The Right Brain Initiative


What is an Imagination Interview?

November 2nd, 2010 by Right Brain Team

Through Imagination Interviews, students like this fifth grader from Whitman Elementary in SE Portland not only provide rich feedback to the Initiative, but get an intensive opportunity to think metacognitively and provide a voice from the participants' perspective.

Imagination Interviews are one of the methods Right Brain uses to gauge the depth of student learning during arts experiences provided in schools. Designed by Right Brain Evaluation Partner, Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf, the one-on-one interviews between a trained interviewer and a student –fresh from their Right Brain learning experience–give learners a chance to think and talk about their creative process in a flexible and interactive format, giving us insights into their thinking, choices, and learning successes.

Below we share the components of this audio-recorded interview, complete with images, to reveal how a structured set of prompts can encourage students to give their perspectives about their recent experiences thinking artistically.

When the interview begins, the students’ work or images from the residency are spread out to refresh memories of the experience.

Next, we share a set of brain drawings with the students, explaining that they were drawn by adults who wanted to show what their brain “looked like” while they were working on their art. This conversation is both a way of breaking the ice, and reminding ourselves that all brains work differently, and there are no right or wrong answers in these interviews. It also introduces the idea that the interview will focus on their internal life, and not just the concrete step-by-step actions of making or doing something. We use language and questions like, “What do you think this brain was doing or thinking?” When we next turn to their own internal process, we’ll ask questions like, “What did you think, imagine, feel, and wonder?”

Listen as the Whitman student explains the drawings of brains he sees.

A student interprets artistic depictions of brains-in-action as a warm-up for the Imagination Interview. Next he will draw his own brain as he believed looked during his arts experience.

Third, we ask students to  think back to their residency and their own art making and doing. With a range of drawing supplies, we invite students to draw their own brain at work. When they’ve completed their drawing, we encourage them to explain their drawing – why they chose to draw what they did, and then set the image aside to use as needed during the remainder of the interview.
Listen as the Whitman student explains his own brain drawing.

The interview then turns to focus on the details of the experience. As students are encouraged to recall their experience, (“What happened first?”, “What happened next?”) we begin to map out their process during residency, highlighting his or her own thinking and decisions during his or her time with the teaching artist(s).

Listen as the Whitman student explains some of his artistic choices while creating his puppet.

Student details all that he remembers regarding his Right Brain arts experience, while the interviewer transcribes his words onto a process map.

When details have all been notated on paper, and connected with lines as students see fit, we ask them to look at the map, and choose the places where they remember working especially hard, imagining things, inventing something, and mark them with a set of brain magnets. Once they’ve selected the moments, we prompt them further with questions like, “Tell me why’d you put a brain there?” to illicit answers like, “I got stuck and had to change the mouth to be up higher so it would still open.”

Listen as the Whitman student recalls some of what he explored when animating his own puppet character.

Student places brain magnets on the process map where he knows he used his imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills the most.

Completed process map shows how the whole brain was activated during the arts experience. The audio recording and the map are coded for learning and shared amongst Right Brain teachers, artists, staff, and partners.

With a photograph of the completed map and the audio recording from the interview, we can go back and begin to code the interviews for recurring areas of learning. At the end of every interview, we thank students for their time, and for let them know that their feedback about how they learn and how their minds work will help us to share with teachers and artists how to better teach.

These interviews are made possible only through the dedicated time of volunteers who train to conduct interviews with objectivity, patience, clarity, open-mindedness, and warmth. The example above was done by our amiable Implementation Coordinator, Briana Linden. We seek to increase the number of interviews each year, and would like to recruit interested and talented community members to help execute this work. Volunteers who have a background in education, have worked extensively with children, would be willing to submit to a rigorous background check, and would like to be a part of uncovering children’s learning in the arts, are invited to submit a volunteer application at this link. Orientations will be scheduled shortly.


Right Brain Team