aha moment, being a teacher, student choice, student driven, students teach me

Planning for Flow in the Classroom


Our classroom has been silent the last few days.  A stillness surrounding the students as they sit in thought, only interrupted by the occasional whisper.  I have felt rather useless, not teaching, barely speaking, and yet.  That stillness has been a sight to behold.  The stillness has been profound as students have sunk deeper and deeper into the work asking me to not interrupt.  Asking me to let them work.  And I have listen, and I have watched, in awe of what has unfolded.

My students have reached a state of flow.  That mental state where you are fully immersed in what you are doing and your brain is working optimally.  That zone that we teachers hope to develop every day so that students can learn deeply.  Yet ask most teachers whether their students reach flow daily or even weekly and they will tell you no.  Their days are too disjointed, we have too much to cover, too many things to do.  It seems as if we don’t have time for deep thinking these days.

So what changed in our room these past few days?  What changed for it to become this way?

I stopped doing an all class mini-lesson.  Instead, I have been pulling kids one-on-one as we work on their specific need.  The children that need extra support sit close by every day so that I can support them whenever they need, others come to me for help or I come to them.  That doesn’t mean there is no need for mini-lessons, just not right now for this unit.

We brought in music.  I always marvel at the students that can work intently while listening to music, yet year after year, I see it happen.  So some students listen to music as they work, submerged into their own world the music allows them to shut everything else off.  It heightens their focus, even though I will never understand how myself.  Music allows works wonders for those that tend to interrupt, they focus on their music rather than others.

They sit where they want and work how they want.  Some students are inn bean bags, others move tables.  I have a students that goes to the team area every day to work.  Some type, others write.  Choice surrounds us as students figure out how they work best and it allows them to get comfortable.

I spoke more quietly.  I can be rather loud as a teacher, so lowering my voice was not something that I often remember to do, but in doing so I have modeled it for my students.  They know to whisper, they know to not disturb others.

We speak for a few minutes before we start.  As students get ready, as students get settled, instructions and reminders are given.  And then I say, “Settle in, settle down.”  I repeat as necessary, almost like a mantra,  as the quiet slowly takes over the room.

The lights are off or low.  I have the most amazing window that allows a lot of natural light in.  Most days we have no overhead lights on and the simple dimness of the room signals to the students that we are in a quiet work zone.  The feel of the room from the moment they enter allows them to transition into the quiet, into the deeper thinking zone.

I don’t interrupt.  If a child is deep in thought, I think before I conference with them.  Perhaps today is not the day to check in, perhaps a glance over their shoulder is enough?  Too often our helpfulness interrupts flow rather than enhances it.  I leave a note for myself of who I need to meet with and keep track with check-marks.  I confer with every child every few days, sometimes just not on the day I had intended.

The first day we reached the state of flow, I was giddy, and yet also filled with trepidation, would we be able to reach it again?  When it happened again the following day, I started to pay attention.  The words of my students continue to surround me; let us work, give us time, teach us individually if you can.  and I try, and we work, and every day I marvel at the quiet, thankful of the thinking that is happening around me.

Note: I’m co-writing a book with John Spencer about flow in the classroom and student engagement. Go read his blog for great ideas on how to create environments where students are engaged.  Then go and check out any of his projects to be inspired further.  

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  




3 thoughts on “Planning for Flow in the Classroom”

  1. Hi Pernille,
    I’ve been following your blog for some time now, offered to me from a secondary school colleague. So, cross sector, here in New Zealand we are interested in the learning environments you describe. I haven’t commented before, just enjoyed the stunning flow of picture books and thinking further about your descriptions of older children’s responses. It seemed to me that they are emotionally engaged and loving literacies! As I read your title this time though, I did wonder what might fall out from this as a ‘silent’ learning setting seemed a little incongruous with the empowerment I see as children engage in learning together for this can get noisy – The ideas that get ignited and stretched from the sharing, the energy and excitement as children consider possibilities and the surprise and delight as their research expands. However, this is a good reason for reading further as what you wrote next is just what I see in early learning settings in my work. Flow! This takes time, space and a deep respect from teachers to enable children to work with areas of interest, as they set their own goals and work with perseverance and social connection to achieve something that intrinsically excites them. Learning to learn, building an identity of themselves as learners who have high expectations for success, see making mistakes as a way to learn and putting the effort in to keep getting better, all happen inside a culture of learning and teaching focussed on wrapping a curriculum around each child. So thanks for the expansion, each point you made built a very connected picture for me of children’s high level love for what they are doing in your classroom.

  2. Pernille, have you read Stuart Shanker’s CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING? It’s all about self-regulation. I can’t help but wonder the impact that self-regulation has on all children reaching this state of flow. Many of your bullet points align with self-regulation, and that’s why I wonder. Thoughts?


  3. I love this! I have experienced this in my classroom as well. Thank you for giving voice to the different elements that need to be in place in order for this to happen! Sometimes we teachers need to get out of the way so learning can occur.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s