Volume I - 1993
Imagination and Memories: Friends or Enemies
BY Earl W. Stevick
Dr. Earl Stevick is well known and respected around the world as one of the most prolific and influential writers on the theory and practice of language teaching. His books include Teaching and Learning Languages; Images and Options in the Language Classroom; A Way and Ways; Memory, Meaning and Method; Humanism in Language Teaching; and Success with Foreign Languages.
EDITORS' NOTE: This is the written part of the keynote address that Dr. Stevick prepared for the Fourth Annual Conference on the Role of the Imagination in Second Language Acquisition held at Jersey City State College on April 23, 1993. Although Dr. Stevick was unable to attend the conference, he did give the Journal permission to print this text, for which we are indeed grateful.
Imagination: The Power to Create
To 'imagine', in plain Anglo-Saxon words, is nothing but putting together in our heads something that was not to be found in what our eyes saw or in what our ears heard. Or, in the words of the dictionary our kids used in school, 'imagination' is 'the power of forming in the mind pictures of things not present to the senses'; it is 'the ability to create new things or ideas, or to combine old ones in new forms'. The power to form. The power to create!
In the very first verse of the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read that "In the beginning, God created heaven and earth." That certainly must have taken a lot of power. Power, yes. But it also took imagination -- an unimaginable amount of imagination, in fact.
And now here we are. We alone of all species have that divine spark, the gift of imagination. This gift of imagination is a powerful tool. We use our imagination to create our own little universes. We sometimes use it to create bad things, and even when we create something good, we tend to worship the work of ourselves as creators. Today, then, let's explore this gift in the hope that by understanding it more clearly we may come to use it more respectfully and more constructively -- even more imaginatively.
Really what I am going to do today is simply tell you a series of stories, and I assure you that all of these stories will be true. Then we'll see what we can learn from each of these stories about this thing called 'imagination' -- this power to create with the mind.
Two Types of Imagination
Let me begin by telling you two stories in which I think we would all agree imagination is at work. I'll tell you the stories, and then we'll see if we can pick out a fundamental difference -- a deep unlikeness -- between them.
First is the story of an experiment -- an experiment that was reported in 1983 by two cognitive psychologists whose names were Dickel and Slak (Dickel and Slak 1983). Dickel and Slak, as cognitive psychologists are wont to do, sat their subjects down in front of a screen, and onto the screen they projected pairs of English nouns, and these were all nouns that had high imagery value. The task of the subjects was to somehow connect the nouns of each pair together in their minds. In order to help them do this, half of the subjects were given descriptions of images -- images made up by someone else -- images that connected the two nouns. The other half of the subjects were not given this help. Instead, they were told to make up their own images to connect the two nouns in a pair. Of course in the terms that you and I are interested in today, we'd say that this second group of subjects were being asked to exercise their imagination: to form or create something -- an image -- that wasn't found on the screen that they'd been watching. That was the presentation part of the experiment.
In the testing part of the experiment, the subjects were given one noun from each pair, and were asked to supply the other noun that had been presented with it. And sure enough, as you and I and all right-thinking imagination enthusiasts would have predicted, the subject in the second group -- the ones who had made up their own images -- performed significantly better.
And now for my second story, which I'll call 'The Secretry's Illusion'. Many years ago now -- so long ago that I could almost start this story with 'Once upon a time' -- I came back from lunch and found a message slip on my desk. It said I was to call a 'Mr. Flaggenheisch' at the Center for Applied Linguistics. Now, it so happened that I didn't know any Mr. Flaggenheisch, either at the Center for Applied Linguistics or anywhere else. So I thought for a minute, then phoned Irwin Feigenbaum at the Center for 'Applied Linguistics, and he thanked me for returning his call. I asked the secretary how much time had elapsed between Irwin's phone call and the time when she wrote out the message slip. She assured me she had filled out the slip immediately, and she seemed quite confident that she had it right.
Now what had happened? The way I interpret this incident, the secretary's mind had retained some features of the name, but had lost other features. Some of the features that she did hold onto were of course the first consonant, the number of syllables, the whole middle syllable, and the fact that the name was 'German-sounding'. In order to fill in the gaps between these retained features, her mind had somehow supplied the missing vowels and consonants. It had, in the words of the dictionary's first definition, 'formed' something that had not been 'present to the senses'. So this, too, was an instance of 'imagination'.
