Flow in A Second-Language Learning Classroom
As students who spend large amounts of time in a classroom working on different tasks and under different conditions, we have recently become interested in the idea of flow as a psychological state. Having learned the concept in terms of a mathematics classroom and in arts and sports, we began to wonder about whether such a level of concentration could occur in a second-language learning classroom, especially in one that we, as students, have experienced. In our research we have attempted to create an environment better suited to induce flow in students just beginning to learn a new language and record just how, if at all, it occurs. We aim to add to the body of knowledge about the learning of languages in classrooms with high-school aged students by exploring whether creating conditions for flow increased student engagement in language learning.
Before we began our research, we were first introduced to flow by Dr. Gaye Williams through the research of Csikszentmihalyi as well as her own. We then began to inquire about the presence of flow in a learning environment. Dr. Williams provided us with further information that gave us an insight into flow in a mathematical classroom and in group work, but as we investigated flow in other subjects, there was little research regarding second-language acquisition. We took a particular interest in flow in second language classrooms, as we are all students learning more than one language and were inquiring whether flow could be achieved in a different environment, such as this.
Finally we came to our question, and that would be:
Does flow occur in a second-language learning classroom?
We had some further questions we had to ask alongside, such as: what factors affect flow here? Which conditions are more optimal for it? These were explored in the setting up of the project and in our analysis. Furthermore, it was our aim to find whether these altered conditions benefitted students (even if they did not necessarily achieve flow) in terms of focus?
Furthermore, we needed to research flow as a psychological state. It can be simply defined as an intense and pleasurable state of clarity in concentration during creative activity. It allows those in flow to be able to be so invested in their task that they are able to work at a level many are not able to achieve, or that is greater than their usual skill level. Flow is a very positive state that can benefit many in whichever field that they achieve it in.
In conducting this research experiment, we hope to enhance second-language acquisition and ways the languages are taught in our school. As students conducting this research in our own school, we hope to find something useful that will directly impact language learning in our own community, as well as for other educators. The implications of our research, considering we are changing the way Latin is taught in the school (for a short time at least), if shown successful, is that it will enhance the way it is taught in the school. Mainly, we aim to improve second-language learning for students by introducing the concept of flow. If this proves to be viable then there should be many benefits for the students who are learning new languages. Language teachers, too, will be able to gain from the results of our research as it may allow them to help their students achieve a state of flow or at least gain a better understanding of the language or concentrate better.
Another implication of the research is that it may be beneficial to language-acquisition teaching in general. This should definitely be interesting for language teachers but also, on a much larger scale, many schools’ curricula for second-language learning.
From our reading we have found that many key factors can affect the possibility of flow and such were present in our findings. These include if a student has previously been in flow, if they were familiar with the language more than any other students, if this is not their third-language (or more) rather than their first and what kind of student they are. We recognised this and this gave us more insight into why our results appeared the way they did.
Flow, Martin Seligman (1995) also states, is “a good use of a bad feeling” while also a state where one really feels at home. Peter Liljedahl (2005) explored further into this topic and concluded that flow is a pleasurable state of mind in which actions become “automatic” and “effortless”. Other sources have similar statements. Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter (2003) stated that “[moments of] flow…are among the most enjoyable moments of being alive. Abiding interests, sources of interest engaged in over time, can even provide intellectual and behavioural structures around which the life course forms”. Seligman’s The Optimistic Child also describes flow as feeling truly at home, and being one of the “highest states of positive emotion”. Overall, it was these descriptions of flow that we used to take the last step in really distinguishing whether students achieved a state or moment of flow and grew our understanding of it when we collated our data.
To structure our research we read how Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1996) formulated flow as a psychological state. In his paper, he found there to be nine key elements of flow: “
- Clear goals in the activity
- Immediate feedback from actions performed
- Balance between challenges and skills
- Action and awareness are combined
- Distractions excluded from consciousness
- No worry of failure
- Self-consciousness disappears
- Sense of time becomes distorted
- Activity becomes satisfying in its own right”
These elements provided the basis for the framework of our research. We decided that the last three elements should be separated from the others in our own research, as they cannot be controlled by an external source. This is similar to how Peter Liljedahl structured his research in 2006 where he separated the last six from the design of his research. These last few elements are more the outcomes of flow and so were what we hoped the students would gain if we structured our research in consideration of the other six. The other elements were greatly considered in preparing the ideal environment to achieve flow in the classroom. We do not regard the other elements as irrelevant to our discoveries, but simply a separate matter to consider in the overall preparation. They remained important in structuring the surveys.
