Flow in education

I just finished reading Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment. The book is wonderful, but one of the most enjoyable parts was the authors referenced by Wiliam. He mentioned Robert Pirsig, which prompted me to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He also wrote of John Wooden, Malcolm Gladwell, Barry Schwartz, and Marianne Williamson. You can be confident that an educational author who includes these people in his or her book is on to something.

Most interesting was Wiliam’s inclusion of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who wrote Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi describes ‘flow’ as being so absorbed in an activity, you’re not even thinking about it. It’s someone who’s attempting a task that’s interesting and challenging. Wiliam explains it this way:

When the level of challenge is low and the level of capability is high, the result is often boredom. When the level of challenge is high and the level of capability is low, the result is generally anxiety. When both are low, the result is apathy. However, when both capability and challenge are high, the result is ‘flow.’

That sweet spot of high capability and challenge is what all teachers should strive to implement in their classrooms. An example of this is Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which is used by STAR Reading and Accelerated Reader to help students pick books that are challenging, but not too challenging. A book within a student’s ZPD may not be easy, but the goal of finishing it is not out of reach. Likewise, the objectives a teacher introduces in class must mirror this type of ZPD criteria. Student buy-in is highest when the objective is challenging and the student believes he or she can learn it. When this occurs, classes hum along with the sounds of student inquiry and productivity.

Good authors

The other day, I mentioned that good authors will inevitably lead you to other good authors. The cool thing about this is that you rarely need to ask someone about good books to read if you’ve already begun reading good books. Like a current, the authors you’re engaged with will take you to amazing places.

One person who has helped me find good authors over the past couple years is Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He writes books in which you can read and very easily understand his main points, but at the same time, the books become very technical and complex–if you want to read those parts. His latest book, Antifragile, does a good job leading the reader both to and away from the complex information.

His insight actually transfers very well to the Twitter landscape. Here are some of his most recent tweets and retweets:

If you’re on Twitter, I suggest following him. If you’re not on Twitter, I suggest signing up so that you can follow him.

Curate, curate, curate

There’s never been a better time throughout history than now to get your message out to people. With a blog, one post can reach millions. More people have read what’s here on Rise and Converge than will ever read any of the books I’ve written. The internet has given us all a huge platform from which we can teach and learn.

This being said, it’s amazing how many bad resources are living in cyberspace. One of the most important 21st century skills is curating good blogs and books for yourself, which will in turn lead you to other good blogs and books.

That’s the key: Find a good author, and let her be a lamp that lights your path to other good authors. An aimless search for knowledge will be an unfruitful endeavor.