I set out to write a blog of 400-600 words on teaching through metaphor.
After doing some reading on metaphor and being inspired to share some of what I had learned I found myself with an article of over 1100 words. What to do since I really did want to share it all? Make it a two part series! Today I will share why teaching with metaphor can be so powerful and next week explore what that might look like in the classroom. May you be as inspired as I!
Teachers know that using students’ prior knowledge is efficient and effective teaching.
They know that the best way to explain something new is to compare it to something their students already know. Another name for this comparison is metaphor. Often times when we hear the term metaphor we think of writing or poetry but metaphors are not just for language arts, they apply to every art form and can be used to teach concepts in any subject. As James Geary, author and professional aphorist, explained in his 2009 TED Talk,
Metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter about 6 metaphors a minute. Metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate, learn, discover and invent. But metaphor is a way of thought before it is a way with words.
I had been planning on writing about using metaphor in teaching for some time now because metaphor is a major tool for any artist creating in the language, visual, or performing arts and I think it is an underutilized teaching, learning, and assessment tool. However, as I was reading about metaphor to get some inspiration, I found the TED Talk from James Geary and discovered something really fascinating which he called “conceptual synesthesia.” Synesthesia literally means “joined perception” and is actually a rare condition where a person perceives consistently one sense with at least one other. For example, that person might look at the number four but always see it as green or concurrently perceive a particular smell. Not surprisingly, my research turned up a few famous artists believed to have had this condition like the painter Vasily Kandinsky and the composer Franz Liszt.
Geary suggested that we all have synesthetic abilities.
In his talk, he gave the audience the Bouba/Kiki test to illustrate his point. He showed them what looks like two ink blots, one spiky and the other rounded. Then, asked them to think about which shape they thought had the name Bouba and which is Kiki. Then he explained,
If you are like 98 percent of other people you will identify the round, amoeboid shape as Bouba and the sharp, spiky one as Kiki….Because we instinctively find or create a pattern between the round shape and the round sound of Bouba, and the spiky shape and the spiky sound of Kiki.
As educators we can use this instinctive tendency of our students to help them learn new concepts and show us what they know. I’ll leave you this week to ponder how you could use metaphor in the classroom being mindful of the metaphors that naturally pepper your speech. Next week I will share with you an example of what that might look like in the classroom. In the meantime you may want to check out the TED Talk by James Geary at http://www.ted.com/talks/james_geary_metaphorically_speaking.html.
Until next Wednesday, be mindful of metaphor!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.