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Great student engagement

Flow is a crucial element for language teachers to consider, but it will never make it into the common core and no one will ever get a billion dollar contract to measure it.

I have been revisiting the concept of flow since Stephen Krashen tweeted about this and Blaine Ray followed up on the moretprs Yahoo group with a simple piece of advice: “internalize this”.

Flow is the kind of high student engagement where we do not even notice time passing. Flow is essential to great teaching, but elusive.

Last Friday I decided to pay close attention to flow in my own lessons. Specifically I wanted to take note of what I was doing when I interrupted flow (clueless!!) and what I may have done to encourage flow in my classroom. How do I even identify flow when I’m hip deep in it?!

Susie Gross´ famous advice to “teach to the eyes” can be as much about identifying flow as it is about measuring comprehension. In this case I am blessed to be working in an urban school where my students make it very clear when they are not engaged. I started my career in a highly competitive suburban school where it was easy to confuse a well-trained rule-follower for an engaged learner. Nonetheless, flow is a difficult variable to measure… and that may not be a bad thing. Pearson Educational will never get a billion dollar contract to measure flow in our classrooms. The real problem, though, is not in the voodoo of measurement.

I´m not going to achieve flow unless every one of my students truly cares about the subject matter. A few years ago I arranged for a meeting of all of the department chairs in my district to decide what exactly are the essentials for each level. Comically enough, one of the “essentials” that made it onto that list were “items found in a bathroom” (chapter 4b of the textbook that I was eager to jettison). Unless your students have an intrinsic interest in bathroom supplies then this joke of a curriculum is an unnecessary obstacle to creating flow.

citation-krashenAs for my own classroom, I found that I was interrupting flow most whenever my grammar pop-ups lasted more than five or so seconds. Five seconds is just enough to tell them what it means and then get back into the story. My twenty second grammar pop-ups derailed the process!  It turns out that twenty seconds is just enough time for me to go beyond the meaning of the phrase and start generalizing about language rules. However a five second pop-up, twenty seconds of story-asking followed by another five second pop-up was, as the Goldilocks in our class story said, “perfecto”.