Other researchers such as Peter Liljedahl and Gaye Williams also used similar terms to defined flow. Williams (2006) defined flow as a process through which one gains a new conceptual understanding when working at a skill level just higher than their own current level. The person loses sense of time, themselves, and the world. These statements assisted in setting up a criteria that would indicate if a student achieved flow.
Furthermore, in the Optimistic Child by Martin Seligman (1995) there was more focused information on the importance of the skill level. It discusses flow in a way that describes it as a balance of skill – too much of a challenge can cause negative emotion, whereas too little challenge will cause boredom. The text also mentions that frustration is a key factor when aiming to achieve flow- this, in our research, can be yet another outcome of our design, that is, through the difficulty. Continuous success and perfect confidence will not achieve flow, “for life is full of trial and error” which became important in our analysis of the students’ responses. We, in this research, took this to be important in our designing of the classroom environment that we were setting up as well as the activity of language learning that we were to carry out.
Liljedahl (2005) also discovered that there are certain conditions that can increase the likelihood of flow. High levels of individual interest into an activity at hand combined with the sensation of maximum enjoyment and engagement are such conditions. Which is something we gathered information about for the students before the second part of the activity. The level of concentration achieved in flow means that it is a “highly focused state of consciousness” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)
It has been found that achieving flow can occur in many fields both academic and not. Often artists are able to achieve flow as well as sports people (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). In terms of academia, various subjects in which a student is engaged in the work they do. It has been found that certain teaching methods make it easier for children achieve flow individually or what is known as ‘group flow.’ Williams’ research into flow in a mathematics classroom details this further in terms of problem solving. It is shown in her work that flow (in this case, group flow and also individual flow) can occur during a problem-solving task where students must produce creative solutions themselves.
In terms of flow in a second-language learning classroom, research has been quite limited. In ‘Creativity in Language Teaching: Perspectives from Research and Practice’ (Jones & Richards, 2015), there is a section on creativity and flow in second language classrooms. The text uses the works of Csikszentmihalyi to form a basis on how they think flow can aid students and is present in second language classrooms. These are very similar to the original elements of flow written by Csikszentmihalyi but have slight differences specific to group work in that subject. This served as a helpful foundation for what to look for in a second-language learning classroom but was not easily applied into our research as it overall focussed on allowing all the students to participate on a group assignment or class discussion to the best of their abilities.
Additionally, in the context of our minor questions for our research (regarding the factors that may affect flow), it is important to note further research in Seligman’s The Optimistic Child. Seligman proposes that there are students who are more ‘optimistic’ in their learning, that is in the sense that they are more likely to view knowledge as something that is not finite or learned. Instead they are more likely to learn more through self-guided learning and are notably more likely to achieve a state of flow. Further study into similar attitudes adopted by attitudes, notably Carol Dweck’s research into growing and non-growing mindsets. They are essentially similar ways of describing certain students’ attitudes to learning, generally and are seen as overall positive to most learning. Our research was conducted keeping this in mind to note any interesting connections between our research and this in our discussion.
The students who took part in our research were to be students of an independent girls’ school, as that is the place we were able to conduct our research in. The school offers a range of six languages, including French, Latin, German, Chinese, German, and Indonesian, with multiple qualified teachers for each.
For the students that were chosen to take part in the research, it was agreed by ourselves that they should be in Year Seven as that seems to when the students would have generally the same understanding of the subject. The school has Year Seven students choose two of the six languages to study at the start of the year. The students in our research can be considered novices to their studied languages (having only been learning the languages for two terms). This was vital for our research as it allowed the students to have the similar understanding of the language and to be at a similar level of knowledge.