And yet I don't have to tell you that these two kinds of 'imagination' are drastically unlike each other. Just for convenient reference, let's give them labels. The imagination that the second group of subjects had to exercise in the Dickel and Slak experiment let's call 'Type W imagination', and the type that my secretary showed in filling out the message slip let's call 'Type F imagination'.
Now let's just list some of the ways in which Types W and F of imagination differ. Most obviously, I suppose, Type F imagination (what happened in the secretary's mind) is blindingly fast. In the incident I've been telling you about, it was so fast that she wasn't even aware of it. Type W imagination, on the other hand (what the second group of subjects did in the Dickel and Slak experiment), takes a noticeable amount of time: in fact, Dickel and Slak allowed these subjects 10 whole seconds for each image they had to construct.
A second difference between Type W and Type F imagination has to do with control. What was created in the experiment (Type W) was created deliberately. One might almost say it was contrived. The other type of product -- the missing vowels and consonants for 'Flaggenheisch' --were not under conscious control.
And there's a third difference: the role of competition. In the Dickel and Slak experiment, if the subjects had had something else on their minds -- if they had been engaged in some concurrent task, or if they had been apprehensive about something, for example -- under these circumstances they would either have been unable to form satisfactory images at all, or at the very least they would have required more time for the process. From this, we can conclude that there seem to be limited resources available for use in Type W 'forming and creating' -- in Type W 'imagining'. On the other hand, there is no evidence that Type F imagining draws on any comparably limited capacity.
Two Views of 'Memory'
Now, I'm sure that these three differences between contrasting kinds of imagination -- these differences with regard to speed, with regard to consciousness, and with regard to capacity -- I'm sure that these three differences will put many of you in mind of another contrast that's being talked about from time to tome these days. That's a contrast among various 'kinds' of what for some reason are all lumped together and called 'memory'. And that's no coincidence, either, because as I'm going to try to show you, there's an intimate interrelationship between memory (what we have in our minds from before) -- and imagination (what we create with our minds).
I've been interested in this subject of 'memory' for several years now. 'Memory' is a subject that I think too many people, including me, have too often been too ready to be a little too glib about. In particular, I'm fairly sure we need to replace the commonly-quoted two-way contrast between 'short-term memory' (STM) and 'long-term memory' (LTM) (Klatzky 1984).
The view of memory that's implied in much that's written and said about language teaching these days is something like what we see in Diagram A.
In the context of language study, what Diagram A says is that a student is exposed to a large amount of variegated input; that some but only some of this input gets into short-term memory (STM); that some but only some of what is in STM is then stored in long-term memory (LTM); and that when output is needed, it is drawn from whatever finally wound up in LTM. In ordinary, non-imaginative teaching, as I read the diagram, the teacher hears the student's output and realizes that something is amiss in their LTM. She (the teacher) therefore provides new input, which eventually reaches the student's LTM and modifies it. This process continues in one way or another until the student's output shows that the modification was indeed the one the teacher had hoped for. So Diagram A fits conventional teaching very neatly.
Now let me just draw your attention to three features of Diagram A. The first is that in Diagram A, STM and LTM are really treated as two stages -- almost as two places -- to which and through which information passes. The second feature to notice is that information passes to and through these stages in a kind of unidirectional flow: from the senses to STM; through STM to LTM; from LTM to output. Third and, from our point of view today worst, information in this view is just a commodity, it's just a cargo to be moved. It's not a creation. There is no place in Diagram A for imagination.
Now I'd like to take just a few minutes to sketch for you what I believe to be a more up-to-date picture of what keeps getting called 'memory'. Let's move from the older view of memory to the alternative view one step at a time.
The first step is to replace STM with something that cognitive scientists like to call 'working memory' (WM). With your permission, however, I'd like to replace that term with a more colorful, more metaphoric term, and talk instead about "the Worktable' (WT). And I'm not doing this just because I like metaphors, either. As we well know, metaphors are tricky, but at least this metaphor is out in the open. I believe that the terms STM and LTM are worse than metaphors: They are Nominalized Reifications (which is my polysyllabic and learned-sounding way of saying that they obscure complexity by giving it a name), and nominalized reifications are even more treacherous than metaphors are. And for the same reason, I'd like to introduce a second metaphor, and instead of talking about 'LTM', I'd like to talk about 'the Files' (F).
