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Journal of Behavioral Health and Medicine 2010, 1, 137-142 Number 2 (Summer 2010)

A MINDFULNESS APPROACH TO IMPROVING CLASSROOM


ATTENTION
Alyssa N. Wilson and Mark R. Dixon
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

The current investigation demonstrates the effectiveness of Mindfulness exercis-


es in a typical elementary classroom. An ABA withdrawal design was used in
demonstrating changes in attending behavior. Participants included twelve first
and second grade students. Five different mindfulness exercises, all specifically
designed and tailored for children, were conducted with the class. A 10s mo-
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

mentary time sampling procedure was used to record instances of attending. Re-
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

sults indicate an increase of attending behaviors during intervention, when com-


pared to baseline levels. The current study demonstrates the effectiveness of a
child-based mindfulness training model, reliably measured by direct observa-
tion.
Keywords: mindfulness, classroom, treatment package
____________________
In recent years behavior analysts have been A Buddhist approach to psychological well-
making advances in managing the many being, termed "Mindfulness", has been grow-
forms of problem behavior that occur in early ing in western culture over the past 20 years
childhood education. Interventions have in- (Germer, 2005). This approach requires the
cluded the development of classroom-wide client/participant to pay close attention to the
teaching programs (Hanley, Heal, Tiger, & present moment. What was once thought of as
Ingvarsson, 2007), more accurately identify- a non-scientific meditation-based approach to
ing children activity preference (Hanley, change behavior is now growing considerable
Cammilleri, Tiger, & Ingvarsson, 2007), and acceptance by the clinical psychological
allowing for more choices to be made by the community (Fulton, 2005). Mindfulness-
children themselves on seemingly irrelevant based therapy has been successful at changing
decisions (i.e., snack options) (Tiger, Hanley, the behaviors of persons suffering from any
& Hernandez, 2006). These typical behavior- number of clinical disorders ranging from an-
al approaches have been successful at achiev- xiety (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992) to binge eating
ing both increases in positive behaviors and a (Kristeller & Hallett, 1999). To operationally
reduction in problem behaviors on the part of define "Mindfulness" from a behavioral pers-
the children. While successful, such ap- pective is difficult because most documenta-
proaches may be labor intensive, time con- tions of success do not clearly specify the en-
suming, and require adherence to, and support tire list of antecedent stimuli (rules or state-
of, a behavioral approach to classroom man- ments) delivered to a client, or the observable
agement by the staff of the classroom and behaviors intended to be changed. Changing
school at large. self-reports of psychological health are one
__________ level of implied success, changing the directly
Address all correspondence to: observed behavior is another - the latter level
Mark R. Dixon necessary for adoption by many behavior ana-
Behavior Analysis and Therapy Program
Rehabilitation Institute
lysts. Therefore the purpose of the present
Southern Illinois University study was to assess the baseline levels of at-
Carbondale, IL 62901 tention in a typically developing childhood
Email: mdixon@siu.edu classroom, and implement a Mindfulness-

137
138 ALYSSA N. WILSON and MARK R. DIXON

based intervention that did not specify the tar- two weeks. Phase B (intervention) consisted
geted behavior of "attending" whatsoever and of five 15min Mindfulness exercises, fol-
see if changes in such behavior would in fact lowed by 30min of observation per session.
be seen. During the return to baseline phase, 30min
observations occurred once a week for two
METHOD weeks.
Participants and Setting Inter-observer agreement was calculated for
The study was conducted in a classroom 50% of the total sessions across all phases.
located in a private elementary school in Agreement was scored if both observers indi-
Southern Illinois. Participants included twelve cated the same occurrence, or non occurrence,
students (female N=7, male N=5) in the of each students attending behavior. The re-
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

liability score was the total number of agree-


This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

second and third grade. The mean age of par-


ticipants was 8 (SD=.77) years. The class was ments divided by the number of agreements
selected by the school Principle based off the plus disagreements. The total percentage of
teachers concerns with group dynamics and agreement was 94%, and ranged from 90.7%
behavior. to 100%.