For our research we chose to use the Latin language. This is for two major reasons: for one, we have prior knowledge with the language (making us more disposed to conduct the research) and secondly for the structure of the language. Latin is not like spoken languages and does not have a large amount of variation in the way it has evolved. Latin is well structured with each word in an exact place, in an exact form, for an exact reason that students need to learn and become accustomed to. The language also has many connections and similarities with the English language, giving students an opportunity to creatively work out words they do not understand. In these ways, Latin seems to be a language that students can learn to understand in a style closer to problem solving (an area where flow has already been recognised).
We used a Latin passage from the students’ set textbook, and divided the passage in half to provide two translations. This meant the passages were the same level of difficulty and approximately the same length in each translation. The choosing of the passage was one that was a translation that the students would have had to complete as part of their set work later in the term so it was still at a level that they could complete at a pace they were used to but a fraction more difficult.
The first translation was conducted under the usual classroom conditions – the students worked individually on translating Latin into English with the help of the dictionary in the back of their books. They worked in the space of half an hour, as well as being given time to complete their follow-up survey. The second translation was held in a slightly altered environment which made it more difficult, conceivably more engaging and hopefully more likely to allow students to achieve a state of flow.
The students continued to work individually on the translation, only this time they were not permitted to use the dictionary at the back of their textbook. During the first translation, if the students did not know or were even a little unsure of its meaning they could turn to this dictionary and had become accustomed to being given the words and their meanings instantly. Removing the dictionary encouraged the students to think more creatively about the work at hand. For example, they needed to find similarities between Latin and English in order to translate words they were not familiar with. Furthermore they could have worked out a word from the context of the story or from the words they have learnt prior in their learning of the language- though most of the vocabulary came from the stage (unit) in their textbook that they may have learnt for a vocabulary stage test for the next week.
Words that the students would have great difficulty in translating or understanding the words through this way (that is, words they have never seen before and that are not commonly or at all seen in the English language) were they were provided with a few words that could not have been worked out at the bottom of the passage. As well as this they were given the opportunity to ask us for the meaning of three of the words as an entire class, however they were not able to discuss which words to ask about among themselves. These three opportunities (given to the word that the first three students to raise their hand asked for) was to encourage more of an instant feedback in their work – one of the nine key elements of flow. The students would have already been given feedback themselves through whether what they have translated actually made logical sense but this response to three words that they may or may not have known cemented this. This is how we engineered an environment that would provide more opportunities for students to be in flow, based around the theoretical nine key elements stated by Csikszentmihalyi.
Our observations alone, however, were not enough to find if flow is possible in this environment. We used a different aspects of data collection to find our results. After each translation, the students completed a survey with questions about their enjoyment, focus and difficulty levels. After the second translation was complete, the students who showed the most signs of flow were interviewed further about their experience, with questions more specific to the nine key aspects of flow. These two methods of data collection gave us both quantitative and qualitative data, providing us with bases for comparison and analysis in our results.
|Student||Level of Focus||Noticed the time||Difficulty|
|1st Translation||2nd Translation||Difference||2nd Translation||1st Translation||2nd Translation|
|O||8||10||2||Not at all||3||2|
Table 1: Responses of the class
(Compilation of survey responses from the students)
From the two surveys and the interviews with select students, we gathered a range of data which gave us an indication of whether certain students did achieve a state of flow or, at the least, benefitted from the change in learning style.
Through our surveys we asked the students how they felt in terms of focus (not explicitly flow but general concentration on the task at. This was primarily to see if the students benefited even at a basic level from the introduced conditions of the second translation.
Overall, under normal circumstances, the students answered that they felt a mainly high level of focus and there is not much range in what they answer. The majority of students stated an 8 to 9 with only 4 outliers shown in the figure below. 1 student placed a 10 and another 3 wrote 7.
Generally, there is an improvement under the engineered conditions, though it is (on average) quite minor. Figure 1 shows just how the range expands but more students feel they are at their highest level of focus (a 10). The majority of students score in the range of 8-10 with 3 outliers. There is an increase of students putting down a 6 but a more significant increase of students placing a 10.
Figure 1: Level of Focus
Figure 1 shows the number the students picked (on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest) to describe their level of focus during either translation.