There are three differences between these terms STM and the WT. One difference is that STM was a stage. The WT, on the other hand, is really not a stage --a biologically describable state. A second difference is that with STM, we were mainly interested in what passes through it. Third, the very name 'short-term' memory focuses on limited duration. With the WT, we are more interested in its limited capacity --in the fact that only a relatively small amount of information can be in the WT-state at any one time (Klatzky 1984).
The second step in going from the well-known view of memory to the alternative view is to see the F not as a place where information just sits on some kind of shelf waiting to be retrieved. Rather, information is stored in dynamic networks. And by 'dynamic' I mean that if some part or parts of one of these networks receives activation, whether from the senses or from the WT, then that activation spreads, rapidly and automatically and pretty much outside of conscious control, throughout the whole network (Bryant 1990).
The third step is to change how we think of traffic between the WT and the F. In the familiar view, as I said, that traffic was one-way. In the alternative view, it's definitely two-way traffic. Basically, something that's on the WT at a given moment somehow activates related items in the F. The activation of those items spreads, activating new configurations within the F. This activation within the F may reach a level that allows what has been activated to somehow register back on the WT -- thus giving a kind of response from the F to what is on the WT.
This brings us to the fourth step, which is to notice that what's on the WT comes not only from the senses, as in the usual view of STM, but also from the F. This means that all of the items of information that come from the senses, and all of the items that come from the F, are competing with one another fro the limited capacity of the WT. (This may be another way of saying part of what has been meant by the unfortunate term 'affective filter'.
Fifth is a step which is very well supported in the literature of cognitive research, but which is seldom mentioned in writing about language teaching. That is that the same item from WM may within the F set off / trigger / receive back two or more separate responses from the F to WM. These responses usually agree with one another, but they don't always (Roeltgen and Stadler 1985; Bradley and Thomson 198 ; Bub and Kertesz 198 ).
Sixth, we need to sharpen our view of what happens on the WT. Three things are particularly important there. First of all, on the WT we can notice things consciously. Second, once two or more things that are on the WT at the same time have been noticed, we can compare them. And third, once we have compared things, we can consciously manipulate or rearrange or evaluate the results of these comparisons. Notice, compare, manipulate. And the results of this noticing, comparing, and manipulating on the WT can then modify the connections among the items that make up the networks back in the F.
Seventh, last, and very important to the way I'm guessing memory works is the place of purpose and the place of emotion. What we call a 'memory' contains many kinds of information-- most obviously, visual and auditory information, and the information from the rest of the so-called 'five senses' . But a 'memory' also contains information about time (remoteness and duration), and about the purposes we had in connection with the experience, and about the emotions that went along with the experience. A few writers believe that 'memories' are in fact organized not around their sensory elements, but around their purposive or emotional elements, or some combination of the two. I'm betting that those writers are correct in this belief.
I've tried to represent this alternative view of memory by Diagram B, but of course it's actually not possible to portray 'states' in terms of black and white rectangles on a two-dimensional surface.
Now let's go back and look at the two kinds of imagining-- at Type F imagination and Type W imagination. Type F imagination -- the type that we saw in the Flaggenheisch incident -- takes place almost entirely in the F. The audible stimulus 'Feigenbaum' came in over the phone, parts of it were apparently lost, and the rest may have in fact been momentarily on the Wt, but the parts that were not lost immediately, activated a set of networks in the F, and the outcome of that spreading activation was the placing of the spurious name 'Flaggenheisch' on the secretary's WT. That's, of course, is why I chose to call this type of imagination 'Type F' : not from 'Flaggenheisch', but because it mainly makes use of the F, and make minimal use of the WT.
