Tag: school (page 2 of 2)

Flow and the Autotelic Classroom

PositiviteitI’ve mentioned the concept of ‘Flow’ recently after reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. As is often the case with books that are discussed a lot, on the front cover it has a quotation indirectly urging you to buy it. In this case it’s an accurate and brief exhortation from a New York Times review:

Important… Illuminates the way to happiness.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I thought. But after reading it, I can confirm that it’s a life-changing book. I’d add the qualifier “at least for me,” but it would seem that pretty much everyone who’s read it agrees. 😀

flow_bookBeing a teacher by both trade and vocation I have, of course, thought of the implications of the concept of ‘Flow’ for my classroom. How can I promote Flow states in my students? There’s certainly a lot of institutional things that militate against it in the average secondary school – not least the ringing of the school bell every 50 minutes! 😮

I was looking through Csikszentmihalyi’s book for a succinct definition of what ‘autotelic’ means, but he teases out the concept throughout his work. That’s not at all a criticism, as he does it well, but it does make it rather difficult to get across in the space of a blog post! Autotelic comes from two Greek words – auto (self) and telos (goal) and ‘refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.’ (p.67) I think the current Wikipedia definition of Autotelic explains the term a little better:

Autotelic is used to describe people who are internally driven, and as such may exhibit a sense of purpose and curiosity. This determination is an exclusive difference from being externally driven, where things such as comfort, money, power, or fame are the motivating force.

These externally-driven motivating forces are known as exotelic, with Csikszentmihalyi keen to point out that most things we do involve combinations of autotelic and exotelic factors.

If this difference obtains in the real world – and I think that it does – then it is vitally important that we educate young people how to become more autotelic and therefore achieve Flow states. The idea of Flow is perhaps best summed up by this graph (many thanks to Wes Fryer for making it available under a Creative Commons license via Flickr and including it in his blog post from 2006)

Flow graph

I believe that any educator seeing the above graph for the first time will see something they recognise: the fine line between creating a learning activity and experience that is too easy, too hard, involves too much challenge or involves anxiety for the learner.

The state of Flow, Csikszentmihalyi states, is not good in and of itself, but ‘because it increases the strength and complexity of the self.’ There are good and bad forms of Flow: for example the Marquis de Sade ‘perfected the infliction of pain into a form of pleasure’, but then almost everything and anything can be either good or bad depending on context. In the classroom, allowing one student to achieve a Flow state should not be to the detriment of another.

Csikszentmihalyi sets out four ways in which those who have developed autotelic habits can transform ‘potentially entropic experience[s]’ into Flow states. These quotations are taken from pages 209 to 213.

1. Setting goals

A person with an autotelic self learns to make choices… without much fuss and the minimum of panic… As soon as the goals and challenges define a system of action, they in turn suggest the skills necessary to operate within it… And to develop skills, one needs to pay attention to the results of one’s actions – to monitor the feedback… One of the basic differences between a person with an autotelic self and one without it is that the former knows that it is she who has chosen whatever goal she is pusuing. What she does is not random, nor is it the result of outside determining forces.

2. Becoming immersed in the activity

After choosing a system of action, a person with an autotelic personality grows deeply involved with whatever he is doing… To do so successfully one must learn to balance the opportunities for action with the skills one possesses… To achieve involvement with an action system, one must find a relatively close mesh between the demands of the environment and one’s capacity to act.

Involvement is greatly facilitated by the ability to concentrate. People who suffer from attentional disorders, who cannot keep their minds from wandering, always feel left out of the flow of life. They are at the mercy of whatever stray stimulus happens to flash by. To be distracted against one’s will is the surest sign that one is not in control.

3. Paying attention to what is happening

Concentration leads to involvement, which can only be maintained by constant inputs of attention.

Having an autotelic self implies the ability to sustain involvement. Self-consciousness, which is the most common source of distraction, is not a problem for such a person. Instead of worrying about how he is doing, how he looks from the outside, he is wholeheartedly committed to his goals.

4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience

The outcome of having an autotelic self… is that one can enjoy life even when objective circumstances are brutish and nasty. Being in control of the mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy.

To achieve this control, however, requires determination and discipline. Optimal experience is not the result of a hedonistic, lotus-eating approach to life… [instead] one must develop skills that stretch capacities, that make one become more than what one is.

Conclusion

How does one go about starting to seek Flow activities? As Csikszentmihalyi quite rightly points out, it does not really matter where one starts, as you will end up at the same place:

The elements of the autotelic personality are related to one another by links of mutual causation. It does not matter where one starts – whether one chooses goals first, develops skills, cultivates the ability to concentrate, or gets rid of self-consciousness. One can start anywhere, because once the flow experience is in motion the other elements will be much easier to attain.

