generally are less than enthusiastic about the subject. I will probably encounter quite a number of vacant stares at which point I shall put the above theory to the test. Where psychology meets pedagogy something weird and wonderful may arise.

All you've got to do is dream in Psychologies Magazine, August Issue 2010, p.33
Hagy, Chad: Positive and Negative Effects of Daydreaming on 2007

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