LMSVEF Grantee Research Proposal: Effects of mindfulness instruction on children’s cognitive and behavioral readiness for learning

By Kathryn Eaton

    LMSVEF Grantee Research Proposal: Effects of mindfulness instruction on children’s cognitive and behavioral readiness for learning

    About the Practitioner-Researcher

    Kathryn Eaton
    Teacher
    Spring Valley, CA
    Kathryn Eaton

    I realized my lifelong dream of becoming a teacher in 2008 when I earned my teaching credential at Sonoma State University. I have taught in various capacities, ranging from substitute teaching, adult education in the medical field, teaching Chinese students English remotely, and being a classroom teacher in Grades EAK (Early Admission Kindergarten), 1, 5 and 6. I have worked diligently to create, model, and nurture a culture of respect and responsibility in my classroom. I appreciate the value of respect and responsibility to foster an effective and supportive learning environment for all students.

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    Project Summary

    Learning and practicing skills such as mindfulness and yoga may provide students with tools they need to self-regulate and manage the increasing demands placed upon them in the classroom. Incorporating mindfulness and yoga can provide the opportunity to reduce problems in school such as inattentiveness or acting out, while fostering skills for positive mental health. I predict that when children learn these skills, their classroom behavior and academic achievement will be improved. This approach of integrating regular practice of yoga and mindfulness alongside academics is closely connected to La Mesa Spring Valley’s recent focus and implementation of Restorative Justice. It is my project goal to see that by the end of each session, students will feel relaxed, energized, centered, and ready to learn and that I produce data that can be used to test the relationship between mindfulness exercise and children’s cognitive and behavioral readiness for learning.

    Project Context

    The proposed project is directly related with the designated theme for LMSVEF research grant, “Improving student engagement in learning through diverse media.” Over half of students in the participating Elementary School located in Spring Valley are Hispanic and English Learners. Nearly 70% of our families are socio-economically disadvantaged. Many students are reading 1-2 grades below grade level. Parental involvement in the school is minimal. The LMSV school district has worked diligently to train its staff in Restorative Justice and implement it district-wide. The proposed project takes restorative justice a step further by giving the student tools and strategies to manage stress, stay focused and communicate effectively through mindfulness and yoga and assess the effectiveness of the approach in children’s learning and social-emotional development.

    Project Goals, Significance, and Method

    Project Goal and Significance

    Studies have shown that approximately 10% of our young people suffer from a mental health condition that meets diagnostic criteria and about 20% suffer from problems that significantly impair day-to-day functioning, including academic achievement and social relationships (U.S. Public Health Service, 2000). According to Broderick (2013), mindfulness has the potential to be a useful component in prevention and treatment efforts due to its effectiveness in reducing emotional distress, improving attention span, and motivating students to learn. Further, school curricular incorporating stress management programs, such as yoga and mindfulness, have been shown to improve academic performance, self-esteem, classroom behaviors, and concentration and decrease helplessness, aggression, and behavioral problems of students (Kiselica, Baker, Thomas, & Reedy, 1994). This practice-based research project will implement an approach based on this framework.

    Research plan

    Participants

    Approximately 150 students will participate in this project.  There will be 60 fourth graders, 50 fifth graders, and 40 sixth graders, with about 60 girls and 90 boys.  Every 6 weeks, I will teach a new group of students during a 30-minute block from 8:05-8:35, 4 days a week.  Each 6-week session will include approximately 40 students, girls and boys together.  About 70% of these students come from socio-economically disadvantaged households where stress-relieving practices, such as yoga and mindfulness, likely have not been modeled. While all 150 students will be involved in this practice, I will further identify approximately 5 students who are high risk and have a history of behavior challenges in the classroom or on the playground, and about 5 students whose focus and academic success are in need of improvement.  The exact number of students will be decided when the new academic year in Fall 2017 commences.

    Preparation and Implementation of Research

    Before the implementation of my research plan, I will read thoroughly “Learning to Breathe:  A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention and Performance” written by Patricia C. Broderick (2013).  This book is an excellent resource on mindfulness, intended for educators of preadolescent and adolescent students. The emphasis of the book centers around teaching students the importance of cultivating emotional intelligence and mindfulness, not only as a function to perform better in the classroom and the overall learning environment, but also to take those measures with them in the outside realm – to reduce stress, pay attention to their thoughts and emotions, and be able to develop better coping strategies. “Learning to Breathe” contains 18 session course plans.  It also includes online and print resources for educators as well as students, and provides worksheets and handouts for students and teachers to use with the book’s activities. These resources will be differentiated according to grade level and ability. In addition, I will attend a 3-day well-rounded and intense Kids Yoga Teacher Training.  The training will provide knowledge and ideas to create original, captivating, and fun yoga experiences for children.

