The Important Links Between Mindfulness and Inquiry Learning
Mindfulness is a relatively novel concept that has gained a lot of attention over the past few years. It was first introduced in 1979 as a medical intervention at the University of Massachusetts. Mindfulness is a meditative technique where your mind is fully attentive of what’s happening and what you’re doing. You are present and aware of your surroundings. Many elements of mindfulness arise during inquiry-based learning, such as observation, acceptance, awareness, and process. Students who are aware of their surroundings, mindful of their processes, and accepting of themselves at their current stage tend to reap more benefits from inquiry-based learning as opposed to students who aren’t engaged in the process of inquiry. Exploring these elements during inquiry-based learning is an effective way to practice mindfulness while engaging in meaningful process-driven work. It also helps solidify the links between mindfulness elements and the inquiry learning process.
Students are natural observers. They question everything around them. It is my hope as a teacher that their innate questioning nature never goes away. Fortunately, observation happens to be at the root of inquiry learning. In order to ask deep, thoughtful questions, students need to practice the art of observation. Spending time in nature or in new environments stimulates students’ innate desire to know more about the world around them. From these new and enriching experiences comes careful and, often, spontaneous curiosity.
Related reading: Using nature journals to encourage mindfulness observation
In the classroom, students who observe their surroundings and take in the physical space around them tend to ask more questions, develop their curiosity, and truly enjoy their learning. Students who constantly observe and watch what’s going on around them inadvertently reinforce a participant-observer mindset. This supports a mindful consciousness of things like mood, atmosphere, and the overall dynamics of a space.
Mindful observation also shows up during several phases of the inquiry learning process. For example, students begin the process by making observations of things that interest them. This can take the form of students reading books, exploring pictures and pieces of art, or watching things in nature. Being observant allows students to focus on what is being noticed. From there, students are able to make connections between what they’re seeing and their previous knowledge about their observations, or how things have changed. Further along in the inquiry process, students practice careful observation of the information they’ve collected, and use their skills to narrow down how to make sense of and convey this information.
The quality of acceptance can be tricky to teach, as it is directly linked to a student’s mental and emotional resilience. It is important to have conversations with students about what it means to “accept”. In the context of inquiry learning, being able to accept that everyone will work at a different pace is crucial in developing confidence and motivation. Students also need to accept that their peers might interpret things differently than they would – and that this is okay. Furthermore, accepting that they will encounter difficulties, stumbles, and bumps in the road will help them recover and adjust when things don’t work out the way they hoped.
For students to truly accept and trust the process of inquiry-based learning, they need to accept a few fundamental statements:
1. I accept that things will not always go my way
2. I accept that there are many different ways to reach my destination
3. I accept myself for who I am
Related reading: Teaching Acceptance by Examining Social Justice Issues
These are the core statements that students should repeat to themselves daily until they truly accept the process of inquiry-based learning. It is important for them to understand that the goals of their learning should focus on the process, not the final result.
When students stop being “busy” and focus on how they feel, they might encounter self-defeating thoughts and negative self-talk. It is also important that students know how to practice mindfulness in these situations so that they can accept them for what they are, and let them pass when they are ready. The acceptance of these thoughts and feelings are not passive; they require students to acknowledge them, let them sit, and then let them pass without judgment or anger.
Mindfulness embodies the concept of awareness. While observation usually focuses on the surrounding space and things in it, awareness focuses more on internal alertness to thoughts, feelings, and the physicality of the body. For example, a student may observe that there are cars and buildings and people in front of them on the street; but that same student can be aware of the sounds, smells, level of danger, and feeling of stress that accompanies what they are observing. These miniscule differences are what distinguish observation from awareness.
During inquiry learning, students rely on awareness in many different ways. For example, while working on their product, they need to be aware of their time limits and schedule. They need to take into consideration time restraints so they can effectively plan and manage their time. Furthermore, a student who reaches the point when they can no longer be kind or helpful needs to be able to recognize this and take a step back. Being aware means that they can identify what they need in order to remain focused and doing their best.
Awareness also shows up in inquiry learning simply through students being aware that their efforts will ultimately have an impact. For instance, a student who is interested in protecting oceans is aware of their ability to create impactful change. Another example could be a student promoting the SPCA and encouraging people to adopt and not shop; their desire to create change manifests itself through public awareness.
Finally, process is one of the most important elements of mindfulness that shares a strong link with inquiry-based learning. The learning process and the journey students take is the core of what inquiry learning is all about. Students are not judged or graded on the presentation they put together, or on the quality of note taking and penmanship when conducting research; the emphasis is on the process. When students focus on the process, they become mindful of:
- Their strengths and areas for improvement
- How they react to change, disappointment, dissatisfaction, and uncertainty
- Their ability to overcome adversity and impediments
- How they support themselves, talk to themselves, and encourage themselves and others
- How they react to feedback, constructive criticism, and suggestions for improvement
The soft skills students build during inquiry learning are the building blocks from which they can effectively create change, express themselves, and find deep meaning in their learning. Instilling in students the confidence to trust the process and treat roadblocks as learning opportunities provides them with the chance to rethink the purpose of struggle. It should help them see their difficulties as opportunities for self-discovery and as a chance to reframe the concepts of adversity and challenge.
Sometimes, though, conflicts will pop up (either internally or externally). Learn some quick strategies for managing conflict in inquiry learning.
Mindfulness Inquiry Pack
This month’s inquiry pack focuses solely on mindfulness – particularly how we can use mindful practices to make good choices, develop strong work habits, face adversity and peer pressure, make informed decisions about our health, and how we can change our inner dialogue to one that is more positive, peaceful, and accepting.
The pack is completely FREE and includes over 50 pages of activities, journal prompts, research activities, and advocacy ideas to get students thinking about the kind of positive change they’d like to have on themselves, their school community, and others around them.