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  • Writer's pictureHiro Saito

Mindfulness in the Classroom

Class participation is the hallmark of the SMU classroom experience, but it has also inevitably become a source of frustration for a good proportion of the student body. Students in SMU have cited struggles with class participation due to reasons such as:


● Being intimidated to speak up in a large public setting

● Being afraid of saying “the wrong thing”

● Hesitance to engage in public debates/dialogues


and perhaps more pertinently, a culture of judgement, in which excessive contribution lacking substance in class has gained an unsavoury moniker we are all familiar with - CPW. How can mindfulness then alleviate these barriers to speaking up in class, and transition us towards making valuable contributions?


Pre-participation


1. It is normal for you to feel emotions of uncertainty, anxiety and self-consciousness during class participation. Be aware of such internal sensations, accept them non-judgmentally (never self-blame!) and direct your attention on the present moment in class. This can help you become less self-conscious and more confident to articulate your opinions.


When you engage in such practices, it can help to neutralize the effects of stressors caused by excessive attention to self (Kumar et al, 2017). Being non-judgmental and compassionate towards oneself can enhance self-efficacy, shielding you from feelings of anxiety during public speaking.


2. Take a quick, deep breath before speaking. Focus on the main points you aim to deliver before elaborating them. Be aware of setting the proper context in your comments to prevent circular explanations.


Directing attention to present experiences and awareness can help to deter any rumination on possible future consequences (Kumar et al, 2017). You will then be able to better focus on the points you wish to express, enabling you to deliver your performance effectively and concisely.


Post-participation


After class participation, many often engage in negative thoughts about whether their contributions value-added to the class. This can lead one down an endless rabbithole of rumination, detracting from one’s concentration on class. How do we then counter such negative spirals?


1. Take a deep breath. You can repeat the below phrases to yourself to assure yourself that you did well:


○ “You controlled what you could, so that’s all that matters.”

○ “You plucked up the courage to speak up!”

○ “You should be immensely proud of yourself!”

○ “You did good.”


2. Engage in non-judgemental post-participation reflection for a few moments.


Think about how you felt during the participation, and channel those thoughts into how you could improve next time to contribute further value to the discussion. Practising mindful reflection post-participation has been found to improve learning outcomes through better memory retrieval and encouraging greater flexibility in thought, so creative thoughts can be derived (Helyer, 2015).


3. Seek feedback from your friends about how you did.


Be open-minded and accept any constructive criticisms, remembering that your friends only have your best interests at heart. Reflecting in a group-based environment increases the emotional support and range of feedback available, leading to positive improvements (Currie, 2020).


Listening to others’ participation


Have you ever found yourself in a class where people get into heated debates especially when discussing controversial topics? It’s normal in those situations to find ourselves judging others for being “ignorant” and even getting angry with them. However, research shows that practicing mindfulness can make us less judgmental, so we can have more constructive discussions (Nichols, 2017).


Notice the emotions in yourself when the other person is talking and allow your emotions to be, whether it is anger or irritation. Listen to the person with curiosity and instead of judging them, try to listen with compassion instead and think about what they say. This can make us feel less angry and have more constructive discussions!


For some of us, the struggle when listening to others’ class participation is that our minds start to drift off. Suddenly we are thinking about what to get for dinner, or maybe we find ourselves drifting off to think about all the other things we need to do. This is actually normal and is called mind wandering. Fortunately, research suggests that mindfulness has been shown to help sustain focus in the classroom. (Wilson, 2010) It can even help retain knowledge since you learn by listening more carefully! (Ramsburg, 2014) So next time when you feel your mind drifting off, take a deep breath and gently bring your attention back to your sensation of hearing. Think about what the person in class is saying and approach it with curiosity!


Responding to others’ participation


Ever feel the urge to reply to others’ CP but feel uncertain about your answer? Keep in mind to respond, not react. Here are some tips to ease you through.


1. Practice active listening to others’ responses (tip: quick jotting down of key points!)


This ensures that you capture key points mentioned and are able to channel your thought process through their points, preventing any potential misunderstanding


2. Note the key points that come to mind and raise your hand


As you are jotting down, new ideas might come to mind which you could contribute. Quickly raise your hand (we do know time is of essence here!) and while waiting to be called on, structure the way you will present your points in your mind. This ensures that you are able to remain on topic and still be able to voice your opinions objectively.


