Learning? Pleasure or Enjoyment?

As you may have guessed, I’ve finished my teaching duties for the year and have arrived at the long anticipated ‘summer break’.

Wondering what I might do with myself, now that the 4:45AM  alarm isn’t calling me, I struggled through the first day, meandering from task to task.  On the second day, today, I decided I would tackle my office.

As you can imagine, ‘tackling my office’ means that I planned on taking on the whatever-I’ve-brought-home-from-school as well as all the papers that have accumulated during the course of this school year. (I’ll put this here and figure it out later…. sound familiar?)

And tackle it I did.

The shredder was whirling, the piles getting smaller, my filing cabinet getting ‘thinner’; this was, indeed, bringing me tremendous enjoyment; getting rid of last year’s ‘stuff’ and making room for next year’s ‘stuff’.

As I vacuumed the rug and finished cleaning up the shreds, I really did reap a tremendous sense of accomplishment.  I could actually find my computer again!

Feeling satisfied, I connected with a friend, had lunch, and walked a bit about the wonderful little town in which I live.  Antique stores, not-so-antique stores, expensive chatsky  stores… honestly, it was quite delightful.

But I ended our walk-about because, well, it just wasn’t cutting it for me.  I’d decided to take two weeks off from the business of school so I could revisit it with renewed vigor.  And this, well, just didn’t seem to cut it.  I mean, it was nice, but not where I wanted to spend my two week allotment of energy. Not nearly as satisfying as clearing my office.

So I bid my friend farewell and headed home.

During a cursory visit to Twitter this morning, #ASCDtopics asked:

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I’ve long ago decided that I’m not much different than many of my peers.  We eat, sleep, and think teaching, strategies, outcomes, etc., even when we don’t want to.  Our brains rarely deviate from the intellectual pursuit of learning, even when we wish it would.

As I read the above posting, I looked up at the shelves surrounding the desk I had just finished uncovering, looking for a book less directly focused on actually teaching, but nonetheless focused on learning. My eye caught the book

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I usually write the date I acquired the book in the cover just because I like to know about when I bought it.  This book, strangely enough, had no date. (I think I’ll date it today.)  As is usual for me, I flipped through the pages until something caught my eye:  Enjoyment and the Quality of Life.

I won’t belabor the chapter’s details here, but rather, I’ll focus on the few lines that seemed to poignant to me:

“Our studies have suggested, the phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components.  First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.  Second, we must be able to concentrate o what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable (as opposed to pleasurable) experiences allow people to exert control over their actions.  Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet  paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow of experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes and minutes stretch out to seem like hours.  The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a  a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.”

Flow: the psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, p.49 (1990)

As you read that passage, did anyone think of the same thing I did?  The experience of losing time? The duration of time altered?  Does that sound like the experience of our students/sons/daughters/husbands/wives who play hours and hours of video games?

If you’re like me, who is not a gamer, I’ve often wondered what is it about the video gaming experience that draws gamers to the game for hours on end.  And, I’ve wondered how could I replicate that ‘draw’ in my classroom for my students so they are as engaged in our work as they are in their gaming.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) calls this ‘flow’. When we’re in the zone; when time passes and we’re unaware of it; when we are so engaged in what we’re doing that we lose all sense of awareness of our daily life and frustrations that we’re oblivious to all around us.  We become lost in our work.

It is what I most want to observe in my classroom.  Students so lost in their work that they lose track of time; so lost in their work that the world around them disappears. It is what I want my teachers to feel.  I want them to be so caught up in the work and the work’s possibilities that they are lost in the world of thought.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p 46)  says that this is the world of enjoyment; when our work is characterized by forward movement; of accomplishment.  Sleep, rest, and food bring us pleasure, but they do not add complexity to the self; they do not produce psychological growth. Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p 47) also says that complexity requires investing psychic energy into goals that are new, that are relatively challenging, where the learning adds to the complexity of the developing self.

And so it is the real reason behind our work presenting relevant critical thinking.

For while the students may find completing a low-level exercise pleasurable, that is, that they accomplished it quickly without great thought, it is, for that very reason, that it is boring to them.  It has added nothing to the complexity of themselves and thus, has produced no enjoyment.

It is for the same reason cleaning up my death-defying office gave me so much enjoyment. I was able to reflect on it as an exercise which required me to repeatedly choose which was relevant and which was not; and having accomplished the act of ridding my office of hundreds of pieces of paper  I was have to feel such a sense of accomplishment that I could dismiss myself to have lunch with a friend.

As I move to the new school year, it the ‘stuff’ on which I will focus.

Goal:  To make each lesson relevant enough with the eight components of enjoyment that students can’t wait to come back and do more.

A tall order for sure.  But what is life without goals?  Pleasurable… but not enjoyable…!

Chris Duane

One thought on “Learning? Pleasure or Enjoyment?

  1. That’s so crazy you say that I just read an article by the same person this week about pose, wobble and flow and relating teaching to yoga. Have you read it ? Or maybe it was a copy from that very book!


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