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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

August 2017


What does research say about the effectiveness of mindfulness programs on the academic achievement of elementary-age students?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies and literature reviews on the effectiveness of mindfulness programs on the academic achievement of elementary-age students. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Bakosh, L. S., Snow, R. M., Tobias, J. M., Houlihan, J. L., & Barbosa-Leiker, C. (2016). Maximizing mindful learning: Mindful awareness intervention improves elementary school students’ quarterly grades. Mindfulness, 7(1), 59–67.

From the abstract: “This paper discusses results from the first empirical study testing the feasibility and effectiveness of an audio-guided mindful awareness training program on quarterly grade performance in traditional US public elementary schools. Structured as a quasi-experiment, the study demonstrates that a 10-min-per-day, fully automated program significantly enhances students’ quarterly grades in reading and science, compared to a control group, without disrupting teaching operations (N = 191). The intervention utilized a series of guided mindful-based awareness and attention focusing practices as the method for students to engage with social and emotional learning (SEL) concepts, and can thus be called a ‘mindful-based social emotional learning’ (MBSEL) program. The program is innovative because it requires neither expert trainers skilled in mindful awareness nor changes to existing curriculum; thus, it can be considered both teacher-independent and curriculum supportive. The goal of this exploratory study was to facilitate a consistent daily mindful awareness practice that generates improvements in student outcomes for resource- and time-constrained K-12 classrooms in the USA and elsewhere. The authors discuss limitations of this study and suggestions for further research on how to use mindful awareness programs to enhance academic performance both effectively and pragmatically.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Harpin, S. B., Rossi, A., Kim, A. K., & Swanson, L. M. (2016). Behavioral impacts of amindfulness pilot intervention for elementary school students. Education, 137(2), 149–156. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Elementary school students in today's urban classrooms face many life circumstances at home and in their communities that contribute to stress and coping needs. These stressors are often brought into the classroom, which impact learning, behaviors, and overall academic performance. Mindfulness has been used in classroom settings, particularly with older children and adolescents to help with behavioral and academic outcomes in school. The purpose of this pilot study was to test a 10-week Mindfulness program that was integrated daily at the morning homeroom check-in with a classroom of 4th graders, and compared to a matched comparison classroom. Teachers provided pre-intervention and post-intervention data on student behavior and academic performance; students gave qualitative feedback about the program. While there were no significant differences on the Mindfulness measures, teachers reported significant differences in prosocial behaviors, emotional regulation, and academic performance within group and across comparison groups. Students also reported high satisfaction with the curriculum and gave examples of how they used Mindfulness for emotional regulation and in classroom. Findings support the use of Mindfulness in urban classroom settings as a feasible option for students to help with personal stress and coping, as well as emotional and behavior regulation in schools and at home.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Maynard, B. R., Solis, M. R., Miller, V. L., & Brendel, K.E. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior, and socioemotional functioning of primary and secondary school students. Oslo, Norway: Campbell Collaboration. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in schools have positive effects on cognitive and socio-emotional processes, but do not improve behavior and academic achievement. The use of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in schools has been on the rise. Schools are using MBI’s to reduce student stress and anxiety and improve socio-emotional competencies, student behavior and academic achievement. MBIs have small, positive effects on cognitive and socio-emotional processes but these effects were not seen for behavioral or academic outcomes. The studies are mostly of moderate to low quality. Therefore, further evidence from independent evaluators is needed to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of intervention. With the diverse application and findings of positive effects of mindfulness practices with adults, as well as the growing popularity with the public, MBIs are increasingly being used with youth. Over the past several years, MBIs have received growing interest for use in schools to support socioemotional development and improve behavior and academic achievement. This review examines the effects of school-based MBIs on cognitive, behavioral, socio-emotional and academic achievement outcomes with youth in a primary or secondary school setting. MBIs are interventions that use a mindfulness component, broadly defined as ‘paying attention in a particularly way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,’ often with other components, such as yoga, cognitive-behavioral strategies, or relaxation skills training. Included studies used a randomized controlled trial, quasi-experimental, single group pre-post test or single subject design and reported at least one of these outcomes: cognition, academic performance, behavior, socio-emotional, and physiological. Study populations include preschool, primary and secondary school students. A total of 61 studies are included in the review, but only the 35 randomized or quasi-experimental studies are used in the meta-analysis. Most of the studies were carried out in North America, and others in Asia, Europe and Canada. All interventions were conducted in a group format. Interventions ranged in duration (4-28 weeks) and number of sessions (6-125 sessions) and frequency of meetings (once every two weeks to five times a week). MBIs have a small, statistically significant positive effect on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes. But there is not a significant effect on behavioral and academic outcomes. There was little heterogeneity for all outcomes, besides behavioral outcomes, suggesting that the interventions produced similar results across studies on cognitive, socio-emotional and academic outcomes despite the interventions being quite diverse. Findings from this review indicate mixed effects of MBIs in schools. There is some indication that MBIs can improve cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes, but no support for improvement in behavior or academic achievement. Despite the growing support of MBIs for adults, youth may not benefit in the same ways or to the same extent as adults. While not well studied, anecdotal evidence indicates costs and adverse effects of these types of interventions that should be better studied and weighed against the small to no effects on different types of outcomes when considering adoption of MBIs in schools. These findings should be read with caution given the weakness of the evidence produced by the studies. The high risk of bias present in the studies means that further evidence is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of intervention. The evidence from this review urges caution in the widespread adoption of MBIs and encourages rigorous evaluation of the practice should schools choose to implement it.”

Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M. L., Griffin, M. L., Biegel, G., Roach, A., … Saltsman, A. (2012). Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291–307.

From the abstract: “Over the past decade, training in mindfulness—the intentional cultivation of moment-by-moment non-judgmental focused attention and awareness—has spread from its initial western applications in medicine to other fields, including education. This paper reviews research and curricula pertaining to the integration of mindfulness training into K-12 education, both indirectly by training teachers and through direct teaching of students. Research on the neurobiology of mindfulness in adults suggests that sustained mindfulness practice can enhance attentional and emotional self-regulation and promote flexibility, pointing toward significant potential benefits for both teachers and students. Early research results on three illustrative mindfulness-based teacher training initiatives suggest that personal training in mindfulness skills can increase teachers’ sense of well-being and teaching self-efficacy, as well as their ability to manage classroom behavior and establish and maintain supportive relationships with students. Since 2005, 14 studies of programs that directly train students in mindfulness have collectively demonstrated a range of cognitive, social, and psychological benefits to both elementary (six studies) and high school (eight studies) students. These include improvements in working memory, attention, academic skills, social skills, emotional regulation, and self-esteem, as well as self-reported improvements in mood and decreases in anxiety, stress, and fatigue. The educational goals, target population, and core features of ten established mindfulness-based curricula are described. Finally, the need for more rigorous scientific evidence of the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions in K-12 education is discussed, along with suggestions of specific process, outcome, and research-design questions remaining to be answered.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. While REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Moreno, A. J. (2017). A theoretically and ethically grounded approach to mindfulness practicesin the primary grades. Childhood Education, 93(2), 100–108. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As mindfulness practices become more widely implemented in schools, they are attracting both keen interest and strong criticism. It is important that mindfulness-based programs adhere to sound child development principles, be aligned with the neuroscience of stress, be integrated in a holistic manner by teachers throughout the school day, and support the ethical application of ‘right-minded’ values toward increasingly self-determined and equitable classrooms. This article describes the priorities, mechanisms of change, and practical strategies for realizing these ideals in the classroom. The project described is the first to experimentally test the Calm Classroom© (Luster Learning Institute) program, and has also enhanced it for the primary grades in order to evaluate the effectiveness of mindfulness and related practices in supporting students.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F.,& Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social—emotional development througha simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary schoolchildren: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52–66. Retrieved from Full text available at

From the abstract: “The authors hypothesized that a social and emotional learning (SEL) program involving mindfulness and caring for others, designed for elementary school students, would enhance cognitive control, reduce stress, promote well-being and prosociality, and produce positive school outcomes. To test this hypothesis, 4 classes of combined 4th and 5th graders (N = 99) were randomly assigned to receive the SEL with mindfulness program versus a regular social responsibility program. Measures assessed executive functions (EFs), stress physiology via salivary cortisol, well-being (self-reports), prosociality and peer acceptance (peer reports), and math grades. Relative to children in the social responsibility program, children who received the SEL program with mindfulness (a) improved more in their cognitive control and stress physiology; (b) reported greater empathy, perspective-taking, emotional control, optimism, school self-concept, and mindfulness, (c) showed greater decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and peer-rated aggression, (d) were rated by peers as more prosocial, and (e) increased in peer acceptance (or sociometric popularity). The results of this investigation suggest the promise of this SEL intervention and address a lacuna in the scientific literature—identifying strategies not only to ameliorate children's problems but also to cultivate their well-being and thriving. Directions for future research are discussed.”

