How do I learn? This question is central as Middle Schoolers aim to further their understanding of themselves as learners. Throughout the school day students reflect on their work: what went well, what didn’t go as well as they had hoped, what strategies they used to help them, and how they might want to adjust their approach the next time. By understanding how they learn best, students learn to self-advocate for the tools they need and feel empowered by this understanding.
To guide students in this metacognitive exploration, Middle School faculty hold several workshops throughout the year, addressing topics such as brain research, multiple intelligences, and different learning styles. This year the students were introduced to mindfulness, the ability to be fully present in the moment, noticing where we are and what we are doing, without making any judgments about what we notice.
More and more research is showing the impact mindfulness can have on students’ physical and emotional health, social skills, and academic performance. Specifically, studies have linked mindfulness to improvements in self-awareness and self-regulation, boosts in working memory, focus, and cognitive flexibility, and reductions in stress. Mindfulness can also provide a platform on which students can build their metacognition. To be successful learners, students must be able to pause, truly see and hear what is in front of them, and self-reflect, so that they can determine the best way to move forward with their learning.
During a workshop on mindfulness this year, students explored several different models including Dr. Dan Siegel’s “handy” model of the brain. Watch this video to learn more. When the prefrontal cortex (the “upstairs” reasoning, planning part of the brain) goes offline, the subcortical structures (the “downstairs” emotional, instinctual parts of our brain) are allowed to take over. Instead of thinking before we act, we act before we think. Being mindful means bringing the prefrontal cortex back online, so that we can self-reflect, think flexibly, and react calmly in any given situation.
Students also explored what their minds felt like when they were being mindful and when their minds were just full. With this basic understanding of mindfulness in their toolbox, students have engaged in various activities throughout the year. Through breathing exercises, yoga poses, visualization techniques, and mindful moments, students have practiced pausing from their busy days in order to be fully aware of their surroundings. The more present students are in the moment, the better able they are to show what they know and understand, and the better able they are to keep themselves from being “stuck” in their learning. They become the architects for their own problem-solving.
For more information on mindfulness and research related to mindfulness:
- American Psychological Association: What are the benefits of mindfulness?
- Yoga 4 Classrooms: Scientific Evidence for School-Based Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness Practices
- Mindful Schools: Research on Mindfulness
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment, noticing where we are and what we are doing, without judgment
Mindfulness Activities to Try at Home
Center. Anchor. Home base.
Stand tall and strong, arms at your sides and feet hip distance apart. Find a focal point and feel the weight go into your feet, anchoring you solidly to the ground.
Calm. Focus. Clarity.
Close your eyes and put your hands gently on your belly, imagining it is a balloon. Feel it inflate and deflate as you slowly breathe in and out.
Close your eyes and imagine you are in your favorite place. Take time to relax and enjoy your special place, breathing in and out slowly.