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Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning

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A Classroom-based Training Program of Attention and Emotion Regulation

Year: 2014
Name of Institution:
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Goal: Development and Innovation
Principal Investigator:
Flook, Lisa
Award Amount: $1,500,000
Award Period: 3 Years (7/1/2014-6/30/2017)
Award Number: R305A140479

Description:

Co-Principal Investigator: Davidson, Richard

Purpose: Researchers developed and pilot tested a mindfulness training program for 5th grade teachers and students to improve teacher well-being and student self-regulation and attention. The program uses a single intervention approach called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and a "train the trainers" model for classroom teachers to maximize efficiency and impact.

Project Activities: In Year 1, the researchers worked in five classrooms to modify the practices associated with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for usable and feasible implementation in 5th grade classrooms. The researchers assessed the potential benefits of the training for teachers and students using a randomized controlled trial in Year 2, followed by a quasi-experiment in Year 3.

Key Findings: Information about key outcomes and study findings will be reported when peer reviewed publications are available.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study took place in public elementary schools in an urban school district in Wisconsin.

Sample: Fifth grade teachers (48) and their students (492) participated in development and pilot testing activities.

Intervention: This classroom-based mindfulness program includes a 10-session training curriculum for teachers (AWARE - Abilities of Well-being, Attention, Resilience in Education) and a 16-session classroom curriculum for students (AWAKE — Abilities in Well-being, Attention, Kindness in Education). Both curricula are based upon a standardized mindfulness training for adults (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that involves systematic instruction and practice in bringing awareness to the object of attention – the breath, other bodily sensations, external stimuli, thoughts, or emotions — without judgement. Meta-awareness is developed as the individual learns to recognize when attention has wandered and to bring it back to a selected point of focus and to do so with increasing efficiency. Training attention also enables the deliberate cultivation of positive qualities through specific practices designed to promote empathy and prosocial attitudes and an overall improved classroom climate.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers used qualitative and quantitative methods to develop, examine, and refine mindfulness practices for teachers and students throughout the project. In Year 1, they developed and piloted an initial version of the program in five classrooms using individual interviews, focus groups, classroom observations, classroom artifacts, and teacher diary entries to inform the work. In Years 2 through 4, the researchers moved 21 teachers from learning mindfulness practices themselves, to observing and co-teaching the student mindfulness curriculum with an experienced instructor, and then to teaching independently with peer support. In Year 2, the researchers randomly assigned the 21 classrooms to mindfulness training or not, with trained teachers co-teaching with an experienced mindfulness instructor. In Year 3, teachers trained in Year 2 (n = 11) supported one another while teaching their students, and the Year 2 control teachers (n = 9) were trained for the first time. The researchers recruited an additional 7 classrooms that did not receive training for comparison purposes. Teachers and students in all 28 classrooms completed assessments before and after the teacher and student training periods in both years.

Control Condition: In this study, classrooms in the control condition continued with typical training and instructional practices.

Key Measures: The researchers measured attention and cognitive function with computer tasks from the NIH Toolbox: Flanker (attention and inhibitory control), Card Sort (cognitive flexibility/shifting) and List Sorting (working memory). Teachers completed standardized self-report questionnaires of job stress (Maslach Burnout Inventory for Educators), psychological symptoms (SCL-90-R), mood (Positive and Negative Affect Scale - PANAS), and empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index). Children completed self-report questionnaires of mood and anxiety (STAIC) and perceptions of the classroom environment (WIHIC) and teachers reported on students' prosocial behaviors in class (Social Competence Scale - Teacher). The researchers also collected academic and behavioral school records (homework completion, attendance, grades, and test scores).

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers coded the qualitative data for themes and patterns and compared NVivo analyses across data sources to check for coherence. They used multilevel data analysis to examine promise of the intervention as well as variability of effects across classrooms and students.

Publications and Products

Hirshberg, M.J., Goldberg, S.B., Schaefer, S.M., Flook, L., Findley, D. and Davidson, R.  (2018). Divergent effects of brief contemplative practices in response to an acute stressor: A randomized controlled trial of brief breath awareness, loving-kindness, gratitude or an attention control practice. PLOS ONE, 13(12): e0207765. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207765.