The concept of metacognition, of learning how one learns most efficiently, has long been a part of the culture at Chesapeake Bay Academy (CBA). Helping students identify their primary learning style – visual, auditory or kinesthetic – and utilizing that understanding to support their learning, is central to CBA’s instructional methodology.
That same concept of self-understanding and self-awareness supports the social and emotional growth of CBA students through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on the awareness of one’s emotional state and how it impacts the individual’s functioning. Self-monitoring, or being cognizant of how one is feeling while approaching a given task, is the emotional side of metacognition. Just as an individual can understand how they learn best from a cognitive perspective, they can also understand how they feel best when approaching a specific task. When we feel confident in our ability, we are most often successful in our intellectual mastery of a given task. Conversely, when we feel anxious or uncertain of our ability, we struggle with the task.
A common academic area where emotional difficulty comes into play is that of mathematics. Much has been written about math phobias. Many children (and adults!) feel they are just “not good at math.” When students can prepare themselves for a new task by engaging in deep-breathing or other mindfulness related activity, they are often able to reduce their stress and success comes more easily in math or any other academic area. Calming the brain to prepare for learning is the key.
Joining the concepts of metacognition and mindfulness to that of neuroplasticity has recently become a focus of neuropsychologists. For many years it was believed that the two areas were related but, until the advent of the fMRI, could not be conclusively linked. Recent research has provided clear and convincing evidence that an integral relationship does indeed exist.
Neuropsychologists Michael Treadway and Sara Lazar conclude:
“Researchers have begun exploring the role of neuroplasticity in experienced meditators in order to elucidate the benefits of long-term practice. These studies have included examining changes in brain structure and activity, as well as changes in functional activity during a variety of tasks, such as attentional control and emotion regulation. These findings provide converging evidence supporting the hypothesis that regular mindfulness practice leads to long-lasting changes in the brain1.”
So, when the repeated practice of mindfulness is combined with the metacognitive understanding of how one learns, can students be better prepared to approach academic tasks they find challenging? Yes. And is it feasible, applying our understanding of neuroplasticity, that with repeated practice these changes could create new neural pathways in a student’s brain? Yes. And do educators at CBA, who consistently provide instruction that develops the physical, cognitive and social-emotional aspects of each individual student, see the sustained results of this holistic approach to education demonstrated on a daily basis? Resoundingly, YES.
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1. Treadway, M. T., & Lazar, S. W. (2009). The neurobiology of mindfulness. In F. Didonna (Ed.), Clinical handbook of mindfulness (p. 45–57). Springer Science + Business Media. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-09593-6_4
Dr. Judy Jankowski
Head of School
Chesapeake Bay Academy