As a teacher, I was always aware of the flow of my lesson and sensitive to student engagement and disengagement in relation to boredom and challenge. Mihaly Csikszentmihayi spent many years researching the notion of “flow”. In his book “Flow” Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as ‘the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.’ http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/mihaly-csikszentmihalyis-theory-of-flow-1674.
As an adviser, observing other teachers’ lessons, I notice that some have some notion of flow in the sense of pace and linking from one activity to the other and others have a deep sense of flow as per Csikszentmihayi. I became aware of this in my own teaching practice when I was teaching both secondary English and Drama. The drama students easily moved into “flow” and would be so absorbed in the task that extraneous things like bells went unnoticed (unlike in some classrooms where students were lined up at the door waiting for the bell to ring). Our secondary schools mitigate against flow in that the days are divided into 1 hour chunks and when the bell goes you must move quickly to get to the next class on time no matter whether you are totally absorbed in what you are doing or finished.
Csikszentmihayi notes that “in the first few years of life children are like little machines processing knowledge and devouring knowledge with an exuberant interest in learning”. But at secondary school it has been traditional for the information “to be processed for them, they are not in control of the process which is done to them and so their enthusiasm is damped down”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwngIuplE5g. This tradition is changing in NZ education with a student – centred curriculum http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-documents/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum and with many schools engaged in the Te Kotahitanga project which uses the constructivist model of students and teachers co-constructing knowledge together http://tekotahitanga.tki.org.nz/About/The-Development-of-Te-Kotahitanga/Effective-Teaching-Profile
But getting back to the everyday teacher and the everyday lesson. How can teachers achieve the optimal notion of flow in their classrooms. Csikszentmihayi gives these pointers:
- There must be a clear goal that is not too difficult or too easy but is well matched to the students’ skills. Too difficult an activity will produce anxiety and too easy an activity will produce boredom. (Teachers will know where the student is at from the data they have used to plan the lesson)
- Immediate feedback should be provided so that the student knows in a step by step way how they are going in relation to the goal (or Learning Intention and Success Criteria)
- The “flow” experience begins with concentration that becomes more and more focused until the student steps out of their everyday reality, loses self-consciousness and consciousness of time. (the NZ curriculum, Effective Pedagogy, p34 talks about “creating a supportive learning environment” and Registered Teacher Criteria 2 (RTC2) talks of providing a teaching and learning environment that is physically, socially and culturally safe”. http://www.teacherscouncil.govt.nz/rtc/rtchandbook-english.pdf ).
- The student has a sense of control, choice or awareness of the type of challenges that s/he can take on ie self awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. (The NZ Curriculum, Key Competencies p12, Managing Self – This competency is associated with self-motivation, a“can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners. It is integral to self-assessment).
- The teacher needs to read the shifting needs of learners and to ensure there is a balance between challenge and skills. This would include giving feedback and feedforward to students to guide them to the next steps.(RTC7 – demonstrate effective management of the learning setting which incorporates successful strategies to engage and motivate akonga (learners))
- The teacher would need to know a lot about the student to know what the correct balance of challenge and skill is. (RTC1 – establish relationships, RTC8 – demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of how akonga learn, RTC11 – analyse assessment information to identify progress and ongoing learning needs of akonga.