The Flow Model

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How can teachers enable pupils to learn more effectively?

In 1961, the Hungarian/American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote: ‘While happiness itself is sought for its own sake, every other goal – health, beauty, money or power – is valued only because we expect that it will make us happy.’ (The Decision Book).

Csikszentmihalyi coined the term ‘flow’ to describe a state of feeling happy and it got me thinking about the times when I have taught students and the informal feedback you receive as a teacher to say things are going well. Indications include, a productive working atmosphere or a fleeting comment from a student: “Wow! Sir, that lesson went quick!”

Happy or Learning?

But being happy is not to be conflated with learning. Just because a student is enjoying something in your class, does not necessarily mean that they are learning anything – learning must be assessed in some capacity and this could be achieved by the teacher or by the individual student.

However, Csikszentmihalyi’s research concluded when happiness or ‘flow’ takes place, the 5 things that happen are:

  1. learners are intensely focused on an activity
  2. an activity of our own choosing, that is
  3. neither under challenging (boreout) nor over-challenging (burnout), that has
  4. a clear objective, and that receives
  5. immediate feedback.

As adults we feel this too. Just take a moment to think of the professional development days that you attend at your place of work. When given a choice, training has more meaning to you and your role in education – it is likely to have more impact. We all know the one size fits all training model hangs precariously on tenterhooks if a teacher cannot take ideas back to their classroom the next day. Learning is about impact and how knowledge can be applied.

Watch Csikszentmihalyi discuss ‘flow’:

Csikszentmihalyi discussed ‘flow’ in detail around 14m 30 seconds.

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Immersed in Learning

Csikszentmihalyi concluded that people who are ‘in flow’ not only felt satisfied, but they lost track of time and became immersed in learning. When last did you become immersed in learning as a teacher? When last did your students become immersed in the project/topic in your class?

If there is intense focus on an activity which is self-selecting and has a clear objective, students are more likely to work between being over-challenged and under-challenged, they can move from apathy to flow. They become immersed in their learning.

Csikszentmihalyi #FlowModel

We have seen this model in various guises online. This is my interpretation of the ‘struggle zone’ – students learning between high-anxiety and low-threat.

Your thoughts please about how this flow can be achieved in the classroom …

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

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