Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Encouraging Readers to Seek Flow
This being National Library Week I thought I would continue on discussing reading and Flow. At our New Braunfels Public Library I came across a book, Going with the Flow: How to Engage Boys (and girls in Their Literacy Learning.) It was written by Dr. Michael W. Smith an education Professor at Temple University and Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm an English professor at Boise State University. Although the book was written in 2006 to this day both authors still show a passion for encouraging reading and literacy. I am thankful when I read about people such as these men who encourage reading.
This book is based off of research that came out of a previous work they did, Reading Don’t Fix No Chevy’s. Their work revolved around trying to encourage young boys in reading which talking to teachers is a struggle more these days. I know in counseling clients when working with children I have found girls are more often open to reading than boys. At the college level I see the same phenomenon that it is the girls that tend to enjoy reading more. Smith and Wilhelm point out how in education studies that girls tend to outperform boys in reading. That seemed to be one driving passion in their research.
What I found interesting in the book was in their interactions with the boys they found a connection to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory. As mentioned last week, Flow is the experience in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does with a sense of enjoyment. The authors found that the boys outside of the “prison of school” (some of the boys perceptions of school), had flow activities they enjoyed. Some of these activities were rapping, sports, video games and art.
They found that the boys were not totally against reading as a number of them read outside of school but often on subjects that they enjoyed such as the sports and video gaming activities. Part of the thinking on encouraging reading in boys was to keep encouraging them to read things they enjoy. I thought as I read the book it was that encouragement that could help the boys connect elements of flow to their reading. They point out near the end of the book that “We found that the five features of flow experience that we discuss in this book -- a sense of competence and control, an appropriate level of challenge, clear goals and feedback, a focus on the immediate, and the importance of the social – explained why our boys liked to do the things that they did. We found that these five features were equally explanatory of the boys’ literate engagement, both in school and out.” (page 171)
I haven’t crunched the numbers from my flow assignment with my college students but those seem to be the core elements of flow that my students felt would apply the best to college studies and flow. I have had students who were taking remedial reading at the college level and they made statements similar to the boys in the book. They would say they enjoy reading things they like but the struggle was reading material they did not like in classes. I would often reply that was hard for me to relate to, as being a Bookhead I enjoyed reading what I liked to read but in school I always enjoyed textbooks as well. I would often tell them I am crazy that way. I agree though that to build the habit of reading we need to encourage people to focus in on reading what they enjoy reading and branch out from there.
One other point I fully agree with is their thoughts on the emphasis on mandatory testing in schools. I have heard from stressed out teachers over the years how they hate teaching to the test. In counseling children many get very stressed out over the Texas state mandated tests. I have asked sometimes to an overly stressed child do the teachers appear nervous about the testing? Several times I have had the children reply in the positive that yes, they notice the teacher nervous about the testing. So if the teachers are stressed out how can we expect the children to perform well? The authors rightly point out how the emphasis on testing makes the emphasis on doing school, rather than learning to enjoy learning and mentally growing. “Our worry is that the more we overtly prepare students for tests, the less our assignments are for the enjoyment of doing them, or for the immediate power of application in the present. Increasingly, what students are asked to do in school is for the instrumental purpose of passing a test, often one in the distant future, instead of doing something for immediate purposes that provide intrinsic satisfaction.” (p. 160) Our test emphasis is counterproductive in building flow into students’ lives. No wonder so many drop out or lose their love of learning; which in the world we live in we should be building students who love learning.
So this National Library Week stop by your local library and support the work they do in encouraging reading. Continue to build the flow of reading in your own life and encourage it in others.
Reflection: Pick up a new book to read in an area of personal interest at your local public library.