Apparatus Procedure
Observers brought hand held recorders, ear Each observation was conducted following
phones, and data sheets to every session. A the same observational procedure. Figure 1
pre-recorded tape was used, indicating when represents a visual of the classroom. Here,
to look at a student (after 10s) and when to students are indicated by numbers (e.g. 1-12),
move to the next student (after 5s ITI). and empty desks are indicated with XX.
At the beginning of each session, the ob-
Measures server(s) would come into the classroom and
The primary dependent variable was termed sit on the bench located towards the back of
"attending", and was defined as the child be- the classroom (see Figure 1 for a representa-
ing engaged in what was occurring at that par- tion of the classroom). The observers sat and
ticular moment in the classroom. This in- waited for 15min before starting the 10s MTS
cluded looking at or in the direction of the procedure or the mindfulness exercises (de-
teacher or student who was talking, following pending on the phase of the intervention) to
instructions, looking (and/or completing) a reduce reactivity. Upon starting the observa-
worksheet, and engaging in classroom activi- tion procedure, observers simultaneously start
ties. Attending was observed using a 10s the recording and being with student 1 (indi-
momentary time sampling (10s MTS) proce- cated with a star in Figure 1). After recording
dure, where each student was observed inde- data for this student, observers would then
pendently per 10s. move in a counter-clockwise rotation to the
next student, student 2. After recording stu-
Experimental Design and Dependent Variable dent 7, observers then began to observe the
Integrity boys, starting with student 8. This rotational
An ABA withdrawal design was used in the observation was used to alleviate confusion
current study. Phase A (baseline) consisted of between observers as to what student was to
five 30min observations, over the duration of be observed and when.
IMPROVING CLASSROOM ATTENTION 139
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Figure 1. Visual representation of the seating arrangement within the classroom. Desks
are represented by the dark box shapes, with girls on the left and boys on the right. Stu-
dents were assigned a number based on their seat, and empty seats are labeled with XX.

Baseline. Thirty minutes of direct observa- phase of the intervention. Mindfulness exer-
tion took place during each baseline session. cises were as follows:
Here, observers did not interact with the stu- Silent Game:
dents after the 15min waiting period. After This exercise was a way to slowly introduce
observations were completed, the observers the concept of Mindfulness to the students.
removed themselves from the classroom. This game had five rules all participants had
Mindfulness Intervention. The intervention to follow, in order to gain access to a rein-
phase was implemented for five days. During forcer. The reinforcer, which was pre-
this phase, different mindfulness exercises approved by the teacher, was Hersheys
specifically tailored to fit the developmental kisses. These rules were as follows: 1) You
needs of the students were used. Mindfulness must keep still in your seat (No wiggle
exercises lasted for 15min, and were con- worm); 2) keep your hands to yourself; 3) no
ducted prior to direct observations. The same smiling or making faces at your neighbor; 4)
procedure used for the 10s MTS during base- eyes must be closed, or gaze downward,
line was implemented the same during this throughout the duration of the exercise; and 5)
140 ALYSSA N. WILSON and MARK R. DIXON

good posture. Once the children had settled sensations, senses, and eventually their
into their seats, the exercise would begin. thoughts. It is important to note that the Si-
The researcher would start the exercise with lent Game duration began at thirty seconds,
the prompt, Ready-Please-Begin. During and when intervention was complete, the final
the exercise, students who broke the rules duration was at three minutes. The Silent
were tapped on the shoulder and did not re- Game 2 exercise was the most preferred exer-
ceive the reinforcer at the end of the exercise. cise of the class, and students reported prac-
At the end of the exercise, all students that ticing this exercise the most in their own time.
followed directions were given one reinforcer. Noticing Self Exercise:
The use of a reinforcer was only utilized the This exercise was a more basic Mindfulness
first day of implementation. This duration of exercise that began with the Breathing Exer-
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

this exercise slightly increased over time, and cise. Once they became engaged in the
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

