How Can We Document Children’s Progress In Mindfulness Practice?

With interest in ‘Mindfulness In Education’ hitting an all time high, the question will soon come as to how it impacts children over the longer term & what teachers are doing to document this profound change in the children as evidence.

Assessment of children’s development in traditional subjects is often continuous and usually takes place through dialogue with individual children, the class and through the acts of learning. Mindfulness should be no different, if it is to achieve high status within a school’s curriculum.

Documenting & sharing children’s application of mindfulness principles, skills as well as concrete examples of deepening & applied understanding should be regular. For example through parents’ evenings, pupil conferences & school reports. This would allow schools to celebrate application and progress as well as show where development of skills could be undertaken. The following table shows the framework in which this could be done:

Click on Image for a Downloadable PDF Version

Click on Image for a Downloadable PDF Version

How these stages show development

1 -2 Self Regulation: Development in these stages is looking to see if a child is understanding themselves more fully. Seeking to have more empowerment over their actions and feelings. Self regulation is the primary goal of this phase.

2-3 Self Examination: Development in this stage is looking to see if a child is becoming more self-aware. They are more able to examine themselves to under how their relationships with others are being effected by their thoughts, speech and actions.

3-5 Others: Development in this stage is looking to see if a child can begin to look beyond themselves and better understand the community they are sharing with others and their feelings and intentions. This should bring about a better sense of belonging and interdependence.

Selflessness: Development in this stage is looking at helping others and looking beyond just the local community. Understanding that happiness and sorrow are often shared sensations.

How you can encourage development

Intentions: Explaining to children that there are two types of happiness: hedonism & eudamionia. Hedoism is about aesthetic pleasure centered around making sure we are satisfied. Eudaimonia is about feel happiness through feeling connected enough with other people and providing help and comfort for others.

Attention: If a concept above is in deficit within a school, class, group or individual give it more attention. This is particularly valuable in the early stages. Attention on the present moment and breath can provide focus, calm and most importantly time/distance between thought and action for children. This can help them make better decisions for themselves and for how they treat others.

OpennessAn openness to accept and be compassionate towards the fact that they might not get what they want and will often get the things they don’t want. The openness to the fact the other people have thoughts, feelings, intentions and be interested in them. Finally an openness to the idea that what they think and feel now is subject to near constant tension and change – for better or worse.

[Based on Ronte & Ronte, Everybody Present: Mindfulness In Education]

Not a mark scheme

There is absolutely no suggestion that this framework would be used to assess or ‘mark scheme’ a child’s kindness in a linear way. Morality and ethics are of course in a constant state of tension and change which often depend on circumstance and well being. It would be inappropriate to ‘assess’ and therefore judge a child on single moments in time.This framework should be regularly used to review the effectiveness of the school’s purpose & aims for mindfulness in their school. Note that this is not ‘levelled’ or ‘scored’ but instead is a way to capture where the children are in their application of skills over the course of their schooling or as it is put in the framework ‘their journey so far’.

I do believe that acts of kindness can be observed and therefore should get the recognition they deserve. I don’t asserted that kindness can be taught. However we can observe a deepening understanding and application of kindness, and in this sense progression can be seen.

What this framework does allow is for teachers and schools with this particular ethos to document, note, acknowledge and celebrate children’s demonstration of compassion and kindness over the course of their schooling using positive anecdotal evidence.

This allows children to see that you hold these concepts in the highest of regards and are determined to celebrate this, not only with the children themselves, but with their peers, their loved ones and the school community as a whole. Ultimately we can disregard the tag of ‘mindfulness’ if it makes people feel more comfortable. Because these ‘mindful values’ are universal, fundamental, cross-cultural and are not time-bound. Compassion. Kindness. Collective responsibility. All these concepts have been a key strand of the human story and what it means to be a member of a community since the dawn of civilisation.

I would also be disappointed if a school that was introducing mindfulness into its curriculum was unable to document children benefiting individually or (even more importantly) collectively over the course of their time in school.

It is absolutely right to expect children to progress from all the basic levels over the course of their schooling and I list them below. How, for example, could any school accept that children might not develop in these ways? What a miserable experience that would be.

  • Find it hard to be positive about themselves or others.
  • Finds it difficult to engage in meditation activities.
  • Struggles to share and accept responsibility. Doesn’t always make others feel safe in their company. Finds strong emotions overwhelming and overpowering.
  • Only the self is really recognised.
  • Finds it tough to be caring towards living things, people and property. Harms people through speech and action. Finds it really tricky to share. Often feels the need to be untruthful and harsh in their speech.

It’s important to note that in our school and in an increasing number of schools the teaching of mindfulness is in no way a priority over academic goals, and to suggest so is foolish and ill informed. On the contrary, children’s learning is profoundly impaired if they are unhappy and find themselves in a dysfunctional and hostile learning environment.

So go forth! Observe, encourage, celebrate & develop.


Can The Testing Of Children Ever Be Compassionate?

They knew me. They encouraged me. They helped me through tough times. They cared for me & I learned. 

I can’t claim that every child looks forward to our mental maths test or spelling tests. Many will run up the stairs into class and it will be the first thing they ask about. When I tell them there will be one today and will give a little ‘yes!’ and clench their fist.

The UK education system and particularly the changes to the primary curriculum have given the ill-informed impression of order and uniformity in how children learn. There is an unhealthy assumption that children perform in neat, straight lines of progress, roughly in line with some bizarre ‘master child’ who is deemed to be the archetypal ‘average’ learner. – What a thought and what a poor child!

There seems to be no room for sickness, bereavements, neglect, abuse or parental involvement. Nor is there appreciation for difference, diversity of talent or aptitude.

For tests to be effective, they should focus on being ‘checkpoints’ for the understanding of key foundation concepts only. Used exclusively as low-stakes internal processes, not external end points. They certainly are not an adequate or reliable way of assessing depth, criticality or enjoyment of a subject.

Our school is clear that there should never be the assumption that everything that is worth learning can be tested in an examination. There is compelling evidence in the field of cognitive psychology that regular low stakes testing can help build secure knowledge of concepts in the memory, and certainly for those elements of knowledge schema to aid the more interesting and complex ideas involved in learning. It’s just a question of how this is done in a compassionate way.

I would suggest:

  • We only mention examinations in terms of an aside – something that will happen but isn’t central to the importance of what is being learned.
  • We always go beyond the syllabus if that’s where the children’s learning is heading.
  • We focus on what makes learning really memorable in the long term.

The first point is actually hugely important. If we can have this attitude towards testing, not only will it benefit the child and their understanding of what real learning is, but it also gives the teacher for the first time organic and reliable evidence of what the children really know. Not what they have learnt simply for a test & to soon be disregarded.

The third point is particularly profound. The principle should always be that learning is something to be loved for its own sake, and that when a child has a passion it is the duty of a school to allow it to thrive.

Luckily my school is very clear on this and our use of assessing children’s progress. First and foremost we ensure we know the children incredibly well as individuals. This is the most effective way of assessing what learning a child has undertaken in a school year. We also acknowledge that learning can be represented in many forms and that written work is not the only valid means of checking a child’s understanding. Other interactions with their learning are held in just high regard. Interactions such as verbal discussion or other creative means. There is also the understanding that it may take more than one attempt to get through a ‘checkpoint’ and the border remains open to further attempts throughout their time at school and is fine to carry on from one class into the next. To give children only one shot at success is an act of gross irresponsibility and is certainly not compassionate towards the child.

They knew me. They encouraged me. They helped me through tough times. They cared for me & I learned. 

Written in response to Dr Debra Kidd Teaching Notes From The Front Line.