And so of course the name of the other type of imagination, 'Type W' is named for the WT. But Type W imagination is not just the mirror image of Type F. That is to say, it does make use of the WT, but the F are equally important to its functioning. In the Dickel and Slak experiment, for example, let's suppose that one pair of words were 'house' and 'bird' . Let's take a look at the probable sequence of events in the mind of a member of the second group of subjects in the experiment :
1. The printed from of the first word comes in through the
2. In the F, this printed form activates the corresponding spoken form.
3. At the same time, also in the F, the printed form may activate meanings and experiences that have been associated with the printed form in the past. Now we see how important the F are even for imagination of Type W.
4. The spoken form (Step 2) also activates meanings and experiences from the past. [some of these meanings and experiences will be the same as in the step 3, but some may not be the same.]
5. Steps 1-4 also take place for the second word.
6. Next, back on the WT, the meanings and experiences from the first word and those from the second word are noticed and compared. There may be quite a few combinations of these : The familiar audio from 'bird house'. A picture of a bird house. A bird perched on the gable of a house. Or even the bizarre image of a bird, with hammer and nails, building a house.
7. Still on the WT, the subject of the experiment select one of the combinations and sends it back to the F.
So this gives you some idea of why I said that Type W imagination involves not only the WT itself, but also an intimate interaction between the (conscious ) WT and the (largely non-conscious) F.
A Cast of Characters
Well, that's the end of the little theoretical sketch that I wanted to share with you. Now let's turn to what I consider the fun part -- looking for imagination in some real human beings. These are people with whom I once had a chance to do hour-long taped interviews about their experiences in learning languages (Stevick 1989). Seven of these people had been remarkably successful, although in a fascinating variety of ways. The rest were people about whose success or lack of success I had no information.
Just to establish a baseline, let's look first at Eugene, who I suspect was one of the less successful among the 17 learners that I interviewed. Listen to what Eugene told me about his study of vocabulary: "When I have to memorize something, " he said, " I just do it over and over. I listen to the tapes over and over, and then I write it out so that I'll know it. Later I test myself to see if I can reproduce it cold, first in writing and then orally."
Now, What kind or kinds of imagination do we find in Eugene's report? I don't know about you, but it seems to me that this is about as unimaginative a way of study as one can conveniently imagine. Our definition, remember, said something about forming in the mind pictures of things or ideas, or combining old things and ideas in new forms. None of that here, is there? Eugene takes in what the text book has provided to his senses, and he simply duplicates them.
Does this unimaginative sort of study get things into LTM, or into the F? Yes, of course it does. We know in fact that this is how most students have successfully prepared for 'tomorrow's vocabulary quiz' for centuries. But we also know all too well the limitations of this kind of studying, don't we? We know that if we try to learn very many things in this way together, they're likely to get mixed up and mismatched in our minds. We also know that material learned without imagination is here today, all right, here for today's quiz, but that it's gone tomorrow or the next day. It certainly lasts longer than the 20-second span of STM, so in a sense it must have been 'in LTM' . But I'd like to say that some things in LTM are in relatively temporary 'long-term' memory (TM), while others are in relatively permanent memory (PM). In terms of my sketch, I'd say that the networks that are responsible for items and associations learned in this way are relatively simple networks, and that they are particularly lacking in distinctive elements of purpose or of emotion or both. So let's not hear any more about Eugene. An unimaginative guy like him doesn't even really belong at a meeting like this one, does he? But he does leave us with one distinction to keep in mind. DISTINCTION : Between TM and PM.
As our next step, let's take a quick look at Aileen, another of the interviewees about whose overall success I have no information. Aileen told me that when she hears unfamiliar sounds, sounds that doesn't understand, whether they're speech sounds or animal sounds, she gets a corresponding visual pattern in her mind, lines that go up and down, smooth or jagged, like what one would see on an oscilloscope. This is actually an example of a fairly rare but well-documented phenomenon called 'synesthesia'-- the representation in one sense of a stimulus that came in through another sense. My reason for mentioning it now is that it reminds us quite vividly of the fact that, once activation has been initiated in our students' F, those files can come up with a wide variety of responses which they send back to the WT. The imagination in what Aileen has told us -- the filling in of what was not present in the senses -- was automatic, it was very fast, and it took place within the F. And that's all I want to say about Aileen. Distinction : Between no creation (Eugene) and creation (Aileen).
