JavaScript DHTML Menu Powered by Milonic

Mindful teaching: A lesson in leading students to mindful learning
by Ellen Irene H.-Serfaty

Bringing Mindfulness to Teaching Practice
Bringing mindfulness to test taking and correction
A New Mindful Learning Tool


Five years ago, I suffered my most frightening health crisis as well as life experience: waking up in the middle of the night, with the feeling that something was wrong, I went into the bathroom, stared at myself in the mirror and felt like thousands of pieces of glass were coursing through my veins. Noone really knows what happened to me. The first round of medical tests showed nothing and I was referred to a stress specialist. Although the problem was really a quite serious cardiovascular one that resulted in surgery, this faulty diagnosis resulted in a major change in how I lead my life these days. Why go through this whole rendition? After all these years, this incident is still frightening and vivid. And going the "stress" route has allowed me to learn so much about the "fright and flight" automated brain reflex and stress in our lives. I wish I knew this stuff 40 years ago, as a young, totally stressed-out public defender!


I began a course called "Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction", a series of instructional sessions with other people and a leader... and learned to meditate! One of our contributors in this issue, Dina Wyshogrod, wrote about MBSR and stress several years ago for the Rag.

After learning MBSR, I definitely introduced mindfulness into my life, and for the last year, it has have evolved into a daily meditation practice, as well as serious investigation into its roots and spirituality. I find it fascinating, and while keeping contact with my MBSR, I have even searched and found a "sangha" or community for sharing meditation practice and learning more about its teachings, which is called the "dharma".

But more than anything, the practice of meditation, and its teachings have changed some of my focus in my daily life, including my work life, and of course, my teaching, which is presently coordinator and teacher at the Learning Center for the Blind and Dyslexic at Hebrew U.'s Mt. Scopus mechina. Actually, it is learning about mindfulness, and applying it to my daily thoughts and actions that has continued to influence my already natural bent towards reflective teaching.

Mindfulness has really caught on, especially in Western countries, and I include Israel's English teaching community in that category. Western meditation and mindfulness have a distinctly different flavor than the practice in the Far East and other Asian countries, where it has its roots. In Israel, some folks choose Jewish Meditation practices, or go the secular route, for the most part. And in America, there are lots of alternatives, but many streams go the secular (non-religious) route, as well.

Mindfulness is defined as a calm awareness of one's body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself. You think that's easy, huh? Well, think again! Or actually, DON'T think-be!

Bringing Mindfulness to Teaching Practice

Bringing mindfulness to teaching seems natural, no? If you reflect on your teaching as you teach, and how your students are learning... well that is mindful teaching, is it not? Devoid of all the stops and whistles that often accompany western practice... but indeed it is mindfulness. Being a mindful and reflective teacher is a pretty easy thing to accomplish: as a teacher trainer at workshops as well as teaching colleges for several years, I know that it is pretty easy to ask a teacher to reflect on her own teaching. The depth of the reflections is a different matter, as are the actions that will be taken in response. But teachers are prone to reflect. Have a lesson that doesn't go well, and even the most hard-skinned teacher will ask himself "what went wrong? Was it me????"

Bringing mindfulness to test taking and correction

But what about teaching our students to be mindful and reflective? Over the years, I have become more and more of a fan of reflective teaching. I teach strategies almost exclusively these days-forget the grammar, vocabulary, correcting homework. I teach students strategies for solving EFL problems in the form of either analyzing texts in a global sense, or answering questions about a text, or organizing and writing an essay.

And I believe that a student will not learn if you correct them, but only through searching for their own mistakes, with guidance, of course... but self- or peer-correction, in my book, gets much higher points than the teacher's red pen or instruction.

I am also constantly reminded, through meetings with my teachers, and even discussions with one of my meditation group leaders of the axiom that just because we teach it, doesn't mean that our students learn it!

After giving a test to my students, I have been a fan of NOT just going over the test, or simply sending the kids home to do corrections on their own. Instead, we pick out a few questions, and printing all of the students' answers, so they can discuss which is the best, depending on the question requirements. This works pretty well-students are able to identify which answers actually answer the question, and which answer the questions in the best way; which answers have too much extraneous material, which don't answer to-the-point and which do. And of course, the usual suggestions for improving expression, grammar, spelling.

But a very frustrating first test experience with a particularly passive group of students this year led me to a new and very valuable tool. I realized that when students correct their own tests, I am never sure, and the students themselves never focus on the process of seeing their wrong answer, and trying to figure out how it is wrong, why they answered the