In a hectic, fast-paced world, the idea of mindfulness — living with awareness for each moment — is increasingly popular. So it’s not surprising that a lecture on the topic by Associate Professor of Psychology Julie Newman Kingery was enthusiastically received at the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning, held in Bethesda, Md. in June. Her talk, titled “Integrating Mindfulness into the College Classroom: Efficacy and Practical Strategies,” was based on her work in two sections of her “Topics in Developmental Psychology” class this past spring.
Kingery has been using mindfulness — which can include practices such as meditation, deep breathing, journaling and yoga — since she discovered the concept in graduate school. “Being a type A personality, I would have loved to have discovered it earlier, as an undergrad,” she says.
Recognizing these same traits in her students, she began to consider the use of mindfulness techniques in the classroom. “I’ve noticed over the years that students were just very stressed out, whether it was from personal or academic reasons, and needed a broader repertoire of coping strategies,” she says. “I dabbled with this in classes, but never really took the leap to integrate it into a course.”
That changed as she was planning the lessons for her spring sections of “Topics in Developmental Psychology,” a 300 level course. She developed short mindfulness exercises that she and her students could do at the beginning of some of the classes, and she asked the students to practice them three times a week. They kept a log of their practices, and wrote several short reflection papers to help them make connections between the mindfulness practices and course material.
As Kingery explained at the Lilly Conference, writing the reflection papers led the students to some interesting observations. “The mind acts as a muscle that needs to be trained in mindfulness to reap the rewards,” wrote one student. “I have learned the value of being able to take a step back and take a moment for myself,” said another.
About 15 percent of their grade, Kingery says, was based on mindfulness work. “I thought it would fit well with this course because it’s all about risk and resilience,” she says. “There’s a growing body of literature about using mindfulness practices with children to help with depression, coping skills, etc. My goal was to give the students a taste of it.”
Kingery believes that students benefitted from the exercises, and she’ll be teaching the technique again next spring. “A lot of students described it as beneficial, and they practiced more than what was required,” she says. “Some students said it helped them sleep, others used it for a study break — they would try the exercises and be refreshed. In their papers, I can see from beginning to middle to end of semester how their understanding evolved. That was powerful and very rewarding.”