Next is Fred. I don't know about Fred's overall success either, but he illustrates what in language-teaching circles these days is being called 'mnemonics' (Dickel 1983, Wall and Routowicz 1987), or 'the Key word Method' (Atkinson 1975). As Fred put it, "When I want to learn a new word, I like to have a logical reason why it means what it means. If I can't find a logical reason, which I usually can't, then I'll create a story, or a picture or some thing, that connects the words and its meaning for me."
This is of course pretty much what the second group of subjects were doing in the Dickel and Slak experiment that I was telling you about. They first notice on the WT what it is that they want to connect together. Then they query the F and, as we've just seen with Aileen, the F send back one or more responses to each of the queries. Then the person notices what's now on the WT, compares, creatively rearranges, or whatever, and sends the new combination back to the F. Now, of course, we're dealing with Types W imagination -- something far beyond what Eugene was doing with his repetitions. But because the mnemonics are basically arbitrary and isolated, and because they all share pretty much the same, academic purpose , most of the results are still likely to be in TM rather than in PM. DISTINCTION : Between non-conscious creation (Aileen) and conscious creation (Fred).
Now, for a change, we come to one of the highly talented a~d successful learners. This is a young woman named Frieda. With regard to her approach to vocabulary learning, Frieda was quite different from Eugene, and even from Fred. As Frieda saw it, it's best to use the new words. But, she said, in class even in small group work, you just don't get a chance to use all of the new words. "So," she said, "this is something you have to work out for yourself, in your own mind. I either find an occasion, talking to people, or I imagine to my self, that I do have an occasion to say it. If you don't have anybody to speak to speak to, you can speak to yourself!"
This is of course another instance of Type-W memory, and in this respect it's similar to what we just heard from Fred. But I'd like to suggest to you that there's also a difference between Frieda and Fred -- and this is a difference is this: In Fred's case, what he brought back from the F to the WT -- what he tied the new information into -- was arbitrary and isolated, and the networks into which the new information was integrated were relatively simple, and those networks were lacking in material that had to do very strongly or distinctively with emotions or with purposes. But some researchers believe that it's precisely these items of emotion and of purpose that memories are organized around. By contrast, what Frieda did in her mind did bring in at least mental versions of situations that were fully developed, and that included items of purpose and emotion. So my guess is that the result of what Frieda did wound up farther along the continuum from TM to PM than was true of what Fred did. DISTINCTION: Between typing them to situations (Frieda).
This reminds me of an incident that the late Bob Di Pietro told about in the beginning of his who, being in Cairo with very meager control of the Arabic language, had been faced by an plumbing emergency which she handled by somehow piecing together an Arabic that meant "There's water on the bathroom floor!" Not only did she come up with the sentence for the occasion, but she could still remember it 20 years later. "There is no doubt," DI Pietro concluded, "that her success in communicating with the desk clerk helped to fix the utterance forever in her mind" (3). So I would further guess that the times when Frieda actually talked with people in the real world produced more permanence than her imaginary encounters did. DISTINCTION: Between imagined happenings (Frieda sometimes) and things that really happened (Bob DI Pietro's friend).
As a matter of fact, Frieda and I talked at some length about this gap between imagined and real use. We talked about what we called the 'shelf life' of memories that she put into the TM end of the F via imagined use. How long did she think something could stay in TM and still be available for real use when the situation for it finally arrived? Her guess was may be a week or two, and that guess makes sense to me, although I'm sure it varies greatly according to a number of factors. She and I came up with a little term that I still like: the term 'stockpiling' is simple a name for the strategy of systematically, by one means or another, putting new items into TM with the idea that some of them, though not all of them before they are lost from TM, will get worked into PM. So far, the examples I've given you have mainly had to do with imagination in the learning of vocabulary. But as we all know, there's a lot more to a new language than its words. Another of the perennial bugbears of language students is the need to master the use of 'the endings' -- the inflected forms of the nouns and verbs and so forth that we find in many languages.
An interesting story about learning 'the endings' come from Derek. Derek was another of the highly successful learner-users that I interviewed. At the time I talked with him, Derek was in the middle of learning Finnish, which is a language with very complicated paradigms both for nouns and for verbs. Derek claimed to have derived great benefit from writing the paradigms out numerous times, not just copying them mechanically, but trying to arrange them in more and more economical, more systematic, and more and more illuminating ways. Once he was satisfied with a formulation, Derek put the paradigm aside and seldom or never looked at it again.
