“What? Class is almost over?”
If I heard that from a student, I knew that we were heading in the right direction. Psychologists call it “flow.” I’m sure you’ve experienced it. That moment when you realized that you’ve lost several hours because you became so caught up in your work or play. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who is most identified with Flow Theory described “flow” as “An optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging to one’s skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction.”
Yes! “High levels of personal and work satisfaction.” Exactly! But how do we get our students to a state of flow? Here are a few thoughts I’ve been tossing around:
Give the students the PlayDoh. Let me explain. I think that the content we hope to impart to our students IS the PlayDoh. If we hold it in front of the room, explain how it feels, describe its general shape and color, our students will learn a few things about it. Imagine, instead, that we give them each their own PlayDoh. They feel it in their hands, pull it to see how far it will stretch, create new things out of it, then surely they will have a greater sense of what they are holding in their hands. They may get so caught up with it, they forget to pack up their bags before the bell rings. That’s flow!
Plan the party. Okay, is it wrong to have two metaphors in one post? Well, I’m gonna…When you plan a party you need to create an environment of structured freedom. That may sound like an oxymoron. You wouldn’t invite 10 eight year olds to a party and say “Have at it!” They might get bored or worse-naughty! We plan games, activities and we manage them loosely so as to not be the party police. We structure the play, but let them play!
Likewise, in order to send students in the right direction and give them an opportunity to play with our content in a productive way, we have to use some sound research-based structures: collaboration (“Let’s talk about the Playdoh and make a plan to build something great.”), asking higher order thinking questions (“What impact has Playdoh had on children around the world?”), and graphic organizers (“How does this Playdoh experience relate to other information I know?”). One caveat: Your activities must be “appropriately challenging to one’s skill level.” Be mindful of that when you’re planning the party. You wouldn’t plan a rollerskating party for toddlers. You wouldn’t, right?
Watch it unfold. Usually it looks busy. It can be loud. It’s marked by “high levels of personal and work satisfaction.” Personally, this is the point where I find greatest joy in my teaching. Ironically, students oftentimes forget you are there. Don’t feel as though you aren’t working. You’ve done amazing work behind the scenes, Party Planner! As long as they have “Playdoh” in their hands and they are talking about it, writing about it and playing with it. Your mission is accomplished! They’ll be late to their next class because they lost track of time. That’s okay. Your class wins! They’ll be sad the party’s over.