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Do students feel that mind-calming exercises promote deep learning?

That’s what Paul Grogan, professor of Biology at Queen’s University, wanted to know.  

On May 1, 2019, I attended the Queen’s University annual Teaching and Learning Showcase, where throughout the day, more than 20 instructors presented their innovative teaching strategies in 15-minute intervals to colleagues from across the university. Paul Grogan’s innovation is bringing mindfulness exercises—intended to calm students’ minds—to the students in his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year biology classes in the hope of promoting “more focused student attention and engagement” (Grogan, 2019, abstract).  

The exercises take place at the beginning of every class. After dimming the classroom lights, Paul encourages students to “bow their heads slightly and close their eyes or make a soft gaze at some point in front of them. At this point, [he] would lead them through one of the following mind-calming exercises as a means to initially direct their minds to a particular focus and encourage them when their minds inevitably became subsequently distracted, to gently but firmly bring their minds back to that focus” (p. 2). The exercises he refers to include, for example, being aware of one’s breathing, visualizing a site from a class field trip, and doing a “body scan.” Student participation in the exercises is voluntary. 

While the seemingly simple implementation (which, of course, requires knowledge of mindfulness) appealed to me, I wanted to know how students reacted to the exercises. 

Paul collected quantitative and qualitative data from his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year classes, ranging in size from 15 to over 300 students, to explore student “perceptions on the impacts of doing a regular approximately three-minute mind-calming exercise at the beginning of every lecture and discussion session” (p. 1). What do the results suggest? That “… although it is unclear whether these very short exercises actually enhanced learning, many students perceived that it did” (abstract). A majority of students found the mind-calming exercises to be relaxing and enjoyable; they looked forward to them and considered them to be a valuable use of class time. Implications? Read about them in Paul’s study (open access). 

What mindfulness activities have you implemented in your classes to foster students’ engagement and help focus their attention 

Grogan, P. (2019). The possible learning and teaching benefits of short mind-calming exercises in undergraduate courses. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2019.2.8190 

Senior Academic Associate at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services.; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning; will work for chocolate (Photo credit: Owen Egan)

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