Changing technology has brought benefits to both our work and play lives, but the speed of this change is bringing new challenges in both areas as well. The options for entertainment through social media, video games, and high-speed porn are increasingly competing for student attention in ways that can be almost impossible for them to resist. We see the results of this when we look out at our tired students, their work incomplete, their minds unfocused, their eyes and hands searching always for their smartphones. Teaching this younger generation requires that we adapt our strategies to match their needs, including the ability to navigate this superhighway of supernormal stimuli with a critical awareness and rhetorical savvy. We’ll need to continue building plugged-in curriculums that prepare our students for the online environments that will increasingly dominate their social, professional and civic lives.
However, I think we also need to help our students to arm themselves against the negative effects these supernormal stimuli can have. Meditation, a practice in detached single-pointed concentration, provides just such a tool. Meditation has many forms, but the basic goal is to train one’s attention. Simply having students pay attention to their breath for a few minutes at the beginning of class may give them a chance to reboot their brain from the constant seeking of new stimuli to a more rested and focused state.
Although an ancient practice, meditation is only recently beginning to receive attention from Western researchers for its benefits in both physical and mental health. These benefits include stress reduction, emotional regulation, and increased ability to focus, learn, and make good decisions.
In addition to the general benefits to learning, meditation may be particularly useful in a writing classroom. Meditation allows us to practice a non-judgemental observation of thought that may put students in the right frame of mind for freewriting invention or revision activities. When we meditate, we might notice that we are not our thoughts, but are instead that awareness that observes our thoughts. This awareness may be beneficial during a think-aloud protocol to help students designate part of themselves as neutral researchers detached from the thoughts they are collecting.
Meditation can also benefit us as teachers, helping us enter each classroom with an engaged awareness of what is really happening in that class. Teaching in the present moment helps us let go of the less successful class in the previous hour and set aside the stress of that stack of papers waiting for us at home and instead to be truly there for our students. Meditation’s benefits to ourselves and our students in both the academic and personal realms are worth considering.