I was in the car recently chatting with my son and his school friends and wondering about the value of the lashings of homework that they are given. It turns out that maths is a subject where students gain understanding from repetition… as “the penny drops”; so extra maths practice must be valuable. Yet much of their homework is to research facts – surely it would be better to just give the kids the facts and then spend time discussing the background and the corollary of such facts… that way the pupils would engage more… and retain more.
We also talked about what was happening during the school day – six hours of lessons. I have long suspected that, like any PowerPoint presentation audience, school kids actually retain perhaps only 20% of what is taught to them. I am pretty sure that if the pupils increased their concentration then the curriculums could be taught a lot faster.
Now, I used to work with a sales team manager who wouldn’t let his sales execs claim any commission until they had passed a test that demonstrated their product knowledge. If they failed they could mug-up and repeat it in a week – the process very rarely went into a third week. Yet suppose we could get GCSE school pupils to really focus during their lessons? In jest suggested to the lads, that maybe, they could have some lessons in the morning and a test at lunch time – those who pass can go home and those who fail can repeat the morning’s lessons over. I suggested this would make their level of concentration in the morning much higher that we currently achieve over six hours. NB: Although the boys were keen to have such a scheme I don’t expect this will ever happen.
Yet as an alternative, Mindfulness is shown to increase the ability to focus and concentrate – and also to avoid distractions that produce errors. So how about spending 10minutes per day on mindfulness in our schools? That’s about 3% of the school day to make sense of the other 97%.
Well the “Mindfulness in Schools Project” is pushing for just this. They say that mindfulness interventions are popular with pupils. Mindfulness in schools delivers benefits in wellbeing and mental health (dealing with mood, anxieties and stress especially at exam time); yes, it improves concentration and cognitions – reducing distractions and improving memory; it enables students to have better emotional regulation and boosts self-esteem which is a key for driving a growth mind-set; and there is evidence to show that behaviour improves. Plus, we already know that mental health is a big challenged in adolescence.
It’s a double whammy – we reduce mental health problems which are growing in our adolescents – and we improved their learning at the same time. This is such a good deal I expect it will never come to pass!
The Mindfulness in Schools Project provide link to paper by Professor Katherine Weare of the University of Southampton who reviewed the research in support of the claims above (here) – affirming the positive impact of Mindfulness on depression, anxiety, stress and the avoidance of self-harming and eating disorders; and the improvement of cognition and concentration… leading to better grades. It seems a no-brainer.
This “double effect” – helping to avoid mental health problems and improving academic results – is demonstrated in this piece from the Guardian (here):
Lewis Dinsdale the head teacher of English Martyrs Catholic Primary School in Litherland says, “I’s not just helping with children’s mental health but improving their academic performance too.” He described how some children used to have panic attacks when sitting Sats. One girl had been physically sick on her test paper. He was critical of Ofsted inspectors for not being more tuned in to the benefits of mindfulness. “It’s frustrating because it isn’t a box that they have to tick,” he said.
Jason Steele is the founder of The Raise the Youth Foundation in Bolton, a non-profit independent school, teaches children who have been excluded from the education system. Steele said children at his school were probably among the most difficult young people to care for because they were used to pushing people away. Mindfulness, though, had built their self-esteem and was now a hugely positive force in their lives. “It’s helping them to engage with the present rather than worrying about the future or blaming the past for everything,” he said. Many of the teenagers have missed years of schooling; most have never sat exams before. Steele said that before mindfulness became part of the curriculum, they would do everything they could to avoid taking tests. “They would just run around school slapping people, calling them Muppets, ripping paper, just really low-level behaviour,” he said. Steel says that this type of disruptive behaviour has not gone away, but it has tailed off. “It happened because they were scared of failure, but showing them how to do meditation is helping them learn about relaxation, it’s given them a confidence they never had.”
So it makes sense that pupils suffering less mental health issues – and so experiencing less absence – and who are more able to focus and to learn demonstrate improved wellbeing and academic results.