By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness practices help children improve their ability to pay attention, by learning to focus on one thing (e.g., breath, sound) while filtering out other stimuli. Mindfulness also provides kids with skills for understanding their emotions and how to work with them. I’m not sure if there any other skills besides these — paying attention and regulating one’s emotions — that are more important for successful human functioning, let alone education!” – Sarah Beach
Elementary school is an environment that has a huge effect on development. It is also an excellent time to teach children the skills to adaptively negotiate its environment. Mindfulness training in school, at all levels has been shown to have very positive effects. These include academic, cognitive, psychological, and social domains. Importantly, mindfulness training in school appears to improve the student’s self-concept. It also improves attentional ability and reduces stress, which are keys to successful learning in school. Another key is the ability of children to manage their behavior in school and remain on-task as much as possible.
Behavior management based upon behavior modification techniques has been shown to be very effective in promoting positive classroom behavior. It is not known, however, if mindfulness training can supplement and improve the effectiveness of the application of behavior management techniques. In today’s Research News article “Preliminary Evidence on the Efficacy of Mindfulness Combined with Traditional Classroom Management Strategies.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622000/, Kasson and Wilson employ a multiple baseline research design to investigate the effectiveness of the combination of mindfulness and behavior management in promoting positive classroom behaviors in 3rd grade students.
They observed the behaviors of 6 3rd grade students in their classroom. They rated the students every 5 minutes for on-task behaviors, defined as “remaining within 1 ft. of one’s desk and interacting with materials as to participate in current classroom activity.” Students were observed initially (baseline) and under three conditions; behavior management, behavior management plus mindfulness, and self-monitoring. Behavior management consisted of “(a) use of a signal to obtain student attention (e.g., clapping sequence to be repeated by students), (b) use of a transition timer (e.g., visual countdown timer on Smart Board during activity transitions), (c) ignoring inappropriate student behavior, and (d) implementing a reinforcer incentive system.” Mindfulness exercises occurred for 15 minutes three times per week. The exercises included quiet time, deep breathing, structured breathing, present moment awareness, mindful eating, and mindful movement. Self-monitoring consisted of each student giving “himself a plus or minus during each activity throughout the day based on how well he thought he followed classroom rules.”
They found that during baseline the students were on task an average of 79% of the time. The behavior management phase the students increased their on-task behaviors with an average of 87% on task with an effect size of .58, while during the combined behavior management plus mindfulness phase the students further increased their on-task behaviors to 91% with an average effect size of .78. Self-monitoring produced mixed effects with most students regressing to baseline levels of on-task behaviors.
The study suggests that behavior management is effective in improving elementary students’ positive classroom behaviors and that mindfulness training can further improve on-task behavior. This was a short-term study and there is a need for further research to investigate if the effectiveness of behavior management and mindfulness training is sustained over longer periods up to school semesters. It is assumed but not measured that the improved attention to task translates to improved learning. This also remains for future research to investigate.
Nevertheless, these results suggest that mindfulness training is a positive asset in promoting attention to classroom learning tasks. It has been previously established that mindfulness training has positive benefits for children. The present study demonstrates that, mindfulness training, in school, even in young children, can be effectively implemented and can improve the students’ attention to the task at hand in the classroom.
So, improve behavior in the classroom with mindfulness.
“Students “are just craving for ways to handle and cope with their stress” in healthy and nondestructive ways. It becomes sort of like instinctive and intuitive for them to just search for alternative ways to cope with their stress that have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol or whatever destructive behavior.” – Violaine Gueritault
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Kasson, E. M., & Wilson, A. N. (2017). Preliminary Evidence on the Efficacy of Mindfulness Combined with Traditional Classroom Management Strategies. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 10(3), 242–251. http://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0160-x
The current case study combined mindfulness-based strategies with a classroom behavior management treatment package, to assist teachers with managing 3rd grade student behaviors. Two teachers (Classroom teacher and Specials teacher) and six students within the same classroom were observed using a 5-min momentary time sampling procedure. A delayed multiple baseline across settings (e.g., Classroom teacher, Specials teacher) design was used to assess student behaviors across baseline (A), classroom behavior management treatment package (CBM) (B), CBM plus mindfulness (C), and CBM plus mindfulness and self-monitoring (D). Behavioral treatment alone increased on-task behaviors for four of six (66%) students compared to baseline; however, five of six (83%) students increased and sustained high rates of on-task behaviors when mindfulness exercises were added to the behavior analytic techniques. These preliminary results support the combination of mindfulness-based strategies with traditional behavior analytic interventions for increasing student on-task behaviors in classroom settings.