About the Author

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Lee Rakes is currently a doctoral student in the educational psychology department at Virginia Tech, where he also received his MSEd in health promotion and a B.S. in psychology. His current research interests include mastery learning, the implications of flow in a classroom setting, and academic assessment. Since 2005 he has been involved in education of youth to some extent, working as a tutor for the Virginia Tech Literacy Corp, a substitute teacher for Martinsville City Public Schools, or as the park interpreter/outreach coordinator for Fairy Stone State Park. During this time he has received several merits and awards, including one for Outstanding Tutor while at the Literacy Corp and Focus for Excellence awards while at Fairy Stone. He is currently employed at Virginia Tech as a graduate teaching assistant and at Fairy Stone State Park as the community outreach coordinator.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Experiences in Malawi, Africa No. 2

Getting on the internet here is quite a task, so updates will be coming more slowly than before.

To summarize the last few days, I will begin with last Sunday, then work my way up to today. On Sunday, I slept in while everyone else went to a local church. When everyone returned, we left for the owner’s home (Annie) to have a late lunch and visit a village. The lunch was very nice, and very delicious. I sampled the fried chicken, potato salad, quiche, and some of the chocolate cake. There were no complaints from anyone, I assure you. Once lunch was over, we took a short trip to a village. In the village we visited with two dozen or so people, and were shown how the villagers live their day to day life. Life for these people is hard, to say the least. Food is minimal, and there are no amenities that could be considered convenient. A large family shares a home the size of small storage shed, where they sleep on mats of bamboo. Light is provided by filling a small medicine bottle with kerosene, drilling a hole in the top and lighting a wick that has been placed inside. Many injuries, fires, and deaths result from this method of lighting.

Despite these hardships, the people in the village seemed quite happy to have us present. They laughed and smiled nearly the entire time we were there. Two adolescent boys even performed a short skit to help explain village life. Everyone was laughing, and seemingly enjoying the experience. As I stood there, I thought about how often these people get such enjoyment out of a life plagued with misery and desolateness. I imagined it couldn’t be often. It was quite depressing, to be honest.

As we boarded the bus, I knew that the way I viewed the world would no longer be the same. I now had a dual, not mono, perception of human nature to contend with. On the one hand, I saw poverty and despair; and both made me doubt human kind. On the other hand, I truly came to believe that the way life is experienced is a matter of perception. You either wallow in misery, or you make the proverbial lemonade. While there is much more to be said about the trip to the village, it will suffice to say for now, that indeed, there may be a silver lining for people who endure hardships like those in that village and many others like it. That lining is created between their ears, and we have much to learn from them.

Over the next few days after that, I was again in the schools collecting data and teaching. Nothing exciting happened on Monday or Tuesday, though I am happy to report that I am well over 2/3 of the way complete with my data quota. There were, however, some exciting things that happened over the last two days. On Wednesday we ventured about 2 ½ hours south to Muvuu Lodge for an overnight safari getaway. We arrived around noon, and were quickly escorted across the croc-infested Shire River to the lodge and chalets we would be staying in. Soon after getting there, we took a quick tour. We saw vervet monkeys, baboons, warthogs, elephants, many birds, waterbucks, impalas, hippos, and crocs. We came back for an amazing lunch about an hour later. Afterwards we took a nice two hour siesta, and then ventured out again to see if we might see a rhino. No luck, although we did see a few sable and zebras.

We met up at sunset to have a beverage right in the middle of the savanna in which we just viewed all the wildlife. Once it was dark enough, we again ventured out with spotlights to see any nocturnal animals that might come out. We ran into a herd of elephants, which was pretty wild. We didn’t see much else worth noting, except maybe a mongoose. Once we returned to the lodge, we had another amazing meal and chatted for awhile. We were then escorted to our chalets, which were like little huts. They were stone up to about 4 feet, with mesh netting completing the rest of the wall. The ceilings were wood rafters, with a mesh roof. The place had electricity, comfy beds, and a beautiful bathroom made of stone and wood. They were pretty awesome. Even more awesome was the fact that the hippos, elephants, and crocs, could venture right on over to our chalet and hang out if they so desired. That was reason for the escort from the lodge. Pretty neat, eh?