Surely, you may say, Derek was going to an extreme in copying, following, and reproducing exactly what had been given to him. And we've said that by definition 'imagination' has to involve creation of what was not there before. So, you may well ask, how does imagination enter in here?
The answer, of course, is that what was created -- what was not there before -- was not meaning-pictures as it was with Fred and Frieda, and it wasn't word-forms as it was in the Flaggenheisch incident. Rather, it was order -- it was perceived relationships -- it was relationships perceived among the dozens or even perhaps the hundreds of forms of a Finnish noun or verb.
If we're to move ahead to the next in understanding how memory and imagination work, through, we really need to take a very close look at what may be happening between the WT and the F in what DSerek is doing. Here's a tentative and probably very incomplete list:
1. Notice one of the forms.
2. Notice another form.
3. Compare these forms and notice the relationship between them. Describe those relationships (probably to oneself), verbally or nonverbally
4. Put products of 1-3 into TM.
5. Repeat 1-4 for others pairs of forms.
6. Compare the relationships that were noticed in the above steps, and notice relationships among those relationships.
7. Repeat the preceding steps indefinitely, while deciding what to notice next, and what to compare next.
If we look just at the verbs in these seven steps, which of these verbs are pretty much just receptive and non-imaginative, and which ones require creation and imagination? It seems to me that noticing and comparing and putting and repeating are generally pretty routine and non-imaginative. On the other hand, describing and deciding require personal involvement and imagination because they involve supplying something that wasn't present in the data. DISTINCTION: Between remembering things (meanings or forms or whatever) and remembering relationship among them. A MORE GENERAL DISTINCTION : Between more -abstract and less-abstract things that we remember or supply.
The next person I'd like to introduce to you is Ann. She was another of the superior adult language learners. Ann was studying Norwegian. During our interview, Ann told me about a conversation that she'd once overheard between two speakers of Norwegian -- and this was after she had just a few dozen hours of instruction in the language. Amazingly, Ann reported that she had been able to get virtually all of the meaning form the Norwegian conversation, and this report of hers was confirmed by her supervisor, who was sitting in on the interview. Which of our two types of imagination does this sound like?
One guess is that Ann's imagination here was of the F-type. That's is, the incoming information passed over the WT, but then whatever words she had already learned (plus, probably, a few international words) immediately generated meanings in Ann's F. Next, without consulting the WT, Ann's filled in whatever gaps of meaning were caused by words she didn't know. And finally, the total filled-in picture then registered back on Ann's WT, and she (as we say) "understood" the conversation. She was moving from what a minute ago I called smaller, less-abstract units, and toward larger, more-abstract units. This of course reminds us of what these days is called "top-to-bottom processing".
Another guess might be that while Ann was listening to the Norwegian conversation, she was getting back to her WT some parts of the meaning of the conversation, and that she noticed both the meanings and the gaps in meaning, and that she then looked on the WT for additional information about the smaller things that had were still on the WT, and built things up form there. This involves conscious comparison and manipulation, and has some of the characteristics of "bottom-to-top processing".
One point against this second guess is that, as I said a while ago, this second type of processing -- this second type of imagination -- takes quite a bit of time and attention. Another point is in something that actually happened a few minutes after Ann had told me about the Norwegian conversation. (This was while interview was still in progress.) During our interview, through a fantastic stroke of luck, Ann happened to overhear a comparable conversation between the Swahili teacher and me. Here again, Ann had a very strong sense of understanding everything, and she breathlessly offered to tell us what she had heard. In this case, her understanding was totally wrong, but it had clearly been reached by the same top-to-bottom processing that I would guess she had used in the earlier conversation. DISTINCTION: Between top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top imagining.
Imagination in Some Selected Techniques
And those are all the real people I'm going to introduce you to today. Now I'd like to turn with you to some existing methods and techniques, and look with you at how they stimulate imagination and exploit its magical powers.
