Creating Space for Contemplation: Infusing Mindfulness and Awareness Activities in English Language Arts Classes

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  • Influenced by broader societal trends, mindfulness training and movement meditation practices within disciplines such as yoga have gained rapidly growing acceptance in education. This project addresses initiatives to promote the cultivation of mindful awareness and compassion within public schools. In Part 1, the author describes the lived experience of cultivating mindfulness and other qualities important to well-being throughout over thirty years of contemplative practice in her personal and professional life as a secondary English Language Arts teacher. Part 2 provides an overview of the growing body of current research into Mindfulness Based Interventions (MBIs) involving school-age children, teachers, and college students and pre-service teachers which report promising results in a wide range of physical, emotional, and social areas. Arising from the recommendations that mindfulness training for students should be conducted by instructors who are well-established in the practice themselves, there is a perceived need for more trained professionals in the school setting. MBIs for teachers result in very high self-reports of efficacy and acceptability, leading to recommendations that this type of program should be integrated into pre-service and in-service teacher training. While a definition of mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p. 4) is referenced by the majority of the researchers, various interpretations of this concept are discussed. The author encourages teachers to see mindfulness as a skill that is not only developed through meditative training outside of the classroom, but also as a way of being and attending within it. Part 3 of this project provides a variety of activities that expand beyond the scope of many currently popular mindfulness programs, falling into four broad categories: cultivating nature-awareness through sensory-based contemplative activities, including appreciation of indigenous ways of knowing; cultivating somatic awareness through contemplative physical activities; cultivating social, psychological, and emotional awareness through active imagination; and cultivating awareness and creativity through arts-based contemplative activities. The activities included are intended not only to promote an ability to focus attention and reduce stress, but to develop concentration through interested absorption, particularly in English Language Arts classes. These varied types of contemplative practice give permission to slow down from the usual harried pace of the classroom to create a classroom climate that fosters, more broadly, the tranquility of a contemplative life. This project encourages teachers to create space for silence, time, and inspiring subjects for contemplation. Cautioning that the current popularity of MBIs in schools is a trend that could be reduced to simply a method of more efficiently managing and regulating the behaviour and thoughts of the adults and students within the system, the author promotes infusing contemplative practices with the opposite objectives: wonder and openness to infinite possibility; a path to insights that transcend familiar reality; embracing complexity, ambiguity, and paradox; and cultivation of compassion and empathy through meaningful relationships.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International