This will be a relief to educators, like me, who have control only over what goes on in their classroom. We can help make a difference! How?

  • Build goal-setting and target-achieving into the work we do on a weekly basis. Make students feel the ‘buzz’ of having planned for, and achieved, something.
  • Develop concentration skills. Build up students’ ability to focus on details for greater periods of time gradually over a series of lessons.
  • Get students involved. Don’t let them just sit in the corner and be passive. Help them to play an active role in what goes on in your classroom. Involve them in their own learning!
  • Share instances with students of when you have had to overcome adversity to achieve something. At a time when people are feeling down, give them something to be cheerful about. Model autotelic behaviour. 🙂

If that’s whetted your appetite, I’d encourage you to invest in the book and watch this video of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in action at the TED Conference (2004)

What are your views on Flow? Are you au fait with Csikszentmihalyi’s work? Add your views in the comments. 🙂

(Image by JasperVisser @ Flickr)

4 quotations that will guide me next academic year

I love a good quotation. What I mean by a good quotation is one that takes something you’ve been thinking about abstractly and would take you lots of words to express, and then says it in a very concise (often, pithy) way. I’ve a new role as of next academic year, starting in September. Alongside a 50% timetable, I’ll be E-Learning Staff Tutor. It’ll not be easy!

1. “It’s hard not to act like a caveman when you’re living in a cave.” (paraphrased from John O’Farrell‘s An Utterly Impartial History of Britain)

I’ve got to recognise that not everyone lives in the extremely connected world I and my peers inhabit. There’s staff at my school who don’t have broadband at home ‘because I don’t use the Internet that much’, have had the same mobile phone (if they own one at all) for about 8 years, and who only use an interactive whiteboard if and when they are observed. I think my first task will be to lure them out of the cave. It may be safe and offer shelter, but there’s no sabre-toothed tigers out there anymore… 😉

2. “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” (Chinese proverb)

I came across this marvellous proverb thanks to Dave Stacey in his helpful post Write Doug a job description! In terms of my role next year, focusing on the task at hand could prove rather difficult. I can see so much that needs to be done! So long as I know where I’d like the school to be in 3 years’ time, I can start thinking about the baby steps to get us there. And I’ve got the power of the network™ behind me! :-p

3. The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. (Marcus Aurelius)

I’m going to have to accept the fact that I may not be the most popular person in the world next year. It’s a bit like when you become a teacher and initially you want all the students to like you. Then you realise that you’re not there to be liked – that’s just a bonus. You’re there to help them learn things. It’s going to be the same with my E-Learning Tutor role. So long as I ‘keep it real’ and don’t just try to please everybody, I’ll be OK. 🙂

4. “I care not so much what I am to others as what I am to myself.” (Michel De Montaigne)

At the end of the day, and as I have said many times before, I came into the teaching profession to change the experience of school for students. I know my principles and I know when I’m letting myself down. There’s a lot of jargon and extraneous stuff in the world of education that I haven’t got to get bogged down with. Whilst I need to move people on within the school, it hasn’t got to be at the expense of my core beliefs and values. 😀

What about you? What quotations guide and inspire you? What are you aiming for next academic year?

*If you haven’t read O’Farrell’s An Utterly Impartial History of Britain, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations or Montaigne’s Essays, I urge you to!

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Social Fabric

Torn SeatI’m becoming increasingly aware of the importance of schools as social fabric. Some cynics might call it my becoming more institutionalised, but I would disagree. There’s a reason why we can’t just break with what has gone before and radically alter schooling – witness the French and Russian revolutions, with radical changes such as 10-day weeks, equality of students and teachers, and attacks on the church.

No, I’m now a firm believer in evolution over revolution. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy to leave the profession at the end of my career pretty much in the state I found it. Not at all. Just because I’m focusing on evolution doesn’t mean it can’t be a speedy process. :-p

The reason for my change of heart is my family. Before I was a father I could afford to spend hours in the evening planning radically different lessons, putting together projects and writing proposals that would aid the rapid change of the focus of my school. Now, it’s my family I want to spend time with. Whilst teaching will never be ‘just a job’ to me, I very much more sharply demarcate time spent working towards education-related ends and that set aside for my family. Perhaps that’s why, on a poster which reproduces 19th century ‘rules for teachers’ in our staff room (put up for humorous effect) it says that women who marry will be dismissed instantly. Perhaps we need a profession of driven, single people?

