Contemplative Pedagogy: Evaluating contemplative practices

I can’t report that I meditate daily or even weekly, but there were times in my life, difficult times, when meditation was a daily aid. I learned skills and habits that still help me today.  I am, in other words, well aware of both the power and the long-lasting nature of discoveries and habits gained through a meditative practice. It is my suspicion that the rewards of meditation in the classroom might show up later, and might last well into the future.

The experience is new to the students and they have to get used to it. (Some students may never take to it, but most do.) Its benefits are highly individualized. Some may find it of benefit in order to achieve the proper state of mind to write; others may find it a well to reach into for new ideas or new links between ideas; still others may expand its usefulness to other areas of life as well.

One thing is for sure — the typical methods of measuring effectiveness do not apply to meditation. The ultimate academic goal in a writing class is better essays, stories, or articles, and so many factors go into that accomplishment that it would be impossible to tease out the gains achieved only through meditation.

The nineteen students in my class provided reactions which help in the assessment.  On a general class survey, I asked them to evaluate each class activity this semester according to three criteria:  1) Did it stimulate you to think deeper, 2) Did you enjoy it, and 3) Was it useful in writing your essay. The highest number was 8, and lowest 1.

They rated meditation 4.5 for stimulation, 6.9 for enjoyment, and 4.5 for usefulness. Only individual conferences rated as high for enjoyment (6.9), followed by reading poetry (5.6)*.  There is a divergence between the students who benefited from it the most and those who benefited least, but even those who gave low numbers for stimulation and usefulness rated it higher for enjoyment.

What this leaves me wondering is, “What is the value of enjoyment in the classroom?”  Does  having a calm class which finds itself in a much better mood after meditation produce better essays? Discounting the disgruntled student whose numbers were 1, 2, 1,  the class enjoys this exercise more than it enjoys any other activity. In the comments section of the survey, they wrote, “not important, but fun,” “helps me relax,” “eases the stress,” “helps me think about the essay,” “helps me relax and open my mind,” “helps us clear our heads,” “helps connect everything together,” and quite a few remarked that it didn’t help so much in writing the essays, though they looked forward to it, it relaxed them, and it was fun.

In my experience, the meditation binds the class together and gives them a more positive attitude as they work together on writing essays and doing other exercises. Since many students have reported that they now set aside meditative moments as they tackle their homework in this and other classes, it must aid them in some way. This extra element of control over their stress and perhaps their confusion contributes something important to not only their academic, but also their personal lives. This must be evaluated on a scale which resides somewhere outside the Statistics books. My husband is an economist and statistician, and he is helping me make sense out of my first stab at evaluating meditation, but the proper questions to ask, and the proper factors to take into consideration are still under development.


For your further information, below are the averages for each category.

*  For meditation:  stimulation, 4.48; enjoyment 6.9; usefulness, 5.2

Individual conferences:  6.3, 6.5, 6.9  Overall:  5.5

Reading stories/books:  4.8, 4.4, 6.0  Overall:  5.0

Reading poems/songs:  5.5, 5.6, 5.9 Overall: 5.6

Grammar explanations/exercises:  3.9, 3.0, 4.4  Overall: 3.7

Peer review (traditional):  4.4, 4.0, 4.6  Overall: 4.3

Modeling writing an essay in class: 6.2, 4.5, 5.8  Overall: 5.5

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