Friday, May 18, 2012

Student Engagement - Optimal Learning Experiences

Here's some more insight into "flow" and what it means to be in that creative, imaginative place both individually and within a small group. How could making "optimal learning" the priority in classrooms and schools make a difference? The short term effects are evident at the Key Learning Community School in Indianapolis. But, what about long term effects? What about mentoring students through "optimal learning" so that their interests and gifts match a future career?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, was recently interviewed by Edutopia about "optimal learning experiences," and about the Key Learning Community school. Here is an excerpt:

What kinds of school activities are most (or least) likely to promote flow?

If you think of where kids have most flow in school, it's mostly in extracurricular activities like band, music, athletics, newspaper. In addition, if you look at academic classes, they would report flow especially when they work on team projects. That's the most enjoyable part of school. Next comes working on your own on a project and you can go down and the lowest one [in promoting flow] is listening to a lecture and audio/visual. Anything that involves them, that has goals where they can try to achieve, solve a problem, or do something it's going to be much more likely to produce flow.
And an example of a school whose primary focus and mission is "optimal learning:"

Can you describe a school that has succeeded in promoting flow?

The Key Learning Community in Indianapolis that you probably are also studying, they have tried very self-consciously also to include flow into their teaching methods and, I think, very successfully. Essentially, they do it in two different ways. One is that they have a space that is called the "Flow Room" where students can spend at least an hour a week to explore new materials and they don't have to do anything except get involved with whatever they are interested in doing. And this is one of the favorite spaces in the school for kids.
But more importantly, every teacher, whether they teach German or music or mathematics, is aware of how important it is for the kid to experience flow while learning because that would make them want to learn more. Teachers are trying to translate their own subject matter into ways the kid can become really involved immediately and they get clear goals and feedback and they get the challenge matched to their ability. That makes everyday learning hopefully much more motivating to the child so that they will look forward to the lesson rather than be afraid or bored by it.

Have you observed any especially innovative practices at The Key Learning Community?

One thing that the Key School did from the beginning was to hire a video technician and a video camera and they interviewed and videotaped every child at the beginning of the school year, asking them why they wanted to go school, what they hoped to achieve at the end of that year. And for the rest of the year, whatever project the kid was involved in got on the same tape. At the end of the year, the child could have a documentary of what he wanted to accomplish and what actually did happen. Now, to me, -- you know, you say, well, so what? -- I think psychologically, it's a very important thing because you are putting the responsibility for learning on the child. They are responsible for what they're going to learn.
What lessons can be learned from the success of the Key Learning Community?
The neat thing is that the eight teachers who started the Key schools were not really special in any way. They were typical, good, public school teachers who just were so tired of battling against inefficiency of the regular schools that they banded together to start something new. They were able to pull something out that is very rare, namely, they created an environment where kids love to learn, where you walk into school and you see them laughing and happy in a way that you rarely see them in school and involved in their serious stuff, they're doing very, very interesting projects.
So it's possible, but you need to have that kind of focus, single-minded determination that these eight people have because otherwise, it won't happen by itself. And throwing money at it is not necessarily going to help either, unless you give money to people who have that determination already.

The entire article is here:

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