This graph was developed to give more clarity to the responses that we gained. We found out how our changed method of translating in the classroom affected how the students felt about their concentration levels. This, though not clear indicator of flow, can give some evidence for it to be a possibility in the classroom. Furthermore, it is evident in its own right that it would be beneficial for a language-learning student to feel more concentrated.
Figure 2: Individual Levels of Focus
Above we have created a scatter plot graph of the individual students’ survey answers for focus (how focussed they felt on a scale of 1-10)
A more in-depth look into individual responses to levels of focus, shows more interesting results. As seen in Figure 2, after the second translation there were 5 students who responded with a 10, their highest level of focus. Surprisingly, when these students are compared to their responses in the previous survey, only 1 student had responded with a 10 both times. While all the other students ranged from a 7-8.5. This large improvement in their level focus for these students was something not wholly unexpected.
However, on the other hand, it can be seen that 3 students’ focus dropped. 2 of these students had responded with a 9 under normal conditions and the other, an 8. This drop is most intriguing because it means that the students who responded with a 9 under normal conditions are not the same students that benefitted under engineered conditions. It is difficult to definitively explain the drop in focus from the small sample but there are many possible explanations.
Later on in the interviews with some of the students who recorded particularly high levels of focus and showed promising signs of flow, M stated that she had felt this level of focus before. Student M was an outlier in the experiment who had consistently responded to be at the highest level of focus. ‘Any sort of work,’ she said, ‘ I play quite a few instruments so even when I am practicing I feel that kind of focused’. Upon being questioned she agreed that the focus of her mindset was ‘like a zone’. This is particularly interesting as it shows in her results that this level of focus can be achieved easily after practice and in various situations.
Figure 3: Enjoyment to Focus
Figure 3 was developed to help find a link and to show any connection between enjoyment and level of focus during a translation. Both enjoyment and concentration levels have a matching scale making it easy to read and understand. From reading this graph it does seem evident that there is a correlation in results between the two areas as they follow the same general pattern. There are changes however, as all of the results for enjoyment of latin are relatively high, however the level of focus shows that there are midrange results to accompany higher ranging results. In the two translations themselves the concentration level varied slightly as noted above.
Similarly it appears that there is a correlation between the emotion the student is feeling that day and the focus on the translation. In surveys students were able to pick an emoticon that best represent how they were feeling in the day. Students who were feeling happier during the second translation had a higher level of focus in comparison to the first translation. Similarly if the student was feeling worse on the day of the second translation, this change of emotion could affect their level of focus. Two students who showed this change in emotion quite evidently in their level of focus were Student G and Student Q. Student G indicated to feeling ok on the day of her first translation and indicated feeling happy on the day of her second translation. She then went on to indicate having level 7 focus in her first translation and level 10 focus on her second translation. This change of 3 levels is an unusually large change in terms of the range of focus that was recorded by the students. She then went on to state in her interview that, ‘[I felt] really calm and focused,’ and upon being prompted agreed that she generally felt comfortable in the second translation. On the other hand Student Q’s emotion did not improve, instead it did the opposite. On her first translation’s survey she indicated being happy and on the second translation this indication of emotion changed to unhappy. Similarly to Student G her level of focus changed, however, instead of reaching a higher level of focus, she lost focus. On the first translation she indicated a level 9 focus and in the second translation this indication dropped to level 6 focus, a change of three levels. She also appeared to distracted as noted below in the subsection for distractions.
Elements of Flow
To investigate whether the students achieved flow, the surveys and interviews investigated the aforementioned nine key aspects of flow. The elements of flow not mentioned below were accounted for in our method or as part of an element, such as distractions eluded form consciousness and self-consciousness disappearing.
|Clear Goal||Lost Track of Time||Not Worried about mistakes||Not Distracted||Enjoyed the activity||Balance of skill and challenge|
|B||✓||✓ (not really)||✓(not really)||✓||✓||✓|
|O||✓||✓||(very afraid of making a mistake)||✓||✓|
|A||✓||✓||✓ (not really)||✓||✓||✓|
Table 2: Interviewed Students: Elements of Flow
Table 2 evaluates how a variety of students did during the translation in relation to the elements of flow. These were the students interviewed later on, therefore we were able to gain more depth into their view of the translation and more prominently, whether or not they achieved flow. From the evidence above it is likely that at least 3 of the 6 girls interviewed did achieve flow.