began at 30s. This exercise was used at least Breathing Exercise for over a minute, the in-
once or twice a day, and was combined with structor began the Noticing Self Exercise, as
the Breathing Exercise. follows:
Breathing Exercise:
This exercise was an extension of the Silent See if you can notice your body as you sit
Game, with a few additions, focusing on the in your chair. See if you can feel any sensa-
tions (pause 10 s) in your shouldersin
breath. Mindfulness techniques are centered your armsin your hands (pause 10 s) or in
on the breath, and how important the breath is your legsin your feetall the way down
to the individual. The same rules applied for to your toes. What do your toes feel like?
this exercise as for the Silent Game. The stu- (pause 10 s) How do they feel inside your
dents were asked to focus on the cold air as it shoes? Now see if you can locate your
thumbs. Where are they? (pause 10 s) What
came through their nose and the warmer air as are they resting against? See if you can pin-
it left their body through their mouth. When point their exact location. What does your
the two exercises were combined, this newly thumbs feel like? Are they hotor
formed exercise was called Silent Game 2. coldare they sweaty? What about the
Silent Game 2: body part theyre resting againstwhat does
that exact point feel like? Can you notice
With this exercise, the Silent Game and the point where your thumbs hit your body?
Breathing Exercise were combined after the (pause 10 s) Now see if you can focus on
children demonstrated an understanding of the rest of your body, as you wit in the chair.
each exercise. The rules for the Silent Game Notice the sounds in the roomthe sound of
still applied, as did the concepts for the my voicethe kids playing outside (pause
10 s). Now see if you can visualize yourself
Breathing Exercise. The exercise was admi- in the room. When youre ready, open your
nistered the same, and began with the re- eyes, and come back into the room.
searchers prompt, Ready-Please-Begin.
As the intervention continued, the game be- Mindful Eating Exercise:
came longer and visually more structured as a For this exercise, the researcher brought
Mindfulness exercise. During each exercise, mandarins to class, to invoke mindful-eating.
statements were included to enhance the exer- This exercise extended the 15 min, as each
cise, including Notice the feeling in your student ate one mandarin in thirty minutes.
(chest, nose, and mouth), Notice the sounds Prior to opening the mandarins, the class dis-
(in the room, and of your breath), as well as cussed where the fruit came from, how and
Notice what you see, as you sit with your where the fruit grows, who was responsible
eyes closed. These statements were made to for handling and getting the fruit to the gro-
stimulate the children to focus on their bodily cery store, and the timeline in which it all
IMPROVING CLASSROOM ATTENTION 141

100% A B A

80%
Percent Attending

60%
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This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

40%

20%
Mean
Median
0%

Date

Figure 2. Mean and median percent attending per half-hour observations

occurred. Next, the researcher instructed the techniques, on how to eat the other half. The
students to peel the mandarin. This process only rule was that they had to eat one piece,
took about five minutes, as after each peel, slowly, at a time.
the students discussed the smells, textures, Return to Baseline. All procedures were
and feelings associated with the action of identical to the previously described baseline
peeling. Once the peelings were off, the stu- condition.
dents were asked to think about what it was
going to taste like, followed by discussing the RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
different sensations in their mouth, stomach, Figure 1 displays the percentage of attend-
and noses. With one piece of the mandarin in ing per thirty-minute observation periods.
hand, the students were instructed to take a Both mean and median percentage values are
conscious bite, cautious not to eat the whole represented to represent a clear picture of at-
piece. This bite was then slowly chewed, and tending throughout the study. Mean attending
thoughts and sensations were again discussed. was calculated by the overall percent of at-
The students went through half of the manda- tending per student averaged across all stu-
rin slowly, explaining every sensation, dents. Median attending was calculated using
thought, or feeling along the way as instructed the same set of percent attending across stu-
by the researcher. The students were then dents. During baseline, attending averaged
given choices, based on other instructive about 68% across all observations. During
142 ALYSSA N. WILSON and MARK R. DIXON

intervention, attending averaged about 87% dents. The current investigation demonstrates
across observations, with a median value of an innovative process to objectively observe
86%. There was an 18% increase in attending and reliably record attending behavior.
across students during the implementation of At first glance, Mindfulness may appear as
the mindfulness exercises. Removal of the nothing more than a meditation-focused
intervention yielded a decrease in percent at- process that has limited if any utility for a be-
tending to 73% of observations over two ses- havior analyst attempting to see objective
sions. These findings suggest that the imple- measures of behavior change. However, the
mentation of mindfulness exercises may have current study progresses the exponentially
altered attending behaviors of students. growing literature on Mindfulness as it pro-
It is important to note that neither replace- vided a clear operational definition of the con-
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

ment behaviors nor problematic behaviors tent of the independent variable, a demon-
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

were addressed or discussed during interven- strated effectiveness of adoption at both a


tion. The researcher only discussed how to child and group based level of implementa-
in regards to each mindfulness exercise tion, and measurement of a direct observed
throughout the duration of the intervention. behavior. Taken together, these data suggest
Additionally, the class activities varied that behavior analysts indeed should examine
throughout the duration of the study, yet each the potential for Mindfulness interventions as
session took place within an academic sub- actual behavior change procedures.
ject (e.g. reading, math, science, and social
studies). The different activities may limit the REFERENCES
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approach, which included various types of York: Guildofrd.
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in an elementary classroom with many stu-