Find your ‘flow channel’ and grow by 4% every day.

The “challenge/skill” ratio is listed in the ‘Rise of Superman’ by Steven Kotler as one of the most important triggers of flow. Flow is what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, calls the ‘optimal experience‘. Csíkszentmihályi lists ten core components of flow, which I won’t go into detail in this post. I do have however want to pick one up. The challenge to skill ratio. Finding the right balance between the challenge of an activity and your skill level is a sweet spot called the ‘flow channel’. The activity is just hard enough to grab your attention. Too hard and fear takes over. Too easy and boredom sets in. Finding this balance is the optimal zone for flow. Kotler’s research lists the challenge factor as a 4 percent increase on your current ability. 4 percent. That’s it. If each day, you improved by 4%, you would have improved by 1460% in a year. That’s an astronomical rate of growth. The stretch is the key part. Differentiation in schools is a complex beast. 25+ students in a class. Each with individual needs, talents, learning dispositions and personal baggage. How do you design a learning experience that stretches each student by 4%? The first step is to understand motivation. In his book ‘Drive‘, Dan Pink lists Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose as the key ingredients for motivation.

1. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
2. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

Daniel Pink – Drive

How is learning differentiated in your classroom? Is that learning stretching your students to grow by 4%? If not, where is it falling down? Thinking of my own class, the challenge to skill ratio definitely plays a factor. Another key factor is self-perception. Beliefs about their own ability often can prevent students filling their mastery bucket. It is better to save face than to risk the social fallout of a public failure. In a program, I run for students called Creative Minds, we use the making of Rube Goldberg machines as the trojan horse to develop student capacity to self-start and stretch themselves. They see the mental and physical investment as within their reach. They have complete autonomy over the direction of the project and the purpose is stated clearly. They know where they need to go and they can build the path to get there. Students volunteer to stay back and continue with their work. True motivation. Motivation that leads to the ‘flow channel’.

How Might We design learning that finds the ‘flow channel’ for all learners?

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