Two excellent examples of imaginative teaching are found in Total Physical Response and in Jazz Chants. I think you've heard from their originators in previous years at this conference. Both of these techniques have demonstrated again and again an amazing power to fix pieces of language -- words, phrases, sentences -- in students' minds so that the students can recognize and produce those same words, phrases, and sentences later on. In terms of my little sketch, I'd guess that they owe this success to the kinds of data that they store in the networks of memory along with the pieces of language. Both store a kind of excitement and arousal -- frequently accompanied by humor -- that many students find pleasant. Beyond this, TPR stores kinesthetic data, and Jazz Chants store a vigorous, surging, and very somatic rhythm.
But what do TPR and Jazz Chants do with the students' imagination? Surprisingly, perhaps, I think we have to say that these two techniques in themselves do not ask students to create or to supply, but only to listen and respond. There is no question that what gets retained in this way can be used in ancillary techniques that exploit the students' power to imagine, but the basic techniques in themselves do not exploit that power. The designers of the techniques were themselves remarkably imaginative, and teachers who prepare lessons with the techniques must be imaginative, but the students themselves are not imaginative, at least not in the sense we've talking about today.
A third method that you may be familiar with is Strategic Interaction, which was devised and developed by the late Robert J. DI Pietro. A unit in Strategic Interaction is built around what DI Pietro called a 'scenario', and a scenario consists of three phases: a Rehearsal phase, a Performance phase, and a Debriefing phase.
In the Rehearsal phase, students receive the 'scenario' in the form of two or more sets of instructions. Each student receives only one or another set. The instructions agree as to setting and situation, but they differ in the roles assigned, in the conflicting goals to be pursued, and in some details of content. Students get together with others who have the same set of instructions, and use any and all means to prepare themselves so that one of their number can play the assigned role successfully in the Performance phase that's about to come up.
The Performance itself is carried out by representatives of the groups. It's extemporaneous, of course, but it also draws on all the hard work that went on in the Rehearsal phase. Elements of purpose and of appropriate emotion are very much in evidence.
Then in the Debriefing phase, students and teacher work in various ways with the language that had been created in the Performance phase.
This Strategic Interaction methodology provides for an extraordinary amount of creating and supplying by the students, and most conspicuously in its Rehearsal phase. Here, with the support -- and with the nudging -- of the scenario, students have to come up not only with their own words, but with their own lexical meanings; not only with their own meanings, but also with their own discourse structure. And in the Debriefing phase, what students and teacher talk about is language that has been brought to life by this recent involvement. So in that sense, Strategic Interaction makes great use of -- in fact, it depends on -- the imagination of its students.
Now let's look at a technique from a beginning ESL book by Frankel Meyers (1991). This technique is an alternative way of making use of a time-honored format, namely the pairing of a picture and a dialog. It has seven steps:
(1) Before the learners come into contact with the dialog in any form, they look at the picture and describe it in whatever words or phrases they can supply either in their NL or in the TL. They also guess what the people in the picture might be saying to each other. The teacher reflects what the learners say, using an interested, appreciative tone and correct language. The learners don't repeat after the teacher.
[From the point of view of our interest in imagination, recognizing the major features of the picture is pretty much automatic, and requires the learners to supply very little. So the recognition part of this step is not what I would call 'imaginative'. But that's not all the learners are called on to do here. They're also called on to figure out how the features of the picture are related to one another, and what is going on among them. This information is not present in the black-and-white lines of the picture, and so must be supplied through imagination.
[Also, the learners are called on to supply English words and sentences with which to express their ideas. If this were done in their native language, it might be close to automatic, but in the beginning stages of learning English , it calls for some ingenuity, and therefore for imagination. So in this first step, the learners have exercised imagination in the creation both of meanings and of forms. And the style of the teacher's responses -- interested, appreciative -- gives them a social recognition and reward, and not just academic approval or correction.]
(2) The learners listen together to the uninterrupted full text of the dialog, and report what they think they have heard. The teacher writes their contributions on the board, without filling in gaps and without correcting. [This of course is a larger-scale example of the Type-F imagination that enabled my secretary to write 'Flaggenheisch'.
(3) The learners listen again, this time with their books open. They now check the forms that they have suggested against the forms on the page. [on the WT, the products of imagination are now being checked against new input from external reality.]
