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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Getting into the Flow: a post for #Rhizo15

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my "subjective" for the Rhizo15 experience: I wanted to discover new ideas to energize my summer project — creating an "UnTextbook" for my Indian Epics class. I also sketched out an overview of what I expect for the summer, and I'm trying to get everything lined up so that I can get started as soon as classes finish up on Friday. This morning, the Rhizo15 challenge for the week got me thinking about FLOW,  i.e. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's appropriate of that word — for example:
The flow experience is when a person is completely involved in what he or she is doing, when the concentration is very high, when the person knows moment by moment what the next steps should be, like if you are playing tennis, you know where you want the ball to go, if you are playing a musical instrument you know what notes you want to play, every millisecond, almost. And you get feedback to what you’re doing. That is, if you’re playing music, you can hear whether what you are trying to do is coming out right or in tennis you see where the ball goes and so on. So there’s concentration, clear goals, feedback, there is the feeling that what you can do is more or less in balance with what needs to be done, that is, challenges and skills are pretty much in balance.
Here's a nifty diagram that helps to explore the idea of flow in visual form:

That sense of flow is something really important for me in my work, and also an experience I hope my students will achieve also. So, in this post, I want to think about how I can create an Indian Epics UnTextbook that can really help student experience that sense of flow.

Here are some thoughts:

1. Arousal v. boredom. One of my big goals in switching from the four paperbacks I've used in this class to an UnTextbook approach is to reduce the threat of boredom! Some thoughts about that here: Indian Epics UnTextbook: BIG Reorganization of the Class. Including comic books into the mix (which had not happened when I wrote that post), will be great for combating boredom. I am sooooo excited about having these comic books as part of the class reading now!

  

2. Challenge v. relaxation. The comic books should be really fun, and I think the students will feel especially confident about reading the comics (as opposed to the worry and even anxiety that can result when they are reading something that is really alien/alienating, which can easily happen with the epics, especially at the start of the semester). At the same time, I want to make the comic books a good learning challenge also, asking students to think about how the comic books relate to the traditional legends which are the "raw material" that the comic book authors and artists are using. To do that, I'm making Reading Guides for the comic books that ask students to learn more about the background material and read traditional legends side by side with the comic books. I've started writing up Reading Guides for the comic books here: Amar Chitra Katha.

3. Clear goals and progress. One of the most important things I learned from the Myth-Folklore Untextbook this year was the power of the half-reading option; if a student does not get started with the reading at the beginning of the week, I want them to focus on doing the other half of the reading, always moving forward and not worrying about what they did (or did not do) in the past. I am really glad the more flexible reading options of the UnTextbook have helped give the students a sense of always moving forward. No matter how badly the week might start, there should always be a way to finish the week strong! Having highly modular reading in Myth-Folklore was such a boost for that class this year, and I am looking forward to getting the same boost in Indian Epics next year. So, instead of having paperback books to read that last either two weeks or four weeks, the Indian Epics class will not have a whole range of reading options: materials that are for a half-week (a single comic book), or one week, or two weeks, or three weeks, or four weeks (some students do thrive on the continuity that a whole book provides, and that option will still be available too of course!).

4. Clear and immediate feedback. The Reading Diaries were something new last year, and I am really happy about how they turned out. One of the things I will be doing this year is adding in a peer feedback activity for the Reading Diaries so that students will interact with each other more via their Reading Diary posts. Now that I have Inoreader to help me create specific blog post streams containing students' Reading Diary posts, I will be able to make that work really well! Students will also be able to learn a lot from watching each other's reading choices. I saw that happening in Myth-Folklore this year, and I am excited that I will get to see the same thing happening in Indian Epics.

5. Confidence. As mentioned above, I had a big organizational breakthrough that I think will really boost my students' confidence in the Indian Epics class. Since the epics are new to most of the students, the reading can be intimidating, and even when I offer choices about the reading, they are not able to be confident about their own preferences. In the new UnTextbook, we will cover both epics in the first half of the semester, and that will give students more confidence as they make their own reading choices in the second half of the semester. I also hope the "anthology" approach that I am taking in my own "Public Domain Editions" of the epics will help students feel confident in those reading choices since they will have some familiarity with different sources they can choose from.

6. Skills. For years I focused on my students' writing skills, and I really did not pay attention to their reading skills. With my work on the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook, though, I was able to engage with my students more directly as they read, and this is helping me to help with the development of reading skills. Now that I will have an UnTextbook for both classes, I hope to do a really good job of working on reading skills next year. So, in addition to giving the students great things to read, I hope I can also help them improve their reading skills so that they will get more out of what they read... more flow! :-)





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