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Dreams. Funny things, right? Do they have hidden meanings? If you dream that you win the lottery, is it going to happen in real life? Well, it probably doesn’t. But maybe they do, dreams having hidden meanings that is. After all, a whole lot of money is made out of interpreting dreams and telling us what they really mean, whether it’s books that are published or people touting themselves as dream-consultants (I might have made that up).

Dreams are also the subject of a film out at the moment that is getting quite a bit of buzz on Twitter.

So far, so what, you may be thinking. What does this have to do with teaching, or for that matter, learning? Bear with me, I’ll tie this together eventually.

I saw Inception recently (I have to admit, I do fall into the ‘very impressed, blown-away’ category of film-viewer this time)

and it got me thinking about something I heard on the Radio 5 Live Phone-in last Friday (13 August) [NB – The podcast is no longer available to download] The topic discussed in the Breakfast Show that day was of obesity and whether it might be an incurable condition. This came the same time as an article on the BBC News website by Dr David Haslam saying that the most obese should not be eligible for gastric band surgery (the most common type of surgery to treat obese patients) and should just be offered paliative treatment instead. The part I’m interested comes 25 minutes and 30 seconds into the podcast of the phone-in, when a chap called Christian (he sounds like a CH Christian and not a CR one) talks about his experience of being grossly overweight and what he did about it. His story really is quite remarkable – he lost 7 stone and 12 lbs in a calendar year – but what is really interesting is what he says about self-image and its role in helping or hindering those wishing to lose weight. He mentions Dr Maxwell Maltz, who wrote about changing one’s self-image and how important it is to have an ‘accurate and positive view of [one’s] self before setting  goals’. The idea presented by Christian in the phone-in was that if someone has a self-image of his or herself as overweight, then the body will treat that image as the norm. If any variation is made to that norm, through diet or exercise, and the body will revert to the self-image (typically people who are overweight join a gym, see improvements, then stop going). He likened it to a plane on auto-pilot, correcting its journey to account for variation in its course.

Ok, what does this have to do with Inception or teaching?

For those who haven’t seen the film, look away now. I’ll attempt a brief summary of the plot without giving too much away.


What do you mean your teacher doesn't walk on walls?

It’s possible to induce people into a dreamlike state. In this dreamlike state, architects are able to alter the landscape, buildings and surroundings of the ‘dream’. Other people can enter the dream and move around freely (more or less). Now the key part: in the ‘dream’, it is possible to trick the dreamer into giving up a piece of information – a plan, an invention, an idea – and steal it. In the film this is called extraction. However, most of the film isn’t about stealing ideas; no, it’s about planting an idea. Inception. Is it possible? Watch the film and find out. But the theory given is that inception is much harder to pull off than extraction. A subject often has to  be ‘fooled’ into giving themself the idea, at an almost sub-sub-conscious level.

So   what   does   this   have   to   do   with   teaching??? Ok, ok!

What if some learners have such a bad self-image related to learning (not language learning in particular) that they won’t succeed easily? They’ll be like the enthusiastic gym-goer who falls back off the wagon and starts over-eating again. Do we need to go deeper to plant a real seed to help our learners change their self-image? How do we help them keep going?

I’ve got some ideas, but I’d love to know what you think. And if you think I’ve just read a little too much into a piece of fiction, let me know in the comments below.

Image credit: inception cover by Alexander-R on Flickr: