Are we helping our students into the flow?

The TED talks continue to amaze me. In the spirit of open-source, the talks are available online and it is possible to subscribe to the TED newsletter. Today my TED feed brought Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi into my office. Mihaly is the leading positive psychology researcher in the world – positive psychology deals with human strengths: motivation, happiness and optimism, creativity, responsibility, and fun. He was first to describe the psychological state of flow. In a Psychology Today article Mihaly stated, “We all are capable of reaching that state of effortless concentration and enjoyment called ‘flow’.”

In the TED video, Mihaly speaks of the state of Flow as described by a variety of creative artists. He shares this graphic explaining the Flow model. Listen as he explains each state and the exhilaration of flow.

In the comments section on the video page, Mark Effinger writes of his studies of the oppositional natures of creative and productive individuals. He states, “Creatives fall off the performance (flow) curve as they are forced into routine and the need to be ‘productive’ (in many cases). Productives decline in performance as they have to develop creative solutions to problems.”

Sound familiar? How can we create environments in which students experience flow? I am wondering how this fits with Daniel Pink’s book. How does it fit with instructional design for divergent thinkers … with differentiated instruction?

I’ve experienced flow … many years ago … on the golf course and volleyball court. Sports psychologists in the 70’s referred to this as the peak experience – a concept from Maslow. For me it was swinging the club so effortlessly that it felt like slow motion … and then contacting the ball in the club’s sweet spot – I can still hear that pop. Exhilarating! A volleyball game in which I was out of touch with everything but the immediate interactions on the court – no crowd noise … no crowd … like being in a vacuum … totally in the moment and aware of everything concerning the game … effortless concentration – it’s surreal to think back on. So exhilarating!

I had a taste of that recently … I created a title for a presentation that just seemed to flow … small, but still exhilarating.

So … how can I design situations, environments, and circumstances that help my students approach their flow?

How can you?

Most importantly … how can they?


One thought on “Are we helping our students into the flow?

  1. Having read the book FLOW, and as an artist and educator, I have worked to find the flow in my life, and bring that to the classroom. I would also call it engagement, but the process is much more complicated than that when dealing with a group dynamic. It involves finding the right questions, framing the context, silence at the right moments, and an ever shifting view, based on many cues. It is the synthesis of what one knows, an opening to learning, with an element of conscious thought. If I were to describe it visually…and maybe even to pull a bit out from transcendental meditation… I picture it like aquatic plants moving with the waves, a complete part of the liquid environment it is in.

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