Taft High School student Laura K. used classroom meditation techniques as preparation for testing.
“The relaxation meditation made a big difference because it calmed me down,” she said. “It gave me enough patience to read the passage and answer the questions carefully.”
With the current educational focus so heavy on data, assessment and accountability, students and teachers alike can easily become over-worked, over-stressed and overwhelmed with everything that they are being asked to prove.
In addition to unit, quarter and semester assessments, the average high school student takes at least four standardized assessments a year. This is high stakes. Everyone—students, parents, teachers and administrators—are looking for answers. Often the feedback is to “add more”—more test prep, more test practice, more test talk and more test taking.
However, the answers that my students found required less doing and in turn gives the student much more progress. The answer is meditation; or, as we call it in our classroom, “getting your mind right.”
As a high school teacher, I have been using meditation, breath work and relaxation techniques in my classroom for years now and can attest to the positive impact they have on student performance, behavior and development. However, with all of this standardized test talk I wanted to see if what we do really works.
Every other Monday, my students take a type of standardized skill-based reading assessment; each assessment is made up of a text excerpt and skill-based questions, much like what students see on the ACT.
The assessments students took for this research each used a non-fiction passage and had six skill-based questions. The two tests were as similar as they could be to give us the most authentic data possible.
In total, 129 students were tested over a two-week period; week one while practicing pre-test mediation and week two without pre-test meditation.
Get Your Mind Right
Because “mediation” can be such a daunting word and carries many misconceptions, we use the phrase “Get Your Mind Right.” This allows students to have a clear task at hand, to get their mind right—calm and relaxed, seemingly easier and accessible.
Classroom meditation is ideally done at the beginning of class for the first three to five minutes. Beforehand, I clearly explain to students how much time it will take, then afterward, I tell them how much time it did take. This allows them to fully submerse themselves in the experience.
For this research, we did a five-part meditation practice, followed by reflection, as follows.
- BODY: First we did a body scan from feet to head; then body relaxation from head to feet. I asked students to notice their breath in their body, notice where they are still holding tension and let go of the tension since it will not serve them on this exam.
- BRAIN: I asked them to notice their brain on the inhale, then relax it on the exhale. We did this three times. I then asked them to acknowledge any thoughts that popped up. On an inhale, view the thoughts as if they were on a big movie screen; and on an exhale, allow them to wash away. I walked them through this three times and gave them additional time to do it once or twice more on their own.
- BREATH: Once our bodies and brains were at ease, we explored the breath. First, I asked them to notice their breath, to think about how it feels to inhale and exhale, and to relax into the breath. I then taught them the extended exhale practice, Visama-Vritti, inhaling for four counts and exhaling for six counts. We took five deep, fluid breaths like this.
- SET UP FOR SUCCESS: In their deeply relaxed state, I asked students to set a goal or a purpose for the exam, to see themselves achieving this goal and to notice how they might feel once it is achieved. I asked them to let this feeling permeate their entire being—a being of success.
- TRANSITION: I began by telling the students that we had completed our meditation practice and that they should move into testing whenever they were ready. I let them know that if they felt like staying in meditative practice, it was because they were doing it right and therefore should stay a little longer, and that if they felt ready to take the test, they were doing it right and therefore should move on to testing. I emphasized the importance of giving themselves what they need for success in the moment.
- REFLECTION: Students were asked to reflect on their practice and whether they felt an improvement in their performance due to meditation. The reflection was open-ended and I asked students to be thoughtful and honest, giving me as much feedback as they could.
Our research shows that meditation works.
Out of 129 students, 77 percent passed when using meditation techniques, compared to 60 percent passing without the use of mediation. That represents an overall improvement of 17 percent.
In addition to the hard data, when asked if meditation made them feel better, 90 percent of students stated that they felt better on all levelsphysically, emotionally and cognitively; found that they were better able to concentrate on the test; and predicted that meditation helped them improve their scores.
