Moving from Multitasking to Mindfulness
|Looking out at our students in classrooms today, with their texting, Facebook updates, Instagram messages, e-mail checking, Google searches, and tweeting, it’s hard to imagine what was so distracting for college students more than 100 years ago when James made this statement. Yet, even then, he recognized the propensity of the mind to constantly seek novel material, to leap from thought to image to belief to fear to desire to judgment and back again — all following one’s own quirky train of thought resembling the chaotic movements of a swarm of bees around a hive. Time passes through a warped dimension when the student finally returns to some semblance of attention, unaware of all the cognitive detours taken between points A and B. And that’s just the internal process, prompted by nothing in particular. How much more distraction is invited by today’s mobile technology?
When the term, “multitasking” first emerged, it was worn as a proud badge of accomplishment, touted as proof of the time-saving, productive, and therefore efficient executive. Now, research consistently shows that multitasking is not associated with peak performance; in fact, the opposite is true. More insidiously, multitasking is like drunk driving. Engaging in it impairs performance while simultaneously giving one the impression that functioning is unaffected or even improved. Furthermore, since the brain can only do one thing at a time, what is experienced as multitasking is actually “rapid task switching,” a challenge for the brain that actually compromises learning (Parry, 2013).
At least two decades of neuroscientific and psychological research with adults has confirmed the benefits of mindfulness practices in improving such cognitive processes as working memory, attention, problem solving, and verbal reasoning (Chan, et al, 2008). Just 10 minutes of mindfulness each day has been shown to alleviate stress, boost immunity, decrease pain, lessen anxiety, decrease insomnia, and improve creativity (Schoeberlein David, 2009).
Meditation in the Classroom?
Benefits for teachers:
Benefits for students:
Mindfulness: Hitting its Stride in Higher Education
Many colleges and universities throughout the United States have established mindfulness programs and centers on their campuses. They host student mindfulness groups, and conduct workshops for students, faculty, and staff. Many have dedicated silent drop-in spaces for quiet pauses during the day. At these and other campuses, faculty have begun their own mindfulness practices and incorporate both direct and nuanced teaching methods in their classrooms.
You don’t need to be a seasoned meditator and you don’t need special training to get started incorporating mindfulness practices in your classroom. In fact, you don’t even need to teach a mindfulness module to your students, although that would be preferred. Learn some of the basic concepts, maybe complete some training, and then spend a few minutes introducing the concept to your class.
Find ways to illustrate and model focused attention:
Chan, R. C. K., Shum, D., Toulopoulou, T., and Chen, E. Y. H. (2008). Assessment of executive functions: Review of instruments and identification of critical issues. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 23(2), 201-216.
Hart, T. (2004). Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, Vol. 1, January, 2004.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 10(2), 144-156.
Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness. Boston, MA: De Capo Press.
Langer, E. (1997). The Power of Mindful Learning. Boston, MA: De Capo Press.
Parry, M. (2013). You’re distracted. This professor can help. The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 24, 2013.
Poulin, P. A., Mackenzie, C.S., Soloway, G., &Karayolas, E. (2008). Mindfulness training as an evidenced-based approach to reducing stress and promoting well-being among human services professionals. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, 46, 35-43.
Schoeberlein David, D. (2009). Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness. Somerville, MA: Wisdom.
Soloway, G. B., Poulin, A., & Mackenzie, C.S. (2011). Preparing new teachers for the full catastrophe of the 21st century classroom: Integrating mindfulness training into initial teacher education. In A. Cohan & A. Honigsfeld (Eds.), Breaking the mold of pre-service and in-service teacher education (pp. 221-227). Lanham: R and L Education.
Kristin L. Roush is a psychology professor at Central New Mexico Community College