This morning we had a wonderful breakfast, and then took a tour on the Shire (pronounced sheer-e) River. We saw tons of hippos (pun intended), an elephant, several crocodiles, birds, and even a monitor lizard. After about three hours, the tour ended and we left Muvuu to see a nearby primary school (grades 1-8). This wasn’t just any school though. This school was a model for all schools, especially those in Malawi. The school is centered on sustainability. For example, they collect water from the roofs and store them in huge tanks, grow gardens diverse in nutritional offerings, sell honey from bees they tend, and even make necklaces that are sold there at the school, as well as over at the Muvuu lodge. Most everyone in the group bought one to support the cause. All in all, the school is quite a model, and one that could really serve as a means to changing the way Malawians educate the masses. A most welcome change, I can assure you.

From the school, we headed back to Annie’s Lodge. On the way we stopped to shop at a market that sells wood carvings. Man, do those vendors like to wheel and deal. I again scored some pretty sweet carvings, like a table, salt and pepper shakers, chalices, and a bowl-like thing. We left there and stopped by a place where they make some really cool chairs, called chief chairs. They come in all shapes and sizes, and have just about any design carved you could think of. They were marvelous displays of craftsmanship, and cheap to boot. Many in the group bought one or two, but I decided I would refrain for some reason. I’m sort of regretting that, to be honest. Oh well, maybe I’ll snatch one up before I leave.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Experiences in Malawi, Africa

Today we hiked a portion of Mount Mulanje. We picked up two guides, Luscious and Wise One, who were both very experienced with the trails Mulanje offers. Luscious was a guide for the group the year prior and remembered a couple of the professors’ names from the last trip. Pretty amazing, I thought. After getting organized, we ascended a path up very steep terrain for quite some distance. At one point we encountered some baboons in the trees along the path. Being among them was surreal, to say the least. After a long ascent, we then traipsed our way down to a gushing waterfall. There we ate lunch and took a much needed break. The hike back to the bus was much easier; a relief to us all.

Once we exited the gate, we browsed wood carvings for sale by several vendors. The art of negotiation is a skill prized by the vendors, as well as the patrons they serve. I think I did quite well, having purchased several hand carved items for very reasonable prices, like cedar boxes, a walking stick, and a large wooden replica of the Earth. The whole scene was quite a spectacle. First, we walked around and asked about prices for items we were interested in. I negotiated and purchased a few items at this time. We did this for about 15 minutes, and then boarded the bus. When we did this, the vendors then gathered up items and came running toward us. The real negotiating began. The idea is to ask a price for a desired item and then offer about half or less. Most of the time, they concede. If they didn’t, we just made like we were leaving (by pulling off for a few feet). They would run alongside the bus, and then you could make another offer. We did this several times, maybe 5 or 6 at least. Everyone got in on the action. I think the vendors enjoyed the back and forth, stop and start negotiating as much as we did, seeing how they were laughing and smiling the whole time.

From there we went into Blantyre for a brief stopover at another Annie’s Lodge for tea, coffee, and cakes. This was provided for free by the owner of the lodge we are staying in, Annie. The tea was some of the best I have ever tasted. It was Chombe, export quality. I had two cups it was so good. The cakes were an assortment, with small pieces of vanilla, chocolate, and even something resembling apple pie. I tried several, but the apple pie was my favorite. It reminded me of home.

All in all, today was one of the best days of the trip so far. I am worn out. Tomorrow, we are supposed to go to church (which I’m skipping to sleep in), and then to a village to see what life there is like. From there we are eating a late lunch at Annie’s home nearby. It should be another interesting day, I’m sure.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Textbook Censorship

Authored by Lee Rakes & Nicole Lien

When dealing with the issue of power and control over school curriculum, a salient and pervasive issue that concerns teachers, administrators, and students alike is the censoring of information in textbooks. The K-12 textbook industry is largely relegated to four corporations, being Pearson, Vivendi, Reed Elsevier, and McGraw-Hill, with revenues in 2001 of more than $4 billion (Ravitch, 2004). These four corporations have several publishing companies that fall under their title. For example, Pearson owns Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley, Scott Foresman, Silver Burdett, Ginn, Prentice Hall, Modern Curriculum Press, Globe Fearon, and NCS. Driving the sales necessary to produce that $4 billion figure are the nearly 15,000 school districts in the United States. Texas and California comprise nearly 20 percent of those 15,000 districts, and thusly a great deal of influence about what subject matter is permitted or omitted in the textbooks they choose. Their sheer size coupled with the fact that they develop lists of approved texts from which local school districts can select (as do twenty-three other states) generates competition among publishers to create texts that will make the state-approved list.

