Creating the Perfect Learning Environment for a Middle School Classroom: An Introduction

It is hard to come to terms with the idea that the current methods used to teach children have slim to none scientific legitimacy. When we as children enter the traditional education institution at the age of four or five years old, we are taught that our teachers know the best way to teach us how to learn. After almost sixteen years in a traditional education system, I still believed that if teachers went to University, they were taught the best, most effective ways to teach their students. I have a hypothesis that by the summation of this course, it will be revealed that the current ways we teach our young ones are not efficient or effective.

This course requires that we take a look at the current educational climate, examine the flaws and myths of our current education institution, choose a specific age group to study, and develop a lesson plan that uses legitimate psychology of education findings to establish a classroom that foster both efficient and effective learning in the chosen age group.

As the heading of this blog post suggests, my focus will be centered on middle school aged students, particularly between grade seven and eight. During this time period, students are struggling with the brand new concept of adolescence, as well as trying to stay on top of their studies. This blog will cover what Psychology of Education is, and how approaching the subject of educational psychology can lead to a study in mindfulness. For the next two blog posts, my focus will be on current problems in education pertaining to middle school students. The five blogs following will delve into the complexities of human adolescence, and how we as educators can use this information as a base for creating a lesson plan that factors in these complexities. The information collected from these five blogs will be used to develop my lesson plan.

An Exploration into the Study of Psychology of Education:

Educational psychology is defined as ” as “the development and application of psychological principles to education, as well as the adoption of psychological perspectives on education.” (O’Donnel and Levin 2001) Essentially, the current methods of organizing curriculum in schools do not take into account any sort of psychological reasoning when making decisions of how best to shape young minds. The alternative is to bring focus solely on academic achievement by any means necessary. Standardized testing is one of the biggest traps of the current educational system, as it does not teach students how to learn, but how to study for a specific kind of exam style. Most of this has to do with a sort of “binge and purge” approach to acquiring new information: dump the information no longer required to get an A on the next exam, and cram as much information as possible to ensure a top mark.

A good teacher will understand that the pursuit of knowledge is more important than standardized testing. A study done by O’Donnell and Levin (2001) compiled all the research on psychology in education from 1910 to 1999. The majority of the research was spent on topics of measurement and intelligence. Essentially, the research focuses on the best way to go about getting good grades within a standardized system. Getting away from this style of thinking is actually easier as you analyze the practices of psychology in education being used in countries outside of the United States and Canada. Germany, for example,   structures a core curriculum for teacher education into four areas, namely learning and instruction, development in social contexts, educational assessment, and intervention and counselling. This system allows for a well rounded approach to education, including a concept not commonly found in mainstream educational institutions: mindfulness. ( Lohse-Bossenz, Kunina-Habenicht and Kunter (2013)

I came across an excellent definition that nailed down the concept of mindfulness perfectly: ““the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the
present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”. To contrast, mindlessness brings about chronic rumination, multitasking, and taking the student out of the present moment to focus on past or future instead. (Grant, 2017) Mindfulness is a tool that can be learned by teachers to be used in their own classrooms. A mindful teacher will bear mindful students so long as the teacher is establishing an atmosphere of  attention, compassion, non-judgment, and acceptance. Studies show that mindfulness training for educators resulted in students with improved pro-social and on-task behaviour, and academic achievement. (Grant, 2017)

One last study on mindfulness before you get tired of reading, was conducted by Franco, et al. (2016) on the relationship between mindfulness and adolescent students with behavioural problems of impulsivity and aggression in the classroom. The aim of the study was to use a mindfulness training psycho-educative program, and pair an experimental group (with pre-test and post-test mindfulness) with a control group to identify how effective mindfulness training can be on adolescent students in a classroom. No surprise, studies and statistical analysis showed a significant decrease in impulsivity and aggression in the students who completed the mindfulness training. The increased mindfulness is directly linked to improving the level of academic engagement and self-efficacy of students and for reducing school failure. If mindfulness was a tool used in middle school classrooms, the complexities of early adolescence could be acknowledged, and put at ease in order for further tools of educational psychology to be put into place.

Academic Sources:

Franco, C., Amutio, A., López-González, L., Oriol, X., & Martínez-Taboada, C. (2016).              The Effect of a Mindfulness Training Program on the Impulsivity and Aggression Levels of Adolescents with Behavioral Problems in the Classroom. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1385.

Grant, K. C. (2017). From Teaching to Being: The Qualities of a Mindful Teacher.                    Childhood Education, 93(2), 147–152.

Lohse-Bossenz, H., Kunina-Habenicht, O., & Kunter, M. (2013). The role of educational    psychology in teacher education: expert opinions on what teachers should know                about learning, development, and assessment. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(4), 1543–1565.

O’Donnell, A. M., & Levin, J. R. (2001). Educational Psychology’s Healthy Growing Pains.     Educational Psychologist, 36(2), 73–82.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Creating the Perfect Learning Environment for a Middle School Classroom: An Introduction

  1. Well said about the topic of mindfulness Anthony! As I was reading this, I recall discussing this in my other class. This article that we discussed touches on the high performance aviators. Pilots were to incorporate mental training based on mindfulness in two years. Although this is not a educational setting, it can still be incorporated into a classroom setting, used as an exceptional teaching tool for the teacher. There seems to be a connotation that comes with practicing meditation, yoga, etc with people who are hippie or who are weird like that. But instead, people should really educate themselves and take the time to understand the overwhelming benefits of this mental training. In conclusion to this study, it showed that elite pilots who are in constant high stressed situation, were able to benefit significantly after incorporating mindfulness training into their lifestyles.

    Gardner, F.L., Moore, Z.E. (2017) Mindfulness-based and acceptance-based interventions in sport and performance contexts. Current Opinion in Psychology 16(2), 180-184. 

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  2. I enjoyed reading your article Anthony. In class today one of the group discussions I participated in talked briefly about teaching to the test. Although you do not mention this specifically in your article you do talk about the dangers of standardized testing. Teaching to the test is when a teacher simply focuses all their lessons and activities towards getting a good grade on an exam. The example presented was diploma exams that grade 12 students are required to take to receive a high school diploma in Alberta. Most teachers focus their lessons,and class activities, around what material will be presented on the diploma exam. Are students really learning this way? What is the real world applicability to this instructional method?

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