The next day, when they saw how they had improved, many students said they would use this regularly in all of their classes as a pre-test strategy.
Meditation has a place and purpose in the classroom now more than ever. Three to five minutes spent in meditation at the beginning of a class can change daily learning and yearly progress. Setting up each and every student for lifelong learning and success, it gives them a chance to free themselves from distractions, ease their busy minds and concentrate on the task at hand. Meditative practices will raise grades, standardized test scores and even more notably, student confidence and motivation.
|Class Period||Mediation Practice||No Meditation Practice|
|1||Pass: 77%Fail: 23%||Pass: 45%Fail: 55%|
|4||Pass: 87%Fail: 13%||Pass: 80%Fail: 20%|
|5||Pass: 68%Fail: 32%||Pass: 48%Fail: 52%|
|7||Pass: 74%Fail: 26%||Pass: 64%Fail: 36%|
|8||Pass: 80%Fail: 20%||Pass: 60%Fail: 40%|
|TOTALS||Pass: 77%Fail: 23%||Pass: 60%Fail: 40%|
- “The relaxation activity we did really helped me to concentrate more when I was reading. Sometimes I find myself reading again and again because I don’t know what’s going on in the test because my mind is thinking about other stuff. But not today. My mind was calm and I was focused on the text. I feel so much better and with more energy than I usually do in the morning.” —Olivia Marin, fourth period
- “Today, I think the relaxation did work. It helped me clear my mind before taking the test and usually my mind is pretty clouded. It helped me focus and relax. I felt calmer while taking the test. I like starting off class like this.” —Mia Sorci, fourth period
- “In my opinion, I believe that this relaxation helped me a lot. I say this because I actually concentrated for once after a long time. The relaxation allowed me to forget everything around me, like what has been stressing me out lately and helped me concentrate on the reading. It also helped me because before a test or quiz I would get really sleepy which would make me slack off, but this time since I closed my eyes, relaxed, breathed and stayed in a comfortable position, it gave me time to feel less pressured.” —Guadalupe Bollas, fourth period
- “After meditation, I felt relaxed and awake. The relaxation was very helpful because my mind was free and I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I understand the passage and questions better.” —Yusra Harned, fifth period
“Meditation did help me get a clear mind. I felt like I was well rested even though I had my eyes closed for only three minutes. Ms. Knills’ voice helped to relax me. It sounds weird but true. This definitely helped me.” —Diana Perez, seventh period (100 percent)
- “I felt very good when I woke up from meditating. I feel very tingly, but in a focused way. From the first time Ms. Knills showed us this. I was surprised about how relaxed and different I felt compared to no mediation.” —Michael Kolakowski, seventh period
- “It did benefit me. It helped clear my mind and I really needed that. It made me feel sleepy, but I felt like I just woke up from an awesome day. It made me feel mentally fresh.” —Ashley Carlos, seventh period
“Yes, the technique was good for me. I was really relaxed when I was finished with it. After I finished it, I saw things clearly. Also when I was stuck, I went back into the relaxed state and woke up finding the answer.” —Abdulrub Abdul, seventh period
- “The meditation helped relax me. I felt calm with the story clearer. I feel better about myself with this quiz. Without the mediation, I felt all rushed and different things kept popping into my head leaving me distracted. Meditation helped.” —Michelle King, seventh period
- “It opened up my mind and allowed me to think clearly.” —Hakim Irdissi, eighth period
- “At the beginning of class, I had a lot on my mind. Meditating helped me to relax and clear everything out to concentrate.” —Jose Perez, eighth
- “Yes, the technique did help me because it calmed me down a lot and prevented negative thoughts. Also, when I woke up from it, I felt refreshed and more responsive towards the reading.” —Rory Waters-Groak, eighth period
“This method helped me a lot in this test. I felt so calm. I felt centered and concentrated. I was focused, I felt like I was tied into the test.” —Joe Guild, eighth period