Top positive review
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Well worth reading
on 7 April 2015
The good thing about this book is that, although it is wide-ranging, there is a central unifying idea, that of "flow" as popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is the experience of being lost in an activity, focused, energized, and barely aware of the passage of time. The key requirement for flow is that challenge is matched with skill. Boredom will result if the challenge is too low; and frustration if the challenge is beyond skill levels. Applied to the classroom, this simple yet powerful idea provides the direction for the book - creating opportunities for flow through appropriate challenge and raising the skills of learners. The authors note that frequently in lessons there is little opportunity for learners to experience flow. In fact, teachers dominate the classroom to the extent that it is only they who are likely to get into flow, presumably explaining why class time seems to move faster for teachers than students. We have to step back to allow learners to get into flow. Not only will this lead to greater learning, it allows us the chance to see if they are learning. As the authors say "It is essential that ... we create sufficient space and opportunities for independent learning ... so that we can gather real evidence about our students' learning or lack of it."
The authors challenge readers to list activities they use which allow learners to remain absorbed in learning for 20 minutes or more. Reaching a target of 15-20 different activities should ensure that our learners get the chance to work harder than the teacher! There are some great ideas which were new to me which have proven very successful in my classes. Two of my favorites have been "Tarsia" puzzles and learning grids. With Tarsia, learners assemble pieces by matching, for example, questions with answers. Puzzles are easily created using free software. Learning grids, which can be adapted to a variety of purposes are 6 x 6 grids of words, images or ideas. Learners select boxes by rolling dice. In the simplest form of the activity, learners are challenged to make connections between the words they select. The random selection generated by the dice-throwing generally creates a high level of challenge as unanticipated pairs are thrown together.
To sum up: Well worth reading for the combination of a solid theoretical framework, practical wisdom from many hours of classroom observation, successful activities, and a good dose of fun (most evident in the entire chapter devoted to play and playfulness).