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icon of glasses and a book Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning


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FY Awards

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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


Co-Principal Investigator: Richard Davidson

Purpose: Aggressive behavior, anxiety, depression, and attention difficulties are examples of disruptions in self-regulation that school age children experience that take a toll on their academic and social functioning. School-based interventions to address these difficulties offer the advantage of being accessible to a large group of children and provide ample opportunities for students to apply learned skills in the classroom and other school setting such as the playground, both while interacting with peers and working individually. In this development project, the research team will develop a mindfulness program intended to train attention and emotion regulation in both teachers and students. The goal is to create a comprehensive self-sustaining "train the trainers" model of mindfulness instruction and to further refine training by examining issues of dosage and supports for long-term sustainability to maximize implementation directly within the school context.

Project Activities: The purpose of this study is to develop and test a mindfulness program that addresses the needs of teachers and students in a single intervention to maximize efficiency and impact. In Year 1, the mindfulness curriculum (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) currently designed for adult use will be modified for use by teachers and for teachers to instruct their students in fourth and fifth grade classrooms. In Year 2, the modified curriculum will be implemented in new classrooms with teachers co-teaching with a mindfulness expert. In Year 3, classrooms will be randomly assigned to implement the mindfulness program with teachers independently instructing students after being trained using a peer support model. Researchers will use the results to determine if the program can be implemented with fidelity by teachers and whether the program leads to improvements in teachers' well-being and students' attention, executive function, and school outcomes (e.g., attendance and grades).

Products: The products of this project include a mindfulness program for teachers and students in fourth and fifth grade classrooms. The project will also provide evidence of usability, feasibility and fidelity of implementation of the mindfulness program when independently trained and implemented by teachers and promise for improving student outcomes. Peer-reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

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

Sample: Approximately 20-30 teachers and 400 students from fourth and fifth grade classrooms will participate.

Intervention: The intervention is based upon a standardized mindfulness training (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) for adults. This training is based upon the understanding that just like other skills, qualities of attention and emotion regulation can be developed and deliberately trained through systematic instruction and practice. Such skills are trained in mindfulness through awareness of momentary experiences and can eventually be practiced anytime and anyplace without reliance on specific equipment. In principle, this affords unusual opportunities for generalization and may be particularly well-suited for use with children because of the ease with which these skills can be trained and the potential consequences of skilled regulation of attention and emotion for academic and social success. Mindfulness training builds focus and attention by bringing awareness to the object of attention whether it is the breath, other bodily sensations, external stimuli, thoughts or emotions. 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. The aims of mindfulness are thus consistent with goals of education in promoting attention and managing negative emotions and stress in adaptive ways. Deliberately applying skills that are learned to school-based situations and weaving practices into the regular classroom curriculum are encouraged to promote generalization and to enhance social, emotional, and learning outcomes.

Research Design and Methods: Combined qualitative and quantitative methods will be used to develop, examine, and refine the mindfulness training. Qualitative methods include group and individual interviews, classroom observations, classroom artifacts, and teacher diary entries. Quantitative data on outcomes of interest include measures of stress, emotional well-being, attention, school performance, and the classroom climate to be collected in Years 2 and 3 of the project. Fidelity of implementing the student curriculum will be monitored through classroom observation by experienced mindfulness instructors. The researchers will move teachers from learning mindfulness practices themselves, observing an experienced instructor, and co-teaching with an experienced instructor, and then to teaching independently with peer support.

In Year 1, the researchers will develop and pilot an initial version of the program with four classrooms (4–6 teachers and 100 students). In Year 2, a new group of teachers (8 classrooms) will be randomly assigned to mindfulness training or not, with trained teachers co-teaching with an experienced mindfulness instructor (4-6 teachers and 100 students). In Year 3, teachers from Year 2 will support one another while teaching their students, and a new group of teachers will be randomly assigned to intervention or control (8 classrooms). In addition, the 100 fourth grade students who participate in Year 2 will be followed into fifth grade. All participants will be tested before and after the training period using behavioral and self-report measures. Students will be randomized by classroom to either the training group or a control group (10 classrooms per group in each year, for a total of 20 intervention and 20 control classrooms across both years). New teachers and groups of students will be recruited for each year of the study. Year 2 pilot data will provide preliminary information about the training on students from approximately 200 intervention students and 80 control students. Pilot data collected in Year 3 will enable the researchers to track a subset of participants over time (n=100 students who received training in 4th grade and will be followed into 5th grade) and to collect data from an additional 200 intervention and 80 control students to assess the impact of the training within the larger combined sample across both years using a multi-level modeling analytic approach appropriate for students nested within classrooms.

Control Condition: In this study, classrooms in the control condition will conduct standard instruction.

Key Measures: Attention and cognitive function are measured with computer tasks from the NIH Toolbox: Flanker (attention & inhibitory control), Card Sort (cognitive flexibility/shifting) and List Sorting (working memory). Teachers will complete 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 will complete self-report questionnaires of mood and anxiety (STAIC) and perceptions of the classroom environment (WIHIC) and teachers will report on students' prosocial behaviors in class (Social Competence Scale - Teacher). In addition, academic and behavioral school records will be examined (homework completion, attendance, grades, and test scores).

Data Analytic Strategy: Qualitative data will be coded using NVivo software (software used to discover themes or patterns in the data) and diverse data sources will be compared to check for coherence or difference in emerging themes. Multilevel data analysis will be utilized to examine promise of the intervention as well as variability of effects across classrooms and students. The team will compute effect size estimates to determine impact of the intervention.