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The current schedule at my school has the 8th graders (my students) have PE and exploratory classes during the first two periods of the day. As you can imagine, this arrangement makes the start of 3rd period seem a bit hectic. I walk back to my room from teaching PE, set up my technology, and attempt to take attendance in a timely manner. Simultaneously, students are rushing back from the other end of the building, asking to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, and generally seem a bit wound up after running around in the gym. Early in the year, I felt like the first 10 minutes of my 3rd period was a battle to get kids focused and ready to participate in the activities for the day.
Around mid-November, I got tired of how crazy the start of my 3rd period felt. I decided to try something on a whim based on what I know works for me when I’m feeling stressed. When the bell rang at the start of class, I calmly walked to the front of the room and waited for the class to end conversations. It took a minute, then I directed everyone to close their eyes. My students are used to blind surveys, so everyone complied thinking it would be another brief round of questions about the previous class.
Instead of questions, I began to slowly describe a map of the world. I described the outline of the continents and their locations on a typical map. I calmly told students to highlight the east coast of South America. I waited a few seconds, then I asked students to highlight the west coast of Africa. After letting silence fill the room, I directed students to visualize the continents slowly moving towards each other as I walked around the room taking attendance. Slowly getting closer. Slowly getting closer. A minute or so later, I asked students to visualize South America tipping slightly to match up its eastern coast with the west coast of Africa. I could sense the buzz and typical frenetic fidgeting of students melting away as I gave my description. Expressions changed from annoyance or uncertainty to calm. Shoulders were relaxing. I directed students to visualize the continents slowly drifting away from each other. Slowly drift. Slowly drift. Slowly drift. A minute later, I asked students to take a deep breath, hold it, and slowly exhale. When the exhales were finished, I told students to open their eyes.
Everyone looked much more relaxed. I was more relaxed. When I began describing the plan for the day for this science class (continental drift), everyone was making eye-contact with me and students typically more concerned with their snacks or their hair were following my movement around the room. The rest of the period felt more laid back, too. A partner reading activity seemed quieter, but more focused than the previous day. When I described continental drift with the aid of an animation, I calmly connected the visualization we did at the start of class to the evidence Alfred Wegener collected for the theory.
It was amazing, so I had to see if this visualization exercise was a fluke or something of substance. I decided to give it a try with my other science class.
At the start of 4th period, the results were the same. In fact, one student mentioned it felt like she had meditated or listened to a yoga instructor. Without getting religious, I think that’s exactly what happened in my classes. Heartbeats slowed, minds cleared, breathing deepened, and bodies relaxed. Everyone in the room (including myself) felt less tense. The level of attention was stronger and sustained longer than in a normal class.
Naturally, two isolated incidents were not enough to convince me that I had found a new go-to strategy. Throughout the month leading up to Winter Break, I tried out visualization exercises at least once a week with my science classes. When we learned about the layers of the Earth, I had students visualize cutting an apple in half and seeing the layers. One day, I had students visualize a dog attempting to squeeze between two people on a couch. The visual connected to the rise of magma during seafloor spreading. When we learned about plate boundaries, I had students visualize shoveling a driveway with a friend. Each time, I spent about 5 minutes calmly describing the scenes and allowed silence to fill the room between my statements. After each visualization, the classes seemed more relaxed and attentive than normal.
Call it meditation. Call it visualization. Call it a breathing exercise. Whatever it is, it’s helping my students relax and focus. For the benefits I’m seeing in my students, I’m calling it my new favorite and I hope to use this practice with all of my classes this semester.