Mindfulness in the Classroom – Test Taking Tips

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As national testing times begin to draw near in many countries around the world, our attention begins to fall on the stress our children are under during these times. With children as young as 6 years old being tested and scrutinised, we cannot get away from the fact that this is having an effect on their health and wellbeing.

Schools are very good at down playing the testing regime of our youngest children; making it a game and being good at putting our children at ease in a variety of creative ways.

However, as they reach 10-11 years old, there is no disguising the standardised test. Even if down played well by the school, the formality required of the test leaves nothing to the imagination. Then, by secondary school, there is no down playing. The stakes are high and results can begin to determine their future.

Despite our best efforts in preparing for these tests and ensuring they have the right skills to be successful on them, test anxiety can throw a spanner in the works; causing children to react in ways that sabotages their ability to show all they know.

The use of Mindfulness as we support children in preparing for the test can give them the edge to perform to their best ability and not allow the stress to impact on the greater spectrum of life. The lifelong skills of dealing with stress will support them not only for the test but for the general stresses in life.

Mindfulness is not about not having stress. It is about controlling how you react to the stress.

The signs of test anxiety can appear as, but are not limited to, irritability, poor performance despite being highly knowledgeable, distracted, over excited, lack of sleep, loose of appetite, excessive worrying, depression, negative, headaches and stomach pains. You also need to be aware that some children can hide their stress very well and that all academic levels of children can experience the stress, particularly high ability as they can be more acutely aware and put additional pressure on themselves to do well.

So, how can we use mindfulness to support children reduce the stress levels associated with testing so that they can be happier, healthier and perform to their best ability?

Top Mindfulness Test Busting Tips:

Mindfulness practiced should be taught, practiced and used BEFORE the week of the test. If you don’t already use mindfulness strategies in the classroom, you should begin approximately 5-6 weeks before the tests so that it can be effective.

1- Teach them how to breathe. Slow, deep controlled breathing tricks the brain into believing it is calm and reduces cortisol levels which increases our heart rates and puts us in a state of “fight or flight” which is a key feature of anxiety. The key is to exhale longer than you inhale. Get children to sit up, inhale for a count of five, pause and then exhale for a count of eight. Repeat this at least five times. Use this as a part of your everyday practice; at the beginning of the day, during transition times, when you see the class or a child becoming unsettled or before a test or difficult learning task. Explain to the children what Mindful Breathing does and encourage them to use it throughout the day. Be a good model and you use it when needed as well. Show them and have them practice identifying when they are becoming stress and using this simple technique during a test, particularly when they are finding a question difficult or they are becoming overwhelmed. (More on Mindful Breathing can be found here.)

2- Starfish Hand Meditation– This simple but effective meditation combines breathing with the use of touch to refocus and centre the mind thus allowing one to take control of their emotions and calm down. (Find Starfish Hand Meditation instructions here.)

3- Guided Meditations– 10 minutes of meditation can have a dramatic impact on a person’s mental health. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. At first, you will have some children that will find this difficult; staying quiet and focusing on one thing is as hard for some children as it is for some adults. Over time, they will start to relax and meditate in their own way. That is why it is important to develop the practice well before the time for the test. On the day of the test, ensure you allow time for meditation to set the mood of calmness. (Details on how to develop guided meditations in your class and links to free meditations can be found here.)

4- Talk About Their Emotions– Over the period of weeks, give time each week to all children to express how they are feeling and what they are doing to cope with those feelings. Good questions to start discussions are: What emotion are you feeling right now? How does it feel? Is this a good emotion to have in control? How can we change emotions?

5- Mindful Colouring– As teachers, we will feel the growing pressure to use every moment of the school day to focus on the learning and revision the closer we get to the test. However, we need to give children the time to release themselves from this ongoing pressure. Researchers have measured the anxiety levels of children before and after giving time to colour in mandalas and other pattern sheets compared to anxiety levels before and after free form colouring where children draw and colour their own patterns. The time spent colouring pattern sheets showed a significant decrease in anxiety as compared to free form which showed no difference to anxiety levels. The act of colouring allows the brain to relax and focus on one thing; being in the moment of colouring. It allows the brain time to rest and recuperate. (More information on Mindful Colouring can be found here.)

6- Mantra– Have children create individual or class mantras. Combine the mantras with steady, deep mindful breathing will support the development of positive mental attitude and self-belief. Use this as a part of everyday practice and use it just before the testing begins. Have the children create posters and plaster them around the class and school. An example of a class mantra can be found in the picture with this blog. Feel free to print and use as desired.