3. Take one short deep breath before answering


Do you feel your hands shaking a little, or the slight tremor in your voice? It is okay to feel this way. Take a quick breath to soothe your emotions before presenting that brilliant point.


4. Be mindful of the words chosen in response to others’ views


In social science classes, some topics are admittedly controversial and might be against your personal beliefs. Bear in mind that the main discussion point should be the topic, not against the person raising the point. Be courteous and respectful when presenting your opinions, ultimately everyone is entitled to their own thoughts!


Incorporating mindfulness into simple daily class activities could increase empathic concern for people around us, and further improve behavioral outcomes (Berry, et al., 2018) It allows us to better conduct performance monitoring in class, and also decreases potential error processing, ensuring that we will be able to concentrate in class (Smart, 2017). With improved emotional regulation prior to responding to each other, mindfulness would then play a key role in supportive communication (Jones et al., 2016) and better improve our learning environment in class!


Online class participation


1. Being mindful of the home environment by anchoring attention on breathing exercises before/during online classes


The home environment often presents many distractions and some may find it even more difficult to concentrate. Recognising that you are distracted and zoning out is important as it will definitely impact the way you participate or engage with the class. By anchoring your attention onto breathing exercises and then transferring this sharpened focus back to the class, it enables you to focus on the present moment and to increase on-task attention. (Toniolo-Barrios, 2021)


2. Be mindful of the online discussion space.


With online platforms, it can sometimes be harder to sense the room. In order to

maintain a conducive space for everyone to learn, it is important to be conscious of

the class environment. This includes the frequency of your participation, as well as

other classmates’ attempts to also participate in the discussion, in order to ensure a conducive learning environment is established for everyone.


It is important to recognise that everyone learns at a different pace - what’s most important is the fact that you’re making a conscious effort to improve yourself, both for the betterment of self, as well as the people around you. And remember - you should approach this with a non-striving mindset. When you find yourself growing frustrated with a lack of success, be kind to yourself. Focus on what you’ve are doing, and what you will continue to do, and not so much on however more you might have to go, before reaching your goal.


“The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh


By Tan Wan Yun, Chen Jia Hui, Lim Chong Ping Erman, Prithipal Kaur Bhullar, Chew Jia Rong, and Victoria Wong


References


Berry, D. R., Cairo, A. H., Goodman, R. J., Quaglia, J. T., Green, J. D., & Brown, K. W. (2018). Mindfulness increases prosocial responses toward ostracized strangers through empathic concern. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(1), 93-112. doi:10.1037/xge0000392


Currie, H. N. (2020). Mindful Well-Being and Learning. Journal of Chemical Education, 97(9), 2393–2396. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c00777


Helyer, R. (2015). Learning through reflection: the critical role of reflection in work-based learning (WBL). Journal of Work-Applied Management, 7(1), 15–27. doi:10.1108/JWAM-10-2015-003


Jones, S. M., Bodie, G. D., & Hughes, S. D. (2016). The impact of mindfulness on Empathy, active listening, and Perceived provisions of emotional support. Communication Research, 46(6), 838-865. doi:10.1177/0093650215626983


Kumar, M., Kalakbandi, V., Prashar, S., & Parashar, A. (2017). Overcoming the effect of low self-esteem on public speaking anxiety with mindfulness-based interventions. Decision, 44(4), 287-296.)


Nichols, T. (2017). The death of expertise: The campaign against established knowledge and why it matters. Oxford University Press.


Ramsburg, J. T., & Youmans, R. J. (2014). Meditation in the higher-education classroom: Meditation training improves student knowledge retention during lectures. Mindfulness, 5(4), 431-441.


Smart, C. M., & Segalowitz, S. J. (2017). Respond, don’t react: The influence of mindfulness training on performance monitoring in older adults. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 17(6), 1151-1163. doi:10.3758/s13415-017-0539-3


Toniolo-Barrios, M., & Pitt, L. (2021). Mindfulness and the challenges of working from home in times of crisis. Business horizons, 64(2), 189–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2020.09.004


Wilson, A. N., & Dixon, M. R. (2010). A mindfulness approach to improving classroom attention. Journal of Behavioral Health and Medicine, 1(2), 137–142. https://doi-org.libproxy.smu.edu.sg/10.1037/h0100547


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