As a publisher in the public education market there is incentive to produce textbooks that the largest market share is likely to adopt, in this case Texas and California, and then give the option to other states of either taking or leaving those texts. This option of take it or leave it is implemented because creating new materials would be too expensive to incur a desirable profit. “Publishers hope to recoup the costs of a big program from the sudden gush of money in a big adoption state, then turn a profit on the subsequent trickle from the ‘open territories’” (Ansary, 2004). Those companies that failed to make the list in these elusive two states are stuck recouping their loss for the next several years, usually six. Publishers who fail to make the approved textbook list for Texas and California struggle financially, thus making it even more difficult for them to compete in the next cycle of adoptions. As a result, there are only four publishers that capture a large percentage of the market. Knowing this, activist groups and other disgruntled individuals target the texts being produced and adopted in these two states due to the measures these publishers are willing to go to ensure sales. The result is textbook content printed in a manner to prevent any controversy, to the point even of self-censorship by the publisher. This self-censorship leads to distortion and outright omission of information; altering perceptions of history, science, and literature presented within texts they produce (Delfattore, 1992).

Several litigious activities have contributed to the current state of affairs regarding these censorship activities, including Mozert v. Hawkins County Public Schools, McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, Aguillard v. Edwards, Smith v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, Farrell v. Hall, and Virgil v. Columbia County School Board. Each of these cases were fueled by local controversy and strongly supported and financed through powerful national organizations capable of providing the resources and clout necessary to generate animosity over textbook content (Delfattore, 1992). Each of these organizations is comprised of religious fundamentalists who are not content with the fact that ideas and information contrary to their own beliefs is being promulgated in public schools. Some of these organizations include Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, Moral Majority, American Family Association, Educational Research Analysts, and The National Legal Foundation.

In Mozert v. Hawkins County Public Schools (1984) Tennessee parents were concerned that the Holt-series of books used by elementary teachers that included “Cinderella,” “Goldilocks,” and the “Wizard of Oz,” violated their fundamental religious beliefs and instead promoted secular humanism. The court did not rule in favor of the plaintiffs in this particular case. However, it did result in a self-censorship from the publishers who were responsible for these “controversial” works through the removal of most of the content that had been deemed inappropriate. In McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982) and Aguillard v. Edwards (1987) the pressing issue concerned evolution (considered secular humanism, and thusly a religion by fundamentalists) and the right to teach creationism (thereby balancing religious teachings). McLean’s verdict determined that the teaching of creationism violated the establishment clause, while Aguillard’s ruling made the teaching of creationism outright unconstitutional.

The Smith v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County (1987) case initially resulted in the removal of forty-four history, social studies, and home economics textbooks from public school classrooms due to their violating the Establishment Clause, having been deemed as promoting secular humanism. The verdict was eventually overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, citing that Mobile, Alabama schools could use textbooks which purportedly promoted secular humanism so long as those texts were found to promote important secular values (tolerance, self-respect, etc). Farrell v. Hall (1987) and Virgil v. Columbia County School Board (1989) both involved school boards that had banned literary classics such as Lysistrata, Macbeth, and the Autobiography of Ben Franklin because they contained “vulgar” material. In both cases the court held that school boards could indeed prohibit material they believed too vulgar for students from entering classrooms.

To summarize, the textbook industry is one which is partially driven by the whims of individuals and activists who take issue with content that runs contrary to what they--individuals and activists--consider appropriate for America’s youth. Influence from both liberal and conservative camps work to exert control over textbook content. However, there is particular salience for religious fundamentalist groups such as Educational Research Analysts and Concerned Women for America, due to their involvement in some of the more prominent litigations that have resulted in textbook censorship. Their influence, along with that of various other groups, organizations, and individuals have culminated to ensure publishers redact content that may cause controversy or potentially offend anyone one sect of the population.

An example of such redaction may be considered when evaluating textbooks that laud the accomplishments of Helen Keller, who was born both blind and deaf and eventually overcame her disabilities with the help of her teacher Ann Sullivan. What generally is not printed in public education textbooks, however, is the fact that she was a radical socialist, joining the Socialists Party of Massachusetts in 1909 (Loewen, 1995). This example along with the aforementioned litigious activities highlight the self-censorship publishers employ to avoid any potential conflict that may arise from extremists on either side of the political continuum. This in turn produces texts that are as dull and bland as the fundamentalist to whom they cater, and consequently epitomize drudgery and disconnect by those charged with reading and teaching from them. In the end, if the intention is to discover the true depth of topics surrounding such disciplines as literature, science, and history, or simply not keel over from sheer boredom, considering alternatives to textbooks allocated for elementary and secondary education in the United States should be endeavored.