    Research Activities

    The practice-based research will occur in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade PE classes in the 2017-18 school year, where the focus will be learning and practicing yoga and mindfulness daily.  The following activities will take place: Students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade will be placed in groups of 36 and spend 30 minutes, 4 days a week, with the instructor for a period of 6 weeks.

    • Before starting the first mindfulness/yoga class, the baseline data (pre-assessment) will be collected on each student’s levels of stress, focus, energy, and readiness to learn, and ability to self-soothe.
    • Norms and routines will be established, modeled, and practiced.
    • Instructor will model and students will practice mindfulness techniques and yoga poses.
    • After the first 10 days of a 6-week session, instructor will survey (see “Mid- Session Survey” below) all students as to whether they notice the following benefits from practicing yoga and mindfulness:
      • Less stress
      • Focused
      • Energized
      • Ready to learn
      • Self-soothe
    • Based on the survey taken after the first 10 days, instructor will identify high-risk students who meet the following criteria:
      • Low self-esteem
      • Behavior challenges (classroom and/or playground)
      • Difficulty focusing
      • Struggling academically
    • The instructor will observe daily engagement among the select group and record.
    • The instructor will select 10 students in the select group, 5 with behavior challenges, and 5 students whose focus and academic success are in need of improvement, for an interview. The interview will be conducted at the end of 6 weeks.  Students will be asked if they found this class beneficial and if so how they can continue to use strategies learned to help them in the future.
    • Upon completion of a 6-week session, all students will complete a final survey (post-assessment).

    Assessment

    The pre- and post-assessment data collected before and after the intervention will be compared to examine if there is improvement in each area.  A sample item in each category is shown below.  Students will rate themselves on 7-items using 5-point Likert scale (Always, A lot, Sometimes, Hardly Ever, and Never) and 3 short-answer items (e.g., “Do you ever take deep breaths?”)

    • Less stressed: “How often do you feel stressed in class?”
    • Focused: “Are you able to get and stay focused in class?”
    • Energized: “Do you feel tired at school?”
    • Ready to learn: “When you come back from recess, do you feel ready to learn?”
    • Self-soothe: “When someone makes you mad, do you know how to calm yourself?”

    Questionnaires for the pre- and post-assessments are the same, as I want to examine the difference between before and after intervention. The mid-session survey will be conducted for the same categories discussed above on a scale from 1 (No, not at all) to 5 (Yes, absolutely) regarding whether yoga and mindfulness classes have helped students.  For mid-session, the questionnaire will be in a summarized manner on the 5 items (from Less Stress to Able to Self-soothe). After gathering all data, the instructor/researcher will compare the student responses from the pre-assessment and the post-assessment to examine if there was an improvement after mindfulness and yoga sessions. Further, a list of interview questions will be used to ask the select group of 10 students to understand in-depth what students thought and experienced before, during, and after the mindfulness intervention.  The interview items are:

    1. What did you know about yoga/mindfulness before you began this class?
    2. What do you know about yoga/mindfulness now?
    3. Do you think yoga and mindfulness are helpful to you? Why or why not?
    4. If your answer was yes, in what ways were yoga and/or mindfulness helpful to you?
    5. What is your favorite yoga pose and why?
    6. What is your favorite mindfulness activity and why?
    7. Now that class is over, will you ever use yoga/mindfulness? If yes, how?  If not, why not?
    8. Do you know anyone who could benefit from practicing yoga and/or mindfulness? Someone at your school or in your family?
    9. Have you been turning in your assignments on time?
    10. How has your behavior been in class and at recess?

    Anticipated Research Results

    • Through regular practice of yoga and mindfulness, students will learn strategies to manage their behavior and be successful socially and academically.
    •  Based on student end of session surveys, instructor will adjust instruction and practice, to ensure greater student engagement and benefits.
    •  The instructor will provide these strategies to the school site’s staff. Staff will be encouraged to share learned techniques with their students.
    •  It is hoped that practice of yoga and mindfulness will become an integral part of the site’s successful school community.

    References

    U.S. Public Health Service.  (2000). Report of the surgeon general’s conference on children’s mental health:  A national action agenda.  Washington, DC:  Department of Health and Human Services.

    Broderick, P. C.  (2013). Learning to breathe:  A mindfulness curriculum for adolescents to cultivate emotion regulation, attention, and performance. Oakland:  New Harbinger Publications.

    Kiselica, M.S., Baker, S.B., Thomas, R.N., & Reedy, S.  (1994). Effects of stress inoculation training on anxiety, stress, and academic performance among adolescents.  Journal of Counseling Psychology, 41(3), 335-342.

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