The idea of the flow state is one of those hip psychology topics of recent years. In articles like this one from Time, or this onefromPsychology Todaywe hear about seemingly superhuman feats that can result from achieving a peak experience or flow state. Interesting stuff. I was thinking about this idea while watching a documentary on free climbing, when something hit me–good writing happens in the flow state, too. (Also, it’s much less dangerous than free climbing… physically, anyway.)
I realized that a quick lesson and discussion about flow states could be really useful to my student writers, who happened to be working on an intense, self-driven writing project of length at the end of the year. So, I showed them this short video, paired with the the request to think about how understanding the flow state concept can help us as writers:
Working together in discussion, we identified some helpful pointers we could apply to our writing…
WHAT WE LEARNED
HOW WE CAN APPLY THIS LEARNING TO OUR WRITING PROCESS
Flow starts with struggle.
When we are trying but failing to think of a good idea, or we feel frustrated or stuck with our draft, that is actually a good sign! We have to move through the struggle to get to flow. Even if the process of struggling feels futile and impossible right now, it doesn’t mean we should give up. We are on our way to the flow state!
Letting go of the problem at peak struggle is crucial to enter the flow state.
Just as we reach frustration, we need to take a little time away from what we’re working on, doing something that will leave our mind free to think about our writing. We can play a sport, enjoy nature, cook, do a puzzle, practice art or music, or just stare at the wall for a little while to free up some space for new ideas to come.
Watching TV or browsing the internet will destroy flow.
While most of us use social media and entertainment to “take a break,” that’s actually the worst thing we can do to make progress with our flow… as tempting as it is, staring at the TV or our phones has to be avoided if we truly want to reach peak focus and productivity. We should try to take working breaks doing more of the things listed above.
Flow results in enhanced performance.
Once we reach flow, it is awesome! Time just falls away, the words come to us easily, and we make massive progress. When we reach that “zone,” we are able to be productive and creative!
Processing the recovery phase is necessary to re-enter flow.
Flow can’t last forever, so once we’ve achieved a good burst of inspiration and the surge of productivity is worn out, we shouldn’t assume that it’s gone forever–we just need to recharge.
Grit, resisting stress, and refusing to give in to negative emotions can help us struggle better and recover better.
We should try not to let self-doubt get to us. Once we understand that feeling stuck doesn’t mean we’re bad at this, it gives us the confidence that we’ll find our focus and inspiration along the way. When we view the feeling of challenge as an opportunity to grow, the flow state will be easier to find.
Even though the field of positive psychology wasn’t where I expected to find my next great writing warm-up, this exercise significantly changed the way my students were able to talk about their writing process. I guess it boils down to “Know thyself.” It was a reminder to me that talking about writing is also talking about thinking, which (at least according to Descartes) is kind of the same as talking about being. We need to touch on all three to help students find the magic that comes from flow.
At the beginning of the school year, I promised to pursue the goal of building my classroom library. I also promised a set of before and after pictures to show the progress I accomplished over the year… so here we go!
I am really proud of the progress I made, needless to say! Here’s a quick run-down of what worked, what didn’t, and what’s next.
Asking for book donations gets results! I received donated books from students, parents, community members, and my own friends and family. It turns out that a lot of people have extra books around that they are happy to donate to the good cause of young readers. The key is to keep asking!
My classroom library promoted more reading in an immediate, engaging way. Kids really do read books when they are readily, freely available. Especially when I displayed the newest additions at the front of the room, they were often borrowed immediately. It’s also great to be able to say, “Oh, you finished your book? Here, grab one of these next.” Getting a book in a kid’s hand ASAP can often be the difference between progressing toward a reading goal and falling off track.
I am so proud of my student readers. They read like gangbusters and although I can’t take credit for most of it, I do know that they like reading things I recommend to them. That’s one of the most enjoyable things about the classroom library–it’s preloaded with recommendations! I have read many of the titles on my shelf, and I’m at least familiar in a cursory fashion with ALL of them. It makes it easy to quickly find the perfect title for a bookless student.
A book return station is important. This is an important practical detail. Even normally responsible students seriously cannot put books back correctly. No matter how many gentle reminders are administered, students will misclassify and abuse the books by shoving them any which way on the most convenient shelf. Don’t even try. Get a crate like this instead, and reshelve everything yourself on a daily basis. Some battles just aren’t meant to be won.
What didn’t work:
As I wrote in my original post, I had planned to use the app Lend It! to manage book checkouts. It turned out that using the app (and using several others of the same ilk that I beta tested) was just too clunky, unreliable, and time consuming. I ended up defaulting to keeping track of checkouts via old school paper signout method. That was still problematic, though, because sometimes students would take books without formally checking them out. I am still figuring out a balance between making sure that books are freely and easily available and keeping better track of my collection.
That leads me to my next problem, and in talking to my colleagues it seems that this is just the nature of the beast–books will go missing. Kids will inevitably lose them, lend them to unsanctioned friends or siblings, or accidentally destroy them. This is simply a reality of sending books into backpacks. It can be disappointing to see a portion of the library just disappear, but it’s still worth it to know that more kids are reading as a result of the fine-free borrowing system. But hey, books are meant to be read! I would rather have my kids read books into oblivion than have a pristine collection that lives only on the shelf and never gets checked out.
I’m looking forward to another building year for my classroom library. Our reading culture is alive, well, and growing. I love being a part of that. I’m progressing on my own goals as a reader–which include becoming the resident science-fiction expert–and my students are becoming more sophisticated, more excited readers with each year that passes. A serious commitment to reading results in sheer magic, and I’m fully convinced that the deeper we dig into it, the more often we celebrate the process of reading committedly along with our students, the greater the positive transformations we observe as teachers will be.