Balance of Challenge and Skill
This aspect of flow was measured in our surveys after each translation as well as followed up upon in the surveys. It is seen as important in achieving flow when placing flow as a state achieved between where a task is too difficult (causing anxiety in students) or too easy (causing boredom).
In the first translation, students implied that they were comfortable with the situation. During the first translation five students said they felt it was easy, eleven said it was ‘okay’ and two said that it was in part ‘okay’ and part difficult. It can be noted from that the majority of students were at least okay with translating under normal conditions in terms of difficulty and skill level.
In the second translation, this can be seen as widely different. The majority, twelve said that it was in part okay and in part difficult. No student found this method easy, five stated that it was okay while one wrote that they found it difficult. Ideally, this would mean that each student was quite challenged by the change in method for the second translation. Certainly, they were more challenged by the removal of the dictionary
Figure 4: Difficulty
Figure 4 shows the difficulty level the students selected on their surveys after each translation. The scale has four different measured, as listed on the x axis.
It shows that in the first translation, most of the students found the translation easier. None of them found it difficult and most found it “okay”.
The students who were interviewed were also asked more specifically about how they felt (if it was in consideration of grammar and vocabulary that they knew and that they could not recall by heart). Through the interviews we found that the students’ views were concurrent with our survey findings.
What most caused difficulty for students was the vocabulary. Specifically, the vocabulary from the stage list that they were yet to be tested on. Student O, in her interview, stated that “most of the words [the students] already knew, but then there were, like, occasional words that [they] didn’t.” Her statements are supported by what all the other students that were interviewed had said. Furthermore, one student, Student A, identified in her interview that there was quite a good mix of perfect and imperfect tense words in the passage, which must have made it more difficult for the Year Seven students. It can be concluded that the students were challenged by the second translation. However, there is more to be discussed to find if some did achieve flow.
It is important for students to have a clear goal or multiple goals throughout a task for them to be in such a state of concentration as flow. Some students elaborated but were not specifically asked on the second survey if they had clear goals, though the students in the interviews were asked specifically.
During the second translation most of the students from the surveys and the interviews indicated that their goal is based around “making sense” of the passage. Throughout the translation of the second part of the passage it was proved to be more difficult for most of the students and so they had to think more clearly about what they wanted to achieve.
Through the interviews all the students confirm this idea and all stated they had a clear goal in this whether it was to get it done or to make what they did translate make sense. More fascinating is that many students said that they felt they broke the passage down, some of them made little goals from trying to understand only a few sentences at a time or even just a single sentence (for example, Student M described herself translating “one sentence at a time”). Student N also stated that she asked herself questions throughout the translation to broaden her understanding of the sentences she was translating as well as that acting as a benchmark for her to keep translating.
Sense of Time Distorted
Another key element inherent to flow identified by Csikszentmihalyi is that there is a distortion in sense of time. The students were all asked through their surveys if they noticed how much time that they had left during the second of the translation and if that is different to their experience during the first translation. They were also asked whether they felt they finished faster or slower than they would have with a normal translation. This was also followed up on in the interviews.
The surveys after the first translation showed that the majority of the students, 14, said that they did not notice time go by. This was while a single student said they did notice the time and while 3 others did not answer the question clearly. Overall, most of the students felt more invested in the task than on time but this does not seem to differ from how they feel under normal conditions.
In terms of speed the translation was finished, from data collected in the surveys, 10 of the 18 students wrote that they felt that they had finished quicker with the second translation (under the engineered conditions) than during normal conditions. 2 of the students either did not answer or said that they finished around the same time as normal. The other six students felt that they finished slower. This definitely gives foundation to assume that the method used to engineer that environment may not be most beneficial for all students or influence them in achieving flow through the element of losing track of time as best as it could.