It is to be reminded that mindfulness is a lifelong skill. Thus,it is to be remembered that we need to develop mindfulness for life long positive mental health and well being. But, we can use key strategies to tackle test anxiety effectively.

Find more strategies here: Mindfulness in the Classroom

5 Minute Mindfulness Strategy – Releasing Emotions

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Stress is a part of life. It always has been and it always will be. Trying to find mindfulness strategies to minimise how we react to stress is the key to life-long peace and well-being. The younger we are, the better we will be able to cope with what life gives us and use it to our advantage.

When we are stressed, our emotions overwhelm us. These emotions fight for attention and send our heart rates speeding. The emotions demand attention.

This simple 5 minute mindfulness strategy is a modified Japanese relaxation technique which allows us to give focused attention to various emotions in order to achieve peace and mindful relaxation.

This technique is appropriate for children and adults and requires only your hands and a quiet place.

How to:

Each of the fingers are associated with different feelings or attitudes.
* Thumb: Helps combat emotions like worry and anxiety.
* Index: Can help combat fear.
* Middle: Helps control anger and indignation.
* Ring: Emotions of sadness and depression; helps you to be more decisive.
* Pinky: Helps to calm anxiety, increases optimism.
Using the opposite hand, apply pressure to each finger by holding it tightly, focusing on that emotion and allowing yourself to release the negative energy of that emotion. Allow yourself to be a peace with the emotion without judging yourself. Breathe deeply for 15 breaths as you focus and release. You will begin to notice your pulse in the finger being held.

Complete the meditation, by applying gentle circular pressure to the palm of your hand as you smile and prepare for the rest of the day.

The key to this strategy is that you acknowledge your emotions, you give them some time that they demand. But, you control the way in which they are acknowledged and then put them to rest.

How To Start Developing Mindfulness in the Classroom

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You have made the decision to try teaching mindfulness in your classroom. What do you do next?

1- Take the time to consider your own mindfulness. My personal action research shows that the greatest impact in the development of a child’s mindfulness is the development of the teacher’s mindfulness. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert. But, it does mean even a rudimentary understanding of how it supports your own well being will allow you the experience to explain it to children.

Have a look at the posts Teacher and Leader Mindfulness or take the #MonthOfMindfulness Challenge. These are great starting points. Also, follow me on this blog, on Twitter, @Ed_Tmprince, and/or on Facebook, https://m.facebook.com/educationsvoice/ . I post lots of ideas to support adults and children a like.

2- Read through the Mindfulness in the Classroom Series. Here you will find approximately 30 of the ideas that are coming in my forthcoming book, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom being published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2017.

3- Choose a couple of mindfulness techniques you feel comfortable with, introduce them to your class and start using the. Have the strategy be part and parcel of your classroom practice. Practice it when they are calm and encourage its use when they are not.

My suggestion is that the first strategy taught and used on a daily basis is the breathing as this forms the basis of several strategies. Basic deep breathing is an easy strategy to teach and encourage through regular classroom practice.

I also suggest about 30 minutes of mindful practice a week which comes to 6 minutes a day. I also suggest that there is at least one guided meditation per week.

4- As you and your class get comfortable, add in new strategies.

Top Tips:

1- This is not a one off. You have to keep at it every day. Some teachers see immediate change and some take a few weeks. This is not a race. These are life long skills that requires a remodelling of thought processes and reactions.

2- Not every strategy will work with every child. That is ok! You will find the same with yourself. If it doesn’t seem to work, move on to a new strategy.

3- Be very clear about the strategies you are teaching them and why. Explain what you are doing and explain the science of it as well. Encourage them to support each other and YOU when they see upset, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc.

4- Let others working with your children know that when they are in the classroom, you are using these strategies and encouraging their use. It can seem a little odd or even naughty to see a child take themselves off to a quiet area, shake a glitter bottle (mind jar) and start doing deep breathing.

5- Let the children see YOU being mindful when required! Modelling the strategies when YOU need them is very powerful!

6- Mindfulness should be taught to a class as a whole and not just to vulnerable groups of children. ALL children need these life skills and when they see it is just a normal thing to do, they will all start doing it and it will have the impact you desire.

7- If all else fails, you need support, want training for yourself or your school or you want to share your successes, contact me through this blog, via Twitter @Ed_Tmprince or through my Facebook page, Education’s Voice- Mindfulness at https://m.facebook.com/educationsvoice/ .

CNow, take a deep breath and give it a try!