As defined by the authors, mindfulness, which “originates from Buddhist spiritual practices,” means “paying particular and deliberate attention, being present, and being non-judgmental.” It thus seems “an ideal way to teach students how to pay attention while learning.”
To test this hypothesis, the researchers conducted a 12-week experiment on first-year university students, about half of which were exposed to a MM intervention:
“The experiment was performed 2h per week for 3 months. Basically, one chapter was taught within two hours of one week. Each two-hour lesson followed the five-step procedure. That is, for the experimental group, the five steps of one two-hour lesson were as follows: (1) students practised MM for 10–20 min before teaching; (2) the teacher taught a chapter; (3) the teacher reviewed the chapter with the students for 5 min; (4) students then took an online formative assessment on the chapter; (5) students received and reviewed the results. For the control group, the procedure was identical to that in the experimental group except for step 1. That is, the control group in step 1 was asked to self-review the chapter from the previous week for 10–20 min rather than engage in MM practice.”
The mindfulness trainin consisted in a “basic sitting meditation technique, which stabilises the mind (...) Specifically, students were first asked to sit and were given the option of keeping their eyes open or closed. Students were then instructed to focus attention at the nostrils where one feels the faint pressure of the ebb and flow of the breath by following their breath to develop calmness and stability. Inevitably, their attention wandered from the breath to other thoughts and feelings. The students were instructed to let these other thoughts go and allow attention to return to the breath. This process is repeated each time attention wanders. The students were further encouraged to apply the same general approach outside the class or before taking a test, using the breath as an anchor.”
Results showed that the experimental group did perform better on the MCQs, but only after a period of 3 weeks--which might be the time it took them to practice MM properly.
What is more, students self-reporting deep levels of mindfulness outperfomed those who indicated lower levels of attention, focus, and awareness.
The researchers also investigated whether MM had a long-term impact on academic performance, but found no effect on summative assessments taking place after a delay of 2 weeks. The reason might be that the training was not intense and regular enough, however.
Finally, a sizeable majority of students in the MM group responded positively to a questionnaire evaluating their feelings about the intervention.
Source: Lin and Mai (2016), “Impact of mindfulness meditation intervention on academic performance”, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 55:3, pp.366–375.