Mindfulness Part 5

Mindfulness Part 5

Improving Memory and Learning with Mindfulness

In the final part of our mindfulness blog series, we’re going to take a look at how it can improve memory and learning in the classroom.

Mindfulness and Learning

As we continue to practice mindfulness, our brains become able to direct our attention with greater awareness and skill. For pupils, this could mean that they can develop a greater capacity to concentrate on their learning and become less distracted by everything else that is going on in the classroom. If they are able to concentrate more consistently, this should improve their understanding and retention of information.

Metacognition and Learning

As your pupils become more familiar with the metacognitive techniques that we discussed in part 3 of this series, they will become better able to self-assess their thinking processes and their progress. Having a higher awareness of how they learn best, will give them a personal toolkit of things that they know will help them to learn more successfully. It will also help them to be able to handle unexpected or high-stress situations, like SATs tests, more calmly and systematically.

Memory and Mindfulness

In September 2018, Berkeley, University of California released the findings of their research into mindfulness and memory.

Participants were randomly assigned to either a four-week online mindfulness course or a creative writing course. The mindfulness group spent two weeks learning to focus on their breathing or body sensations and two weeks learning “open monitoring,” being aware of what was happening around them and gently redirecting their attention when their minds wandered.

Before and after the training, participants completed a memory test: They first saw a set of letters appear on a screen and, after a few seconds’ break, they saw a single letter and had to determine if it had been part of that set or not. As the task is repeated multiple times, seeing a letter in an earlier set can interfere with the ability to recall whether the letter appeared more recently, giving researchers a way to measure proactive interference. In addition, some participants were scanned via MRI before and after the training to look for changes in the volume of their hippocampus—an area of the brain associated with memory.

Results of the analyses found that the mindfulness group had significantly less proactive interference during the memory test compared to the writing group, indicating an improvement in short-term memory.

In the mindfulness group, the better people performed on the memory task, the more their hippocampus volume increased, too. While prior research has found that mindfulness meditation improves short-term memory and that meditators have bigger hippocampi, this was the first study to link the two findings together. In other words, the improvements in interference weren’t transitory, but led to actual structural differences in the brain.

Memory and Learning

So, there is evidence to suggest that doing repeated mindfulness practice can physically change the brain and improve memory. Alongside the improvements in concentration and learning, this suggests that using these techniques in the classroom can be a worthwhile exercise, with proven benefits.

The Mindfulness Series

Throughout this series, we have discovered the many reported benefits of using mindfulness in the classroom. From creating a better learning environment to improving learning and helping with emotional mental disorders, it can have a positive impact on pupils (and teachers too).

We hope that you have found this series useful.

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