The Theory of Flow and its Impact on Learning – YTT Issue 2

Nov 15, 2021

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”

  • Csikszentmihalyi, Author of Flow

As an educator, have you experienced that moment of distress when you sensed your class drifting off? When you felt that they were not connected to what you were teaching, even though you were trying so hard.

For educators, it is a dream to get a class ‘awake’ and ‘alive’ – enjoying the process of learning, and performing to their potential, no matter what the subject. How do you achieve that level of learning where the students are absorbed, engaged and joyful?

Flow

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, a professor and an early proponent of positive psychology, talks about that ‘flow’ or ‘the heightened level of being’, where one is so immersed in a task that it transcends all concerns of time, fatigue or hunger.

Flow represents voluntary engagement and involves self-motivation, greater focus and concentration and pure joy from the process of exploring, learning or creating something. It induces heightened creativity, deeper learning, and sustained long term interest in a topic.

Initiating Flow in Classrooms: Steering students from Comfort Zones to Growth Zones through Flow

Flow is attained when teachers help their students find the right balance between the skills they possess and the challenges they need to overcome.

To attain flow therefore, skill building is required. By definition, this requires students to get out of their comfort zone. Usually, it isn’t indifference, but inhibition that keeps children in their comfort zone. By guiding the students to discover their strengths, and by helping them build the right skills for the given topic, educators can instil confidence in them. Thus helping them build their skills as they are nudged out of their comfort zone.

                        Diagram 1

As skills are built by getting children out of their comfort zone, challenge levels should be consistently upped. In the diagram above, if skill & challenge levels are balanced, kids remain in the middle growth path – they achieve flow, a state of self-motivation and proactive learning. They will perform to their full potential without any coercion but with pure joy and creativity.

In order to help kids take on more challenge, some handholding may be required. Here are five tips to help students play to their strengths and interest and get into the flow channel:

Give choices: Encourage students to pick a topic of their interest and teach them to the class or a group. Giving them responsibility in areas of their choice ensures better involvement, and deep learning of the subject.

Give feedback: Feedback is an integral factor of flow. A record of their progress through constant and precise feedback will help students to rectify problems and focus better.

Ensure creative practice: Encourage students to explore their weak areas and rectify them through creative solutions and consistent practice. Repeated efforts will help build higher skill levels.

Acknowledge & appreciate: Every ‘better’ performance or effort must be acknowledged and appreciated to build confidence and ease the students out of their comfort zone. They will then start exploring new areas.

Stretch the skill levels: As they build their skills, the teacher can up the level of challenge to help students stretch their capabilities further.

Studies show that students are most engaged in school while they are involved in group work, projects or tests where they feel more independent and can control the activities in one way or another.

As educators, it’s high time we shift our focus from grades and curriculum completion to cultivating an environment of creative learning. Teachers can make the learning process exciting by helping the students to be independent and achieve a sense of victory through creative exploration.

REFLECTION AND ACTION
Knowledge without action is, quite frankly, of little value. Please take 15-30min to reflect on the following:

1. Are my students engaged and engrossed in the class I run? What percentage of them feel disconnected if they do? How can I get all of my class to enjoy what they are learning?.

2. Have I changed my teaching style constantly based on the needs of my students? If so how? What more can I do? Is there some other educator in the school I can seek help from?

3. Do I understand my students learning styles and what ways / methods they learn best in? How Can I alter my teaching style to accommodate different learning styles?

4. Are my students talking to me about things other than my subjects? have I given them enough space to discuss their problems and issues?

5. Do I constantly give positive and developmental feedback to my students in real time rather than end of term? How can I give feedback without discouraging a student?

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