Have you ever been conscious of working in a state of Flow. Those moments when the learning becomes your whole being, everything else fades and extraneous noise can’t permeate your focus on whatever is is that occupies your attention. I’ve been moving in and out of states of flow for the past three years, ever since I discovered the potential of connected learning. Yes, I’d experienced states of flow before that too, but not necessarily connected to the work I do as a teacher.
Last week, I watched one of my students immersed in Flow. We’ve been focused on poetry as a writing task, and have been tying it to our study of The Running Man and the Vietnam War. (Note the cross curricular nature of this study- my students have not only been working on text analysis, but they have been learning about the impact of the Vietnam War on society. It’s so important to have our students able to link learning experiences and understand that learning doesn’t have to be compartmentalised into the 60 minutes they spend in a History class or an English class). The students have to select an image representing a war situation and then write a poetry piece in response to it. My student selected a photo that many of you will be familiar with; the picture of a Viet Cong prisoner being executed by the chief of Vietnam’s national police. She’s a student with natural curiousity, and she was intrigued with what might be the story behind this picture. She spent the lesson drilling down that story; conducting her own research via the Web and discovering the stories of the victim, the perpetrator and the photographer.
Now, I could have been the teacher who said, “Don’t waste your time doing that, just get on with the task of writing that poem”. But really, what’s the point in doing that? She was self directing her own learning at that point, and was teaching me in the process of doing so. I, and other students in the class, discovered the story behind that photo and we left that class with new understanding. My student left that class with a deep understanding of that photo and this will help her shape a poem that I’m sure will have meaning for her. To my way of thinking, that’s what’s important; something meaningful , not just something fired off because it’s the next assessment task.
And here’s what else I think. This is why it’s important we support and encourage 1:1 programs in our schools. My student could self direct her learning in that classroom because she had a computer with internet access in front of her. Imagine that class without it. She may have found the photo on her own volition before she came to class, but she wouldn’t have been able to drill down the learning. She could have imagined what may have been, and she could have gone home to do that investigation, but instead she was able to immerse herself in the state of flow and be energised by this experience. Yes, some would say you can do the same thing with pods of computers close to classrooms, but I’ve worked in environments like that before and it’s fraught with the difficulties of ensuring access when you have other classes also wanting to use these pods. The fact that it was so natural for her to use what for her is her pen and paper and research device rolled into one just makes sense.
Schools have some important decisions to make. As we see the cost of computing devices, be they smart phones, iPads, iTouches, netbooks etc, become increasingly cheaper and accessible, decisions need to be made about how schools manage such devices. Do school administrations really think they can continue to dictate the terms of access? Many parents of the students we teach are already sending their children to school with 3g enabled phones giving them access to the unfiltered web. We should be harnessing the learning potential of these devices and accepting that kids are going to bringing their own personal computers, iPads or phones with them to school rather than discouraging their use. The knowledge economy we are living in today demands that we know how to;
- collect the information necessary to consider a problem or issue
- employ critical thinking skills in the evaluation and analysis of the information and its sources
- formulate logical conclusions and present those conclusions in an appropriate and effective way (Information Age Inquiry)
I’m pretty sure my student was doing all three of those things in last week’s class. In fact, as I write this, she’s just submitted her poem via email. It’s pretty damn good; original thinking on display, and reflective of all of the above.
Sometimes we have to just let the learning happen.