The students chosen for the interviews however confirmed that they all, to some extent had a distorted sense of time. One student, Student N, said she did not “pay any attention to time at all.” Others concurred. The interviews also gave more insight on why some students felt they finished quicker in the second translation. They either were not paying attention to the time, were so invested in it that time seemed to fly by or because they did not have a dictionary to keep flipping back to or a combination of these options. Though the students do not see the dictionaries as hindrances in translation but more as aids, they do want to get everything as correct as possible in normal conditions and often spend too much time double-checking words. For example, Student B said “In [the second translation] I actually might have finished a bit earlier because I wasn’t able to double-check, I just had to trust my instincts.” Therefore, the majority of students may have had a distorted sense of time but it is not easily distinguished if they worked faster (and therefore benefitted) because of the changes.
Distractions Excluded From Consciousness/ Self-Consciousness Disappears
In flow, ideally, all distractions are excluded from consciousness and the student loses sense of self-consciousness. Gathering data to find if students did feel less distracted was through a combination of the surveys, interviews and observations of the students.
The survey responses stated that the students were generally not distracted during the first and the second translation. However our observations of the students’ work habits showed differently. Near the end of the time set for completing the translation, Student D was building a construction out of stationery, and a few students were muttering and whispering to each other. Being near the end of the time, many students may have been finished, therefore having nothing to do with being distracted, but it is still a factor.
Further, as we collected the surveys, we found something else interesting. Many of the students had doodled or drawn on either their survey, translation or both. We looked further into this and found that the drawings were only on the second translation papers. Students E, G, I, P and Q thought they finished their second translation faster than they did the first translation, meaning the drawings may have been a result of post- completion boredom. However, Student K thought she finished slower than in the first translation, meaning her drawings could have been a distraction for her. Unfortunately, we cannot say for sure.
According to the interviews, the overall level of distraction in the controlled translation was quite low, according to what the students told us. Student B stated she “didn’t really notice, like, other stuff until [she] finished”, and Student O gave a similar answer in telling us she “was mostly… focused just on the translation”. This student also gave a description of her lack of distraction, explaining that when she has experienced the same sort of concentration before, “everything’s just, like, blurred out except for the test [or task at hand].”
Additionally, as a part of the interviews with the students who seemed closest to achieving flow, we asked them about whether they felt distracted during the second translation (the one in which we attempted to create a flow-inducing environment). All of the students answered about the same – students A, G and N answered with a straight ‘no’, and students B, M, and O gave a ‘not really’ answer. Student M elaborated and told us she “just felt really focused, yeah, on the translation”.
In the second translation, the students were not allowed to use their dictionaries as they usually would in class, and as they did in their first translation. Student B told us she “like[s] to double-check”, and this led us to consider if the dictionary was a distraction in itself from being concentrated fully. Students G and O denied this, and stated they wouldn’t necessarily be more distracted by the availability of the dictionary. Student A, however, thinks this would make her distraction “a little bit more, probably”.
Enjoyment of Activity (Becomes Satisfying In Its Own Right):
The activity becomes satisfying in own right features as another element of. For this we mainly focused on the enjoyment of the students. Though not questioned after the first survey, students enthusiastic about their work and did not appear to be frustrated or melancholy over the activity that had just occurred. This element of flow was not focused on in the first translation and as a result there is no clear evidence as how the students were feeling after this exercise. However, after the second translation it inquired into as part of the survey. This was done in short answer form, proposing the question, ‘if the students enjoyed the translation’. It was revealed that over two thirds of the students enjoyed the second translation to some extent.
In the interviews, students were once again questioned on the subject, with some students responding to how they felt during the second translation as being ‘comfortable’ as stated by student G. Another response given was from Student M who responded by describing ‘feeling good about it, pretty good’. Overall the class of students found it to be an enjoyable activity. This, however, may be due to the translations themselves being enjoyable, much like reading a story they have a plotline and story developments. This separates it from much of current foreign language teaching (at PLC at the very least).