Notes:
Delfattore, J. (1992). What Johnny shouldn’t read. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Loewen, J. W. (1995). Lies My Teacher Told Me. New York: Touchstone.
Ravitch, D. (2004). The language police: How pressure groups restrict what students learn.
New York: Vintage Books.
School Data Direct Retrieved December 2, 2009 from:
http://is.gd/5aKDF

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Social and Economic Goals of Schooling

Social & Economic Goals of Schooling





The social goals of schooling can be thought of as behavior management, or even behavior suppressant in some circumstances, whereby students are taught values through schooling systems to become better citizens. Horace Mann was one of the first pioneers of the idea of social improvement via schooling, with the intention to stop or at least decrease the rate of crime by instilling moral values through a curriculum. The contention that moral values could be taught in a secular institution saw a backlash from religious groups, most notably from the Catholic Church, which set out to create its own school system. Their contention was that the teaching of moral values was not to be endeavored by secular institutions due to the shaping of behavior, which could not be achieved to the appeasement of all religious groups. The contrary, namely the elimination of moral and religious teaching, was deemed unacceptable due to education being viewed as irreligious, leading the Catholic Church to form its own educational institutions.


Still today schooling in American society is viewed as a viable means by which to alter and shape the behavior of its citizens, through what are often suppressant and controlling modalities, especially concerning sex education and sexual behavior. Not only is there an active agenda by government programs to push for programs that alter perceptions of acceptable sexual behavior, behavior involving food consumption has also been endeavored to produce this ideal of what American households ought to be. All three of the mentioned behaviors, crime stoppage, abstinence, and food consumption free from kitchen drudgery, have failed to some extent or another; creating instead a country that imprisons more individuals than any other civilized nation on Earth, a ballooning teen pregnancy rate among poor adolescents and minorities, and the spawning of the fast food industry that heavily contributes to a population 60% or more of which is considered to be obese or overweight. “Mission Accomplished.”


The economic goals of schooling are essentially the objectives set forth by eduwonks and policy makers to ensure the success of the United States in a global economy, one that requires workers who are lifelong learners, adaptive, and conforming to the needs of their respective organization at the time. While this sounds peachy, it does have some issues that need to be addressed, namely the determination of the purpose of schooling and by extension education. Is the purpose to get a paying job? To live a richer and fuller life? Or is the achievement of happiness the ultimate ends? To that I would contend that achievement of happiness is the ultimate goal, but probably could not be achieved without the paying job, which certainly affords a richer and fuller life.




Human Capital




Human capital, in terms of schools, is concerned with value of the students contained therein insomuch that those students can attain and maintain employment upon their graduation from their educational institution, thereby contributing to the economic growth of their community and nation respectively. The Human Capital Model is diamond shaped with investment in schools leading to an educated workforce, which will lead to increased productivity, which in turn will lead to economic growth that will fund more investment in education and ultimately schools again. For this model to work learners need to be adaptive, compliant, obedient, conforming, passive, and unwilling to join labor unions who work to improve worker’s rights. Though the aforementioned are not requisite to America’s ability to compete in a global economy necessarily, or the outcome of a lifelong learner, they are undoubtedly the objectives of many schools and certainly the desired outcome of many organizations. Why else would they find credibility and presence in schools if the end result were not so?



Of note here too, is the theme of societal control, or at least the shaping of behavior by educational institutions for ends not explicitly stated, such as the rituals of conformity demonstrated by the hours of operation, walking in a straight line, a bell which denotes when to begin and end, obedience, the need to be able to follow directions, etc. All of these rituals are preparing Americans to become sorted through the human capital model of progress set forth by the wealthiest and elite, whom control not only most of the wealth among this nation’s citizens, but also control the direction and applicability of educational attainment. The problem is that this issue is an implicit one, with the vast majority of schooling participants not knowing about the agenda set forth for them and the remaining others not caring, as their end-goal is the attainment of employment that affords the American dream.



I would contend that many individuals, those with formal educations at institutions of higher learning and those with high school diplomas and every happenstance in between would agree that the ascertainment of a paying job is a worthy endeavor and that using education as a means to attain it is worthwhile. However, I would also contend that while this end is worthwhile to endeavor, it is not the sole purpose for which an education should be attained, nor is it the sole means by which happiness can be ascertained, though in America it seems that a simple life is one relegated to and for the poor or unworthy. I hope that in my teaching efforts that I can keep this issue in mind, being consciously aware that respect and behavior management or control are not necessarily the same thing, and that the classroom should be one that is conducive to learning, not structured to tailor to the needs of some corporation or organization whose primary concern is a productive, obedient, passive individual who performs a service and nothing more. Rather I would prefer to shape minds that are skeptical and inquisitive, in addition to adaptive and creative lifelong learners, which I do believe to be a valuable asset to both organizations and individuals alike.






