Wouldn’t it be great if that were truly the case? If, in only 8 minutes per day, a teacher could transform students into amazing test-taking machines, the rest of the day could be spent learning valuable curriculum. Unfortunately, there is no one “strategy” or “tip” that will result in such a magical transformation. And the stress of test prep for both teachers and students increases every day of the school year until the tests are completed and sent off to be scored. Let’s not mention the stress of waiting for the scores to be reported.
I always tried to ignore the nudging and cajoling from my administrators to focus on standardized test prep for my students as the test loomed closer, especially after returning from winter break. Sure, test prep helps, sort of. I guess. But the more we focused on how to “Do your best! It’s THE test!”, the less my students focused on learning. Instead, many of them, including my stellar performers, began to stress out. A LOT. This did nothing to improve test scores, my value-added score or the quality of life in our learning community.
My dear friend Nancy, an amazing yoga teacher who was helping me de-stress from my own test anxiety (!), suggested that I consider bringing some yoga & meditation into my 7th grade classroom and incorporating it as part of our day. I was hesitant at first because there was no room in my classroom to spread out on the floor.
Well, I learned that you can do yoga in a chair! And Nancy’s idea turned out to be a GREAT idea. The yoga engaged students, helped them focus, gave them a way to release tension in their bodies after sitting all day, and helped them use simple breathing techniques to calm and ease anxiety. Nancy used a tibetan singing bowl as a cue for the students to attend to her voice and guided meditation. And, most importantly:
THE KIDS LOVED IT.
And we worked to use it in the classroom the rest of the year – even after the test. As a whole, my students performed well on the math, science and language arts standardized tests we administered every March. Did yoga and meditation help? I can’t prove it – but I know it helped my kids with behavior issues and it was a tool our classroom could use at times when inattentiveness and adolescent distractions disrupted instruction. Doing yoga in a chair means kids can sit in their chairs. No need to take time to move and regroup. Like Nike says: JUST DO IT.
Current and ongoing research supports the use of mindfulness techniques in the classroom, including meditation and yoga, to help ease tension and depression and to help students attend to instruction. A compilation of these studies can be found at the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good website. And take a look at this interesting article (with a video) on the positive impact of mindfulness techniques in low-income schools at the Mind/Shift blog.
Here are the poses and the breathing techniques we learned from Nancy:
I incorporated a singing bowl in my instruction for the next several years as a way to quiet students rather than using my voice (which I had been losing somewhere in early February prior to that time). They are beautiful and the kids view it as sacred. One of the best investments I ever made, a singing bowl can be purchased at www.Amazon.com (some for as little as $24).
Use the singing bowl as a sign for kids to sit quietly at their desks or come to the carpet to participate in a group activity – such as yoga or meditation – or even guided reading. Even my energetic, often unruly 8th grade boys knew to quiet and even close their eyes when they heard the sound of the bowl.
I can attest that my students benefited overall from learning how to use yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques to “de-stress” and refocus in the classroom, especially during the period leading up to high-stakes testing. A holistic approach to preparing our students – mind, body & spirit – to take on difficult learning and task challenges, not just standardized tests, truly adds value to the classroom and to the experience of teaching and learning. Breathe.