The students who did not enjoy the translation, 4 out of the 18 students who completed the two translations and surveys, similarly indicated that they were worried about making mistakes. Some of the reasons given behind their non enjoyment of the translation was that they found it ‘difficult’. One student, Student O, stated ‘words that I did not know really stumped me’ on her survey for the second translations. Frustrations such as these were not common but did make the second translation less enjoyable for the students,
Worry of Failure
One of the key aspects of flow is that the students are not worried about making a mistake in the task they are performing. After seeing some of the students near the end of the second translation talking quietly and exchanging answers, we decided to look into this further and gathered data through our surveys and interviews.
During the first translation, there was less of a discussion between students, as the environment they were working in was familiar to them. They were mostly comfortable in the situation and felt less need to talk to their classmates. There were no survey questions on this topic for this translation, either.
In the surveys the students took after the second translation, over half of the students stated that they were worried about making a mistake during the translation. Some students, however, elaborated on this, and we received two quite different answers. Student M stated she wasn’t worried, “because [she] always do[es] [her] best and [she’s] happy with what [she] do[es]”, whereas Student O told us that “with every translated word [she] wrote, [she] worried if it was wrong.”
The interviews with some of the students helped us to look at this even more. When asked if they were afraid of making a mistake during the translation, the answers ranged from Student N with “just a little bit”, and Student O with “very afraid.” Students A and B stated they were a little bit worried because they didn’t know all of the vocabulary and didn’t want their work to be full of mistakes, and Student M told us she “wasn’t really afraid of making a mistake as such, but [was] really just trying [her] best”. Student G stood out, and explained that she wasn’t worried about making a mistake in her translation “‘cause it didn’t go on [their] reports”.
When asked to specify more about their worry, the answers varied depending on the student. Student A at first replied that she didn’t know why she was worried, and when asked if she thought she would be judged by her classmates or teachers, she stated she “just didn’t know it”, whereas Student O told us she was afraid of judgement. Student B told us she was worried “only when [she] came to a word [she] didn’t recognise or know”. Student M and N were both asked if this worry preoccupied their mind while working, and both answered with a ‘no’, Student M specifying that she “just went with how [she] felt”.
The answers varied greatly between the students in terms of their worry throughout the second translation, and it can be assumed that their answer relied upon their personality and work mindset.
The Achievement of Flow
Table 2, as previously stated, shows how individual students responded in relation to the elements of flow. It became clear that from all that was stated, though many students may have achieved an unprecedented level of concentration in that class, on paper at least three students clearly may have achieved flow. By their individual responses and their interview statements noted in the above paragraph it could be concluded that Student A, B and G achieved a state of flow. Whilst, especially from the interview statements, they may not be the only ones. Student M, in particular, having indicated in her interview that she concentrated on the task in a similar way to the zone she gets in while playing musical instruments, did not indicate in her survey clearly that she lost track of time. This is a point where purely quantitative data may have failed our research.
Discussion and Conclusion
Our research indicates that flow may be possible in a second-language learning classroom through our engineered conditions. The removal of distractions and opportunity to extend creative skills into the task led to positive results regarding students who showed positive aptitude in each of the elements of flow. Student M was one of the few who achieved most of the elements of flow, and though she did not lose track of time like the requirements for flow suggests, she was not afraid to take a step into the unknown and away from her present knowledge. It does seem possible that flow did occur in this classroom, but further research is necessary to understand, in more depth, how and why it did occur.
From the analysis it does become clear that some students did achieve a level of concentration that is or close to flow but it is also clear that not all the students were affected the same way. For those students who did achieve it the results were positive, making the pursuit of students experiencing this state of mind in their education worthwhile.
For some students the engineered conditions were an enhancement, increasing focus and improving performance. However for others it was a setback, increasing the likelihood of becoming distracted. These results coincide with research done by Williams in her paper, Optimistic problem-solving activity: enacting confidence, persistence, and perseverance (2014). It is particularly interesting that some of the students who stated that in the first translation they felt to be focusing and working at near the best of their ability are shown to have drastically dropped in how they felt of their performance in the second translation. These students are generally bright, intellectually wise, who have performed quite well in the first translation which they found reasonably easy. When challenged in the second translation, under conditions they were not comfortable with, their focus fell and so did their quality of translation. These few students could perhaps fall under theories put forward by Carol Dweck or Martin Seligman that is a non-growing mindset or non-optimistic students respectively. These are students that are not inclined to discover knowledge for themselves or are happy to remain within the sphere of intelligence they have already and do not see intelligence as something that can grow and expand further.
