This post is written by teacher and presenter Audrey Friel.
~Did you ever watch an eleven year old boy put together a Lego® set?
~Did you ever try to get your preteen daughter off that fashion app she’s always blogging on to come to the dinner table?
~Have you noticed the eyes of a child in the midst of pretend play outside?
~What about your seven year old making a homemade slingshot out of sticks and leaves to haul a dead fly to the frog in the pond?
What are some observable commonalities: glazed eyes, furrowed brows, slight grins, occasional grunts, frustrated motions, long periods of time at the task, trial and error again and again, a squeal or two of delight, maybe even a quick temper outburst or two.
The examples are endless! These are all examples of children in the state of “flow”. The most common and lauded name associated with the creation of the idea of flow is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He was studying and writing about play and creativity, in all people of all ages. He found the intended goal self-fulfilling and the activity toward the goal became its own reward. And flow, as he describes it, began. Actual flow never quite reaches the end but gets ever so close.
The greatest moments, the highest, most satisfying experiences in people’s lives come when in flow. Three parts, autonomy, clear goals, and immediate feedback are imperative. The challenge/goal stretches the whole self in a way that makes the effort itself the reward. It’s that delicate balance producing a degree of focus and yet satisfaction at the same time.
Csikszentmihalyi defined flow as “being so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The ego falls away. Time Flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost…”
As Dan Pink references, flow is the time that passes in a flash when it has gotten dark and you realize you forgot to get dressed, eat, and feed the dog!
That feeling of flow is something we can offer our students. I also assert, we must experience flow ourselves, so that we can facilitate this for our charges. Self-participation is the only way students buy in. And, really, isn’t it all about the buy in?
“You teach elementary students,” I hear you saying, “How much flow can they really get?”
Well, it varies not only in amount, but in degree as well. Passionate about soccer, painting, singing, violin, writing, tinkering? All of these (and endless other examples) exhibit qualities that use great tools for learning, flow, and for using/noticing metacognition. How about those Legos®, or jigsaw puzzles, Minecraft®, or Origami? We need to unlock these qualities. We need to point them out and the skills they use for them that they can use toward new learning. Using the learning from past experiences toward a new experience is the road to flow, no matter what your age or what you desire to explore. This is real “rigor”.
As an educator, I think that autonomy and immediate feedback can be the hardest parts of this puzzle to let go of and give to our students. Quite honestly, it’s most often a challenge for us to figure out.
Flow experiences imply growth. To maintain that flow state, one must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches skills. One emerges, like a new butterfly, from such a flow experience with a bit of personal growth and great feelings of importance.
A great “unintended consequence” by increasing time spent in flow is it’s rise of intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning. This is my own personal endeavor each new school year with each new group of students.
Here is the question I have gotten from parents for decades as well, “How do I help my child to be more motivated?”. Or the ever so popular, “ My child is bored in class.” So this information can assist to better inform parents as to how to help their children. It can give clear examples and can be flushed out as a plan with the teacher, parent, and student all involved. It becomes a living and changing document.
Our most important job is to find students’ passions, apply metacognition strategically, guide and facilitate paths, and learn along with them with the sheer excitement and frustration of their flow. We need to improve our own flow purposefully and reveal our experiences, both positive and negative, to our students as well.
Beware, as this is the purest view of flow. In a classroom situation, we must adjust. Not only do we need to adjust for our students, but for ourselves, our administrators, the parents, and even our colleagues (and let us not forget constant new and forever changing mandates). All of these variables “count”.
Concurrently, every group of students has a new makeup; new class of peers, new personal situations, new developmental stages, and more. They, too, encounter constant changes that often interfere with their flow.
Don’t forget, you also face new challenges and experiences each year. Give yourself the same break you would give your students. Then, take a deep breath, and…