But I think not. We need diversity in the profession. We need young people to come into contact with as many different types of people from different backgrounds as possible. Teachers, although they necessarily come from a smaller pool than that which reflects the world’s population, can still give students a taste of different perspectives. Instead, what we should be doing – which has been called for time and again – is give teachers more time and smaller class sizes so they can really make a difference. I’ve said this many times over the last few weeks, but it’s only since my Year 11s have left that I’ve had time to cope and keep up with the multitude of tasks I’m expected to perform in my daily life as a teacher. Given that ‘changing the educational landscape’ comes over and above that, there’s been some things that have suffered this year. Marking, especially of classwork, springs to mind immediately! 😮

So, to return to the beginning of this post, schools need to change. We all know that. But we need to bring along all stakeholders with us, not just leave them behind. To some extent this involves ‘digital literacy’ (the subject of my thesis), but mainly it involves demonstrating by example how we can do things differently. And to do that, we need time. I, for one, am going to be looking to the future when allocating my education-related time next academic year… 😀

Image credit: Seat by Ti.mo @ Flickr

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Are you Alice, Dilbert, or the Boss?

I’m sure it will take no time at all for most people in most schools (or, in fact, most organizations) to raise a smile at the above, noting how it resonates with their own experiences.

What’s my point? Well, if you’re not Alice, you’re Dilbert. And by the time you get a chance to change things, you’ve turned into the Boss… :-p

(BTW Dilbert.com now has ‘mashups’ – user contributions to Scott Adams’ wit!)

A cluttered desk is a sign of genius.

Cluttered desk

My Dad was Deputy Head of the High School I attended. I remember him having on his (very untidy) desk something he had received as a gift. It was stuck to the desk and consisted of a triangular piece of wood with a brass plaque on it. The words inscribed simply said,

A cluttered desk is a sign of genius.

It’s always stuck with me. I remembered it the other day, so whipped up a banner in Publisher, got it laminated and have stuck it to the front of my teacher’s desk. Ironically, the above picture was taken at the beginning of a new term when my desk is actually at its tidiest… 😉

I’ve started using Twitter with my pupils…

Twitter birdMy Year 11 (15-16 year old) History groups – the ones who blog, can use a wiki (until Wikispaces became unavailable/unusable through the school network), use Google Apps for Education and on occasion submit YouTube videos instead of essays are now Twittering.

It’s about time: I’ve been talking about doing this for over a year now, and even suggested 3 different ways Twitter could be used in the classroom. So, over at my new (Google Sites-powered) Y11 History revision wiki I’ve shown my pupils (in great detail) how to go about signing up for their own Twitter accounts.

Usually, Twitter’s a fairly open-ended thing, with each user as a node on a (potentially) huge network. ‘The network’ is actually a series of larger and smaller sub-networks which are linked together by ‘bridge’ users. A little like a large wireless network, in fact. :-p

Twitter network (image credit)

But that’s not how I wanted to use Twitter with my students. Not yet, anyway. I had intended to use the promising-looking Edmodo but, after discussions with Jeff O’Hara discovered it wouldn’t be ready until after my Year 11s go on study leave. I need a closed network, at least at first. At the moment – and during this trial period whilst they’re revising for examinations – I want something like the situation exemplified by this image that I included in that blog post last year:

Twitter - Scenario 1

So far, each group has spent one lesson in the ICT suite making sure their @mrbelshaw.co.uk Google Apps for Education accounts work, getting acquainted with the new revision wiki and signing up for Twitter. The test posts from myself to their mobile devices go ahead this week and we shall hopefully iron out any problems next week.

Issues so far:

  • I wanted to have a separate Twitter account for each group. However, as I can only link my mobile phone to one Twitter account this was not a good solution. I’ve therefore been forced to have one account that will be used with both groups.
  • Putting +44 in front of their mobile numbers and missing off the zero caused some problems, even amongst the more able and digitally-literrate pupils who read all my instructions!
  • Network connection issues and Javascript error messages due to school-based problems.

Hopefully this will tie in with a Becta/Historical Association-funded project of which I’m an associate member. More on that and how my pupils get on with Twitter next week! 😀

House up for sale

For SaleI came back this afternoon to the scene depicted to the left. It made me feel a bit strange actually, but then things that go from being theoretical to ‘real’ usually do. We’re selling up and renting for a bit. Why? Well, many reasons (volatility of the housing market included) but mainly due to my uncertain position for next academic year. Although the Head at my current school is making all the right noises, I don’t have a permanent position and my contract ends in the summer.

Offers, house-related or job-related are welcome! 😉

Heavens open, schools shut

Flood

I’ve been allowed to stay at home the past couple of days due to the flooding in South Yorkshire. Bentley, in north Doncaster has flooded after the River Don burst its banks. People affected have been taking refuge in our school’s Sports Hall. All staff will be required to be in school, but the only students will be Year 11s, in for the morning for their Leavers Day. So there’ll be a lot of staff with tired thumbs tomorrow evening from all that twiddling… Read more →

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