References


Spring, J. (2009). American education (14th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sailing the 7 C's of Motivation

There are many theories comprising the concept of motivation, each providing insight into the begging question that many educators have: “How can I get students to remain interested, take ownership, forgo procrastination, and ultimately become a self-regulated learner?” In this short blog we will briefly examine the concept of motivation and assess how we as educators can foster a climate conducive to motivated learners who actually enjoy classroom instruction, are empowered education recipients, and don’t require nagging to complete assignments.

Motivation can be viewed as an internal state of arousal that drives us to take action, pursue a particular direction, and help keep us engaged in certain activities. It can be the deciding factor in what we learn, the extent to which we learn it, and aid in our continuing to partake in activities that involve previous learning. Generally speaking it can effect:

· Energy and activity level
· Actualization of goals
· Initiation and persistence in certain activities
· Time on task
· Active thinking or cognitive engagement

Facilitating motivation involves a multitude of processes, seven of which will be examined here.

1. Challenge
2. Choice
3. Control
4. Caring
5. Curiosity
6. Competence
7. Connectedness

Challenge: Simply put people enjoy challenge, and indeed need challenge to enter into desirable states of affect, such as Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). If there is no challenge, students will be bored, like they are when teachers lecture and nothing else. If the perceived challenge outweighs their perceived ability, then students will be anxious. It is the responsibility of educators to find the right balance, and engage students in classroom instruction that gradually builds their efficacy or ability to meet increasingly challenging tasks (Shernoff, Csikszentmihaly, Schneider, 2003).

Choice: Choice is empowering; it provides a sense of ownership. We are more likely to work harder at things we choose to do, which in turn will increase the amount of effort we put into doing it, which increases our persistence, which improves our achievement and ultimately our self-efficacy (the belief we have about our ability in a certain domain). The opposite spiral is also a potential issue, so educators must be cognizant of where students are in actualizing goals.

Control: If we believe we can make improvements and that chance and luck are not the sole contributors to our ability to perform, then we are likely to attribute success to actual causes such as hard work, dedication, etc. If students believe they are in control of their academic success they are indeed likely to see greater academic success and higher grades, put forth more effort, and spend more time on task. Intrinsic motivation increases when students believe they have control, which can be enhanced when teachers offer the ability to make choices, selections, and actions that will produce desired results. Doing so provides a much needed sense of autonomy. (See Weiner’s work on Attribution Theory- 1979; 1985; 1986; 1992 for more).

Caring: If you don’t care, then chances are your students won’t either. Additionally, ask yourself, “Does this material provide relevance?” “Is the information I’m providing interesting?” “Have I provided opportunities for recognition?” If you have and you do, student motivation is likely to be high. If not, then you need to put more thoughtful effort into your planning and presentation of information.

Curiosity: Humans are a naturally curious bunch, and so are drawn to phenomena that happen to pique their curiosity. By presenting information in a manner that bolsters curiosity, perhaps through deliberate and thoughtful questioning, educators can foster and develop a sense of inquisitive curiosity in their students.

Competence: Success at challenging tasks provides a sense of competence, which builds self-confidence. See above information on self-efficacy and the upward cycle under Choice.

Connectedness: When are you more engaged, when listening to a lecture or solving problems with peers? Chances are you are more enthralled when working with colleagues or peers, and so it goes with students. We need to feel connected to not only others around us, but to the information being presented as well, which can be accomplished as easily as facilitating meet and greets in the early sessions, 3 minute standing conversations, or group projects and discussion. As an educator find a way to let your students interact with one another, the results may surprise you.

Teachers can foster motivation in a variety ways that are not examined above, including the issuance of contracts, incentives, recognition, social support, feedback that is specific and immediate, and importantly instruction in proper goal setting. In the end, educators must determine if the material they present, the activities they provide, and the climate they set in their classrooms and lecture halls is of the nature that addresses the 7 C’s of motivation. If not, chances are that absenteeism will be high, concentration and learning diminished, and Outstanding Teacher Awards will remain chronically elusive.

