I was taking a yoga class the other night from a new teacher and so excited to be back after a yoga hiatus for several months. I wasn’t sure why I so needed to drop everything and go to yoga that night. I couldn’t put it into words.
When I finished the class, though, a bit unsatisfied, I realized why I so desperately love yoga and also why I wasn’t completely satisfied after the class. It came down to flow.
Yoga, for me, is all about “flow.” In fact, the class I take is called Vinyasa Flow. What happens when I do yoga is that I focus on the movements, the breathing, and everything else disappears for a while. I am fully there, engaged, in the moment, in the “flow.” In last week’s class with a new teacher, I didn’t feel that flow. Our movements were too disjointed, without a central purpose. I realized how amazing my previous teacher was in that she could create the right conditions so I felt the flow.
Originally developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the word “flow” has to do with the times we are so engaged that everything else becomes secondary. In education, there has been a lot written on the subject. The Greater Good blog came out with 8 research-based tips on creating that flow in a classroom. Although a recent article that’s seen the rounds on Twitter about “7 Things Every Kid Should Master,” didn’t specifically mention “flow,” it mentioned how important engagement was for students:
The educational philosopher Harry Brighouse has suggested that the ability to think about something for 20 minutes at a time (sustained focus) may be one of the most powerful cognitive skills we acquire in school.
I would concur with Brighouse but also add that students should be able to not just think about, but collaborate, act, and engage for at least 20 minutes. I’ve seen it in my kids and lately I’ve resisted the urge to stop them and tell them we need to move on to something else.
In the classroom
Here are some examples: The students’ garden is one place where they can dig and plant and pull weeds and organize for a lot longer than 20 minutes. Another time, my students started building creations out of popsicle sticks for a passion hour and were so excited creating and documenting their work, I didn’t have the heart to stop them.
Physical, kinesthetic activities are often where students reach their flow. However, I’ve seen it during our writers’ workshop where the room is silent, and they are writing or typing furiously to get out their ideas. We often write before lunch and there are usually groans when it’s time to stop. I’ve seen it in book groups where they are discussing ideas, off on “tangents” and it’s hard to tear students away from those discussions. I’ve seen students so engaged in action, so fired up over an injustice that they are planning their attack on it for much more than 20 minutes.
And it’s not just my upper elementary students I’ve seen going into “flow.” I’ve sat in on a 1st grade class this year, and there have been many times where the students start on a topic, like copyright of their books, for example, which led to an inquiry and discussion and…I think that conversation and action went on for days.
Stopping the Flow
What’s stopping the flow? Us, teachers, for one. We have our scheduled ideas and targets we need to hit. We need to find time to finish the projects, fit in some math, some reading, some writing throughout the day. Flow is also stopped by the need to schedule single subject teachers, who are completely essential in a balanced education. Yet, stopping and heading out to those subjects at assigned times does break the flow. Sometimes students themselves have trouble with the flow. I have one student who is a timekeeper. He checks the schedule on the board for the day and if we are running over schedule, he shoots up his hand to tell me. For him and a few others in my class with some learning challenges, routine is important. They don’t understand that we didn’t go according to plan because we just were too engaged. The world for some our kids is more black and white, and we need to respect that.
So, what to do? I think, coming out of yoga, I just needed a reminder that flow is important. I did ask my students once why they had such a hard time coming in from music into a silent time when they listened to a read aloud. It’s a good question to ask our students. They told me honestly that they had trouble transitioning from one class to another, one subject to another. Their brains were still running on the last class, and I was forcing them into another one.
When possible, I want to respect when my students are in their “flow.” I think being in that flow is good for their brains. It’s stretching them, allowing them to sustain activity, maybe to think a little bit more deeply.
What are your thoughts? Examples?