How does "flow" connect to learning and teaching? Here are three ways we might think about flow in our classroom practice.
1. Water seeks to flow toward oceans; it has a destination & purpose.
As educators, we plan for learning to flow in our classrooms. Our long range plans are literally flow charts, noting how we plan to drive learning forward throughout the year. Click on the button below to see my Grade 3 long range plan from a couple of years ago. You'll notice that I posted it at the top of our class news page, as this visual graphic helped our classroom community (including parents) map out our learning.
You can access these materials, complete with lesson plans, by clicking on the button below.
We engage in discourse in the classroom, and it's the flow of conversation that gives students the opportunity to process new ideas, connect them to schema and engage in critical thinking. Lucy West and Antonia Cameron describe turn & talk as a powerful strategy that supports learning in their article, "Turn and Talk: One Powerful Practice So Many Uses" (metamorphosistlc.com/free-resources/articles.html). The article explains why student conversations matter:
"In the USA and Canada educators agree that robust student academic discourse is vital for deep learning. It is also a practice we see far too little of in many classrooms. Standards for all academic areas emphasize the ability to communicate ideas; articulate reasoning, and listen respectfully to other perspectives as critical life skills no matter what the domain. Research from around the world validates the importance of dialogue as a key avenue for learning content with understanding and developing reasoning, social skills, and intelligence (Alexander). Whether students are learning a second language, have language processing issues, come from impoverished backgrounds, or are highly verbal upon entering school, all are expected to be able to engage in discussions using academic language and eventually write in the content areas using appropriate terminology and sentence structure. Various researchers (e.g. Reeves, Allington, Vygotsky, Alexander, Resnick) have linked academic success with the capacity to engage in conversation and to ask and answer questions in full sentences."
If you'd like to read the full article, please click on the button below. The website link (metamorphosistlc.com/free-resources/articles.html) will provide you with further articles, ideas and strategies to use to build more powerful discourse in your classroom, professional learning sessions, or in your school community.
Peter Liljedahl [@pgliljedahl, www.peterliljedahl.com] is working tirelessly to help educators build thinking classrooms. In his research, he is negotiating the non-negotiables in education and raising the level of rigour and discourse in math classrooms to a whole new standard. One of the key concepts he is exploring is the idea of managing flow in a lesson.
His work is grounded in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's concept of flow, which he refers to as the optimal experience."The optimal experience is something we are all familiar with. It is that moment where we are so focused and so absorbed in an activity that we lose all track of time, we are un-distractible, and we are consumed by the enjoyment of the activity. As educators we have glimpses of this in our teaching and value it when we see it." [Liljedahl, 2016, "Flow: A Framework for Discussing Teaching"]
In my household, an optimal experience is often achieved when working to solve or complete a a puzzle or game. My kids get into "the zone" and work together to come up with a solution or get to the finish. When this happens in the classroom, when kids are fully invested in solving a problem, a teacher feels that indescribable feeling that everything is finally working. We want to replicate this experience the next day, but we're not entirely sure how it happened in the first place, so....
This is where the notion of managing flow comes into play. In a workshop with our secondary math teachers and administrators in June 2018, Peter explained how we can manage flow through our use of questions, prompts, nudges and other strategies that hold the students accountable for thinking and problem solving just at the edge of frustration.
As illustrated in the graph above, in order to keep students in flow, the teacher executes moves that channel the learners in the sweet spot between frustration and boredom, increasing the challenge as ability increases. This is truly about ongoing growth, as any student, regardless of ability, can be challenged to stay in flow.
How does water move forward? It flows. While it can flow by itself, there are some ways to move it along more efficiently. The thing that's great about water is that it will continue to flow around obstacles. It pools or shifts direction in response to its environment.
As educators, we strive to be catalysts and managers of flow in our classrooms. This is achieved when everyone is an active participant in learning, with a clear sense of direction. Through intentional planning, provocation, commitment to providing think and talk time and responsive instructional moves including timely descriptive feedback, we create rich learning opportunities that challenge our students, just enough.
Throughout this post, you may have noticed some drips - links to further reading, websites and some knowledgeable others that might help you to extend your learning. In the spirit of yesterday's post, I'm trying to provide you with opportunities to explore further, without flooding you with information. If you're looking for a flood, please reach out! You can comment on this post or message me on Twitter @sarmatkd.