Smith, B. H., Connington, A., McQuillin, S., & Crowder Bierman, L. (2014). Applying the deployment focused treatment development model to school-based yoga for elementary school students: Steps one and two. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 7(3), 140–155. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “There is growing interest in yoga to enhance positive youth development, but many challenges to overcome before introducing yoga to schools. Weisz et al. [Weisz, J. R., Jensen, A. L., McLeod, B. D. (2004). ‘Development and dissemination of child and adolescent therapies: milestones, methods, and a new deployment-focussed model.’ In E. D., Hibbs & P. S. Jensen (Ed.), ‘Psychosocial treatments for child and adolescent disorders: Empirically-based approaches’ (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association] describe the multi-phased deployment focused treatment development model (DFM) as a means of overcoming barriers to implementing evidence-based interventions. Consistent with the first phase of the DFM, which involves manual development with input from stakeholders, we describe teachers' reactions to implementation of school-wide yoga in an urban elementary school. In keeping with the second phase of DFM, we conducted a pilot efficacy study of a yoga curriculum. We got mixed results on academic performance, and no effect on behavior and attendance. This is first study we know of that systematically collected teacher data about yoga and used school grades and standardized test scores as outcome measures. Teacher involvement, retention of students, fidelity and documentation of treatment delivered, and efficacy for grades, attendance, and behavior are paramount considerations for future school-based yoga studies.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Thierry, K. L., Bryant, H. L., Nobles, S. S., & Norris, K. S. (2016). Two-year impact of a mindfulness-based program on preschoolers’ self-regulation and academic performance. Early Education and Development, 27(6), 805–821. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Research Findings: Students experienced a mindfulness program designed to enhance their self-regulation in prekindergarten and kindergarten. At the end of the 1st year of the program, these students showed improvements in teacher-reported executive function skills, specifically related to working memory and planning and organizing, whereas students in a business as usual control group showed a decline in these areas. No difference between the groups’ receptive vocabulary was found in prekindergarten. At the end of kindergarten, the mindfulness group had higher vocabulary and reading scores than the business as usual group. Practice or Policy: These findings suggest that mindfulness practices may be a promising technique that teachers can use in early childhood settings to enhance preschoolers’ executive functioning, with academic benefits emerging in the kindergarten year.”

Note: REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible. Although we were unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this article, we determined that it might be of interest to you. The resource may be available through university or public library systems.

Zenner, C., Herrnleven-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions inschools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(603), 1–20. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Mindfulness programs for schools are popular. We systematically reviewed the evidence regarding the effects of school-based mindfulness interventions on psychological outcomes, using a comprehensive search strategy designed to locate both published and unpublished studies. Systematic searches in 12 databases were performed in August 2012. Further studies were identified via hand search and contact with experts. Two reviewers independently extracted the data, also selecting information about intervention programs (elements, structure etc.), feasibility, and acceptance. Twenty-four studies were identified, of which 13 were published. Nineteen studies used a controlled design. In total, 1348 students were instructed in mindfulness, with 876 serving as controls, ranging from grade 1 to 12. Overall effect sizes were Hedge’s g = 0.40 between groups and g = 0.41 within groups (p < 0.0001). Between group effect sizes for domains were: cognitive performance g = 0.80, stress g = 0.39, resilience g = 0.36, (all p < 0.05), emotional problems g = 0.19 third person ratings g = 0.25 (both n.s.). All in all, mindfulness-based interventions in children and youths hold promise, particularly in relation to improving cognitive performance and resilience to stress. However, the diversity of study samples, variety in implementation and exercises, and wide range of instruments used require a careful and differentiated examination of data. There is great heterogeneity, many studies are underpowered, and measuring effects of Mindfulness in this setting is challenging. The field is nascent and recommendations will be provided as to how interventions and research of these interventions may proceed.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness-based

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.