Experiencing FLOW – When Students Are Engaged


Encouraging students to experience the joy and satisfaction of taking on challenging tasks and then meeting those challenges.

Think about a time when you were really engaged in something. Did you lose track of time and experience feelings of joy and satisfaction? Followed by that moment that time just slipped away, feeling dazed and wondering where did the time go?

We have all experienced these feelings of a deep engagement or as it has also been termed “Entering the FLOW”.

Have you ever wondered if your students experienced this feeling of deep engagement in what they are working on in class? Are your students entering this state of FLOW? Listen to the work of Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Flow the Secret to Happiness“. In this TED video, Mihaly discusses activities that can help to bring about a state of “FLOW”.

So, what do “engaged students” look like? Here are a few observations:


You will see students…
• Paying attention (alert, tracking with their eyes)
• Taking notes (particularly Cornell)
• Listening (as opposed to chatting, or sleeping)
• Asking questions (content related, or in a game, like 21 questions or I-Spy)
• Responding to questions (whole group, small group, four corners, Socratic Seminar)
• Following requests (participating, Total Physical Response (TPR), storytelling, Simon Says)
• Reacting (laughing, crying, shouting, etc.)


You see students individually or in small groups…

• Reading critically (with pen in hand)
• Writing to learn, creating, planning, problem solving, discussing, debating, and asking questions)
• Performing/presenting, inquiring, exploring, explaining, evaluating, and experimenting)
• Interacting with other students, gesturing and moving

To boil the descriptions above down and get at the essence of student engagement, whether for teacher-directed learning or student-directed learning, engaged means students are active. Is that surprising? I shouldn’t think so. If true learning is to occur, then students have to be at the very least participants in the process, and not merely products.


The majority of teachers pick up on the audience cues as they direct-teach and can tell if a student is not interested or not engaged. Most teachers act on what they see and adjust their instruction to try to engage all of their students. However, no matter how hard teachers work at making it interesting, a lecture is still a lecture, and having students simply listen is still a passive action. The solution is simple: If a teacher wants to increase student engagement, then the teacher needs to increase student activity — ask the students to do something with the knowledge and skills they have learned. Break up the lecture with learning activities. Let them practice. Get them moving. Get them talking. Make it so engaging that it will be difficult for students not to participate.

The ultimate engagement is to put the learner in charge of learning. Create a rich learning environment and a motivation to learn, and the students do all the hard work of learning, while the teacher merely facilitates. It sounds so easy.

I do not minimize the hard work involved in creating those rich learning scenarios, custom-made motivators and engaging learning content. And it is a bit risky. Sometimes it works like a charm, and other times it would have been better to assign seat work. But we keep trying, improving, and enhancing until we get it right.

How have you found success in engaging your students?

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