(4) The learners indicate what they have not understood. The teacher explains or demonstrates meanings. [This requires noticing and comparing, which of themselves are not imaginative, but it also requires deciding and describing and describing , which are imaginative.]
(5) The learners work on pronunciation by some learner-initiated technique such as The Human Computer (TM). [Again, this is the same noticing and comparing that are supposed to take place in more conventional techniques for working on pronunciation, but the student-initiation features calls for deciding, and therefore for imagination.]
(6) The learners practice together in dyads, working for greater familiarity and fluency, though not necessarily for absolute memorization. [The practicing itself looks a lot like conventional practice, but what's being practiced is to an unconventional extent the product of imagination, and not yet just taken off the page.]
(7) The learners take turns acting out the dialog or some variant of it. Their purpose is to interest or amuse.
[The products of imagination are thus again reinforced through social rewards, and not just through academic confirmation or correction.]
The technique that I'd like to leave last in your minds today also involves the pairing of words and pictures. The reason I've save this one for last is not that it's the best, but that it comes with an anecdote, and the anecdote has a punch line that I think all of us who are interested in imagination will enjoy.
This is a technique mainly for intermediate or advanced students. It starts out with an ordinary dialog, such as we've been using ever since the days of audiolingalism: a couple hailing a taxi to go out for the evening, for example. It goes like this:
1. Students listen to the dialog, trying to understand it.
2. They listen again in the same way. This time, they notice what they haven't understood and ask questions, preferably in the target language. The teacher answers. This continues until the students are able to understand what the sentences of the dialog mean.
3. Students listen yet again, but this time they are asked to concentrate their attention on their own mental 'home movies' of what is happening. Here we find 'imagination' in its etymological sense of formatting and creating mental images.
4. Then, about each line of the dialog no matter how brief or trivial that line may seem, Ss are asked three questions.
(1) A visualization question: 'In your "home movie", was it dark yet?' These are question that can't be answered from information contained in the dialog itself. Here, the students have to supply information out of their own Type-F mental imagery.
(2) A question about purpose: 'In this line of the dialog, was the speaker concerned about the information it contained, or just trying to be agreeable?' Here, students have to notice and compare and make a simple decision about meanings.
(3) Then, once having indentified the purpose, 'How else might the speaker have accomplished the same purpose?' Here, students have to supply words.
This technique proved both effective and enjoyable. The first time we tried it, it worked as we had hoped it would. But we noticed something else. There was one of the students -- let's call him Bill -- who was an earnest hard-working student of more than average general intelligence, but who week-after-week had seemed to plod along a few paces behind his more talented classmate. This time, however, Bill was right up there with the rest of them. What, we wondered, had made the difference? Then, as the class went out the door for a break, I heard Bill say to another student, 'In all my study of foreign languages, this is the first time I knew what I was talking about!' And he knew that because and only because he had been given a chance to use his imagination!
From all I've said today, but most graphically from the story of Bill, I think we can pick out three principles -- three rules of thumb -- three conditions fro the management of imagination in a language class. The first is to provide an occasion for imagining: to be certain that there's some need for something that the students can supply, whether that something be meanings or words or organization. The second is to allow time for students to come up with what is being asked for, and to remember that some students (Bill, for example) need more time for this than others. And third is, once a student has provided what we have asked for, to be sure there's an appropriate social response other than just 'Yes, your language is correct' : incredulity at the fact that a classmate actually visualized the taxi driver as 80 years old, for example.
This, then, would be my summary of what I've been able to find out about the imagining equipment that our students -- and we ourselves -- have been given : First, that our imagining equipment is intimately associated with our remembering equipment. Second, that its operation involves constant, recursive, dynamic interplay between what is automatic, very rapid, and largely beyond conscious control, and what is smaller, slower, and available for conscious management, Third, that in order for this wonderful equipment to serve our students best, we need to provide occasions for its use, and time, and some kind of distinctive, meaningful response to what imagination has produced. With these principles in mind, I wish you godspeed as you continue to use your own imaginations in the service of the imaginations of your students! Then, as Bill would have put it, they will better 'know what they are doing' because more of what they are doing has come form within themselves!
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