I have been using visualisation in the classroom as a teaching tool to explore themes for many years, and know them to be very powerful and effective. In this blog post I will relay the response of a class of Year 5 pupil’s to the Falling Leaves visualisation.
A guided visualisation is like an imaginary story where the pupils become the subject. The best visualisations use multi-sensory prompts to create a virtual reality that is believable. Children are very good at this and find it easy to engage emotionally in the process. As always when using visualisation in the classroom, the effectiveness of the learning is determined by the quality of the questioning. Carefully crafted open questions are needed to nurture awe and wonder and prompt reflection. This is why I created 'Imagine & Reflect'. Both aspects working together facilitate deeper learning.
In this particular visualisation the children imagined themselves as a leaf, detaching and falling from a tree. They are guided into considering how they feel about being a leaf; at first as they are attached tenuously, then, when a sudden gust of wind comes along, as they float down to the ground and land upon the carpet of leaves created by others who have already fallen.
The responses varied from child to child and give insight into the learning that is taking place. Expect the unexpected is the general rule of thumb here. Very often Lower Ability children (those who don’t generally perform well academically) will often say the most profound things, showing they are processing and making connections at a deep level.
Following the Falling Leaves visualisation pupils were asked questions such as: How did you feel at the beginning of the visualisation? Did your feelings change at any point? What were your thoughts as you were falling? Did anything surprise you in the visualisation?
Responses ranged between ‘I felt safe’ and ‘I felt trapped’. These two by contrast tell us something about the subject’s state of mind and attitude towards the outside world. For some it is perceived as an exciting place to explore, for others it is a dangerous place to be wary of.
All the children said they were surpised by the suddenness of the gust of wind.
Some found this disturbing. One pupil said it made her feel insecure. “I wanted to stay attached. I didn’t want to leave the tree. It felt like I was leaving my family.”
Others found it liberating. Exhilarating even.
“I felt free!”
One pupil was fearful, showing isolation anxiety. “I was afraid the wind might take me far away from the carpet of leaves to some other place where there were no other leaves and I was the only one.”
This tool is very effective in supporting Spiritual, Moral, Social & Cultural (SMSC) development in children. The pivotal question came at the end: Does the journey of the leaf remind you of any other kind of journey?
Would the pupils be able to make connections with other things in life, whereby the story of the leaf becomes a metaphor to which they infer meaning? Could they make spiritual links?
One child answered: “Oh, I know – it’s about when you leave home to go to college.”
Then… the hidden pearl in the field…
“It’s like death isn’t it? The ending of life – when life ends.”
A child spoke up. One who isn't normally vocal in class. In a previous session this same child had drawn coffins which he'd labelled "Mum" and "Dad" outside his comfort zone. Unsurprisingly the thought of his parents' mortality made him uncomfortable.
Yet he added: “But it’s nothing to be afraid of because others who have already died are already there waiting for you, just like the leaves on the ground.”
In these activities the learning that takes place is not simply cognitive but psychological, spiritual even. These are life lessons. Sensitive use of imagination and reflection makes for life-changing, character building education.