I would especially like to thank Dr. Peter Doolittle, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech and Director of the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, for providing discourse and resources on the topic of motivation, and particularly the notion of the 7 C’s.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper
and Row.

McKenzie, J.F., Neiger, B.L., Thackery, R. (2009). Planning, implementing, and evaluating
health promotion programs: A primer (5th ed).
San Francisco: Pearson Education Inc.

Ormrod, J. E. (2008). Human learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Inc.

Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihaly, M., Schneider, B. (2003). Student engagement in high
school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158-176.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Quick Introduction To The Concept of Flow

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) suggests that modifying our experience of external conditions to better accommodate our goals is better suited than trying to modify external conditions to match our goals. By doing so, we allow for a greater freedom of improvisation within our environment and the challenges that we may face. This is the case, not only during optimal experience, but in everyday life. Our expectations would no longer be bounded by the external or internal environment by doing so. This attitudinal operative is necessary for engagements leading to the experience of flow. Once this attitude has been wrought by our individual psychologies, then the experience of true enjoyment can be achieved. Not enjoyment in the mundane sense, like pleasure, but rather that which entails a person going beyond what he or she has been rigidly programmed to do, and achieve what is beyond expectation or imagination. This requires a great deal of attention from the individual and absorption into the task at hand.

Csikszentmihalyi has broken this experience into eight major components, of which at least one or usually all are experienced by individuals engaged in it. First, the task has to be accomplishable. Second, third, and fourth, require the individual to give attention to the task at hand and concentrate. This concentration is made possible because of clear goals and immediate feedback. The fifth maintains that the individual is so completely absorbed to the point of having no worries or fears that the outside world becomes irrelevant. The sixth component involves a sense of control or preparedness that allows for interaction, and moving from knowing into unknowing. The seventh has the individual at a loss of self or ego, not to the point of loss of necessary skills, but more so a loss of consciousness of the self. Lastly, there is an alteration in the sense of time for those in the experience.

The activity can have several dimensions, with or without physical skill, just so long as skills are utilized in the actualization of the goal. In the use of skills it is necessary they be engaged in a manner befitting a challenge, and one that is just the right amount for individual capabilities. Even the mundane can provide optimal experience, just so long as there is enough challenge put forth by the individual with the stipulation of goals, rules, and attention. However, when in search of the true positive qualities of experience, one must incorporate more demanding challenges that require higher level skills.

“When all a person’s relevant skills are needed to cope with the challenges of a situation, that person’s attention is completely absorbed by the activity” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). It is here that the optimal experience can take place, when the individual becomes so absorbed they no longer separate themselves from their actions; indeed the actions take on automaticity and spontaneity. The activity becomes its own reason for achieving, and extrinsic motivations become diminished, leaving only the individual and the task at hand to surge back and forth together in a tidal dance of exchange.

Csikszentmihalyi further emphasizes what May and Maslow proclaim regarding the necessity of hard work, physical exertion, or highly disciplined mental activity that is required to achieve the sensation of flow. Complete concentration is necessary to maintain it, and that concentration is given its potency through our efficacies. When “in the moment,” brought forth by our efficacies and absorption, the goals set are clear and feedback immediate. Working toward the goal necessitates improvisation, and it’s here that situational or external factors provide circumstances that allow for re-direction, all the while maintaining the goal.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Improve Student Learning and Behavior with Recess

Ever get punished in school and have to forgo recess? Ever been in the position to discipline a student and chose to limit or prohibit their recess? A new study recently published in the journal Pediatrics shows that allowing for recess may actually improve behavioral issues in the classroom। Research up until this point has been inconclusive, with a more prominent study conducted by Basile and colleagues in 1995 demonstrating antecedent exercise to essentially only reduce “fidgety” behaviors in children with diagnosed behavioral disorders. Other research, albeit structurally flawed, has essentially concluded that antecedent exercise may not even be a viable behavior management strategy (Faulkner, 2006; Walters & Martin, 2000; Endresen & Olweus, 2005).

This new research, however points to the intuitive notion that taking a break is almost essential for sustained cognitive functioning (Ormrod, 2008). After 45-60 minutes the brain needs a break, something new and fresh to captivate the senses and lighten the cognitive load. Children will be more attentive after a short recess than before, even if that recess involves playing quietly in the classroom rather than running around in the gym or outdoors (Pellegrini & Bjorklund, 1997; Pelligrini, Huberty, & Jones, 1995). Essentially, we learn more when there is less, something teachers need to take into consideration when planning their lessons and activities.