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Flow Experience in the Music Classroom Dr Catherine Preston Edge Hill University and Abraham Moss High School. Teachmeet Fred Longworth High School 2 nd July 2013. Background to the Research.

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Flow Experience in the Music ClassroomDr Catherine PrestonEdge Hill University and Abraham Moss High School


Fred Longworth High School

2nd July 2013

background to the research
Background to the Research
  • In music lessons in UK schools pupils are encouraged to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding in activities that are designed to integrate performance, composing and listening.
  • Lessons are structured to include group work which has become the norm in many music classrooms.
  • Pupils are not always given enough guidance in how to develop their musical skills in collaborative contexts.
  • Very little empirical research investigates the effectiveness of group work.
the concept of flow
The Concept of Flow

“…a subjective state that people report when they are completely involved in something to the point of losing track of time and of being unaware of everything else but the activity itself.”

(Csikszentmihalyiet al, 1997: 14)

flow and relevance to education
Flow and Relevance to Education
  • Developed to explore the relatively unexplored phenomenon of adult play and the experience of enjoyment
  • The first studies sought to investigate why people derived pleasure from such diverse autotelic activities such as painting, sculpture, dancing, rock climbing, sport or chess
  • Once in flow, it was found that individuals sought to sustain high and equal levels of challenge and skill in the course of their efforts to stay in flow.
  • In the music classroom, investigating the extent that pupils report flow can provide insights into the situated nature and quality of pupils’ experiences of collaborative work.
research questions
Research Questions
  • To what extent do pupils experience a state of flow in the music classroom?
  • How is group talk associated with flow experience?
research design
Research Design

Four week topic for each year group:

four groups from Year 7 (aged 12 to 13 years), four from Year 8 (aged 13 to 14 years) and four from Year 9 (aged 13 to 14 years)

  • Quantitative element: self-reports based on flow questionnaire designed by Csikszentmihalyi and Schnieder (2000)

Flow questionnaires (n = 930) completed at the end of each of weekly lesson

  • Qualitative element: observation of group work in week three or four depending on how near groups were to finishing their music

Twelve group sessions of approx 20 minutes each ranging from three to six pupils from each class, were video recorded and their talk transcribed

mixed methods research
Mixed Methods Research
  • Embedded Correlational Model (Creswell 2002)
  • The qualitative data (talk) was used to support and illuminate the correlations from the quantitative data (flow questionnaires – Experience Sampling Forms)
  • Data from each element was used to answer different research questions
talk analysis
Talk Analysis

Mercer (2004) formulated three categorisations for studying group talk

  • Disputational – talk that reflects disagreement
  • Cumulative – talk that provides the accumulation of a common knowledge
  • Exploratory – talk that displays critical and constructive disagreement.
background to talk episode
Background to Talk Episode
  • Year 9 – three participants
  • Topic: to compose lyrics and music for a song in Britpop style
  • Episode is an example of exploratory talk

Transcript for Episode (Year 9)

98 Ja: right have we got anymore words anymore words to write down

99 Lu: right I thought about it (sings) I’m standing in a puddle and my feet are getting+…it’s like

100 motown [?] … feet are getting wet coz these bullies are being

101 Ja: wow well good

102 Lu: such a pest

103 All: (laughter)

104 Em: coz these bullies are being such a pest

105 Ja: right so what does it go that’s good

106 Lu: (sings) I’m standing in a puddle

107 Em: (goes to sing)

108 Lu: shhh

109 Ja: is that a new one are we starting there

110 Lu: in the puddle … yeah … (sings) I am standing in a puddle

111 Ja: is it not I’m

112 Lu: (sings) I am standing I’m standing … no I am … (sings) I am stand+.. I’m ..oh yeah I’m …(sings) I am

113 standing in the puddle … in a

114 Em: (sings) puddle

115 Lu: (sings) and my toes are getting wet … because these bullies are being mean and they make me cry …

116 no and they make me sad … huhhhhhhhh

117 Ja: right so I’m standing in a puddle and my toes are getting wet

118 Lu: (sings) and my toes are getting wet … these bullies

119 Em: no (sings) and these bullies are so mean … they make me feel so sad

120 Lu: yeah

121 Ja: hoorah


educational implications
Educational Implications
  • Window into the group work has given an insight into the value of investigating collaboration in the music classroom
  • Raises awareness to show that the talk and interactional behaviour of the participants who experienced flow influenced the process and product
  • To what extent are the musical tasks set by teachers flow producing?
  • What can teachers do to assist pupils to experience flow?
music and well being
Music and Well-being
  • Reports of flow experience were dependent on perceived high levels of challenge and skill
  • These did not always have to be equal but they did need to be high
  • More pupils experienced flow when they were working in groups
  • Successful collaboration was found to occur when those in flow felt able to communicate their ideas, particularly through ‘musical talk’
  • The relationship between music making, language and communication is important for emotional well-being and this study highlights a need for more empirical research based on flow theory in educational contexts
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975) Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M., (1996) Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, New York, Harper Perennial.
  • Creswell, J. W. (2002) Research Design. London: Sage Publications
  • Egbert, J. (2003) ‘A Study of Flow Theory in the Foreign Language Classroom’, The Modern Language Journal, Vol.87, no. 4, pp.499-518.
  • Green, L. (2008) Music, Informal Learning and the School. Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing.
  • Mercer, N. (2004) Sociocultural discourse analysis, analysing classroom talk as a social mode of thinking: Journal of Applied Linguistics Vol. 2, issue 2, pp. 137-168
  • Miell, D. and MacDonald, R. (2000) ‘Children’s creative collaborations: the importance of friendship when working together on a musical composition’, Social Development, vol.9, no. 3, pp 348-369.
catherine preston

An Investigation into the Nature and Quality of Children’s Experiences of Group Composing in the Secondary Classroom based on the Concept of Flow


Catherine Preston