On the other hand, some other students of the class demonstrated a growing mindset, and could focus their minds more creatively. Generally, these students showed more of a disposition towards flow and a more focused performance in the second translation. This contrast in performance between the students points out how the engineered conditions pushing students to achieve flow is not a perfect model to be used full-time or is right for all students. It also shows the contrast between the different types of students.
The signs of flow only arose in a select few of the students, a result that was to be expected. There was one main drawback that kept a majority of the class from achieving such a state, they were afraid of making a mistake. This fear of held them back stopped them from being able to fully immerse themselves in the activity at hand.
Our methodology, for which we enacted up to investigate this research, was made up of the two translation sessions – one situation that was familiar to the students, and one that was manipulated to better conditions for creating flow. Each of the controlled variables during the second translation were implemented to simulate a better environment for inducing flow, using the nine key elements of flow.
- We informed the students of exactly what they needed to do and set a time limit to provide them with clear goals.
- Nearing the end of the translation we gave them the opportunity to ask for confirmation on some vocabulary words to offer immediate feedback.
- We used a passage from their textbooks at a point that they are familiar with most of the grammar and vocabulary, but limited their access to notes and a dictionary to find a balance between challenge and skill.
- We situated the time of the testing so that the students were more likely to experience combined action and awareness.
- We regulated peer collaboration and technological resources in the attempt of limiting distractions.
- The students were informed that the translation would not be a part of their official school grading, in order to reduce worry of failure.
Despite our work to create the environment for flow, there were aspects we could not control. The perfect balance between challenge and skill varies from person to person, and is difficult to find for a student body as a whole. It is also impossible for us to remove all distractions, as the individual students’ minds may wander despite our input, and some students may be prone to worry about their failure even if it is not a part of usual school assessment (as we discovered in our results). The last three elements of flow were completely out of our control. The students’ self-consciousness, sense of time, and activity satisfaction could not be manipulated by us, and therefore we could not add this to our controlled environment. Other restrictions to our research include the timetable of the students. Unfortunately we were not able to conduct the two activities immediately after each other. Also taking into account some of the students answers to long answer questions, more research should be conducted with more precise questions. Furthermore, if time had allowed us, it most likely would have been worthwhile to interview more (if not all) of the students.
Both settings of the translations have their advantages with the first translation having an environment more fitting for non-growing learners, and a more book reliant setting of which all information has been taught beforehand. The second translation, however, brought to light the students who could direct their minds creatively so as to perform in a more focused and productive manner. Both types of students were illuminated through the experiment and as well as how the two methods of taking the translation could be of advantage to them. As the experiment was directed towards the possibility of flow being shown through the students, it is not the ideal environment for all students to perform in, as the students who did not have the aptitude for that mindset would be put to a disadvantage. However, there were other advantages to the style of teaching in the second experiment, as the overall focus of the class was improved and a majority of the students performed the activity in a quicker and more immersive fashion. There is further research that could be done in the area to find a balance as to how both types of students could be aptly pushed and come closest to achieving the state of flow.
The implications of this research is that flow is possible for second-language learning students, at least in Latin learning classes. Further research would be necessary to establish this as fact and even then it is important to acknowledge that Latin is from the classical period and is not the same as current spoken languages not to mention all languages are quite different. It is also near impossible to create and test the perfect flow environment, with students having various learning styles, sleeping patterns and concentration levels. Research in other language learning classes is important as well as in other aspects of the education instead of just translation. There is a world of further research into the topic but this research does form a foundation for it.
Conclusively, a second-language learning classroom seems to be a place that some students can achieve a flow state. The engineered environment that this research has implemented did aid some students to focus more and achieve flow but not all students gained a greater understanding of the language through the work. Through the research, certain students appeared to fit in that of growing and non-growing mindsets, adding more depth to how the students responded to the two environments. Flow, as it is a state of high focus, can only lead to more positive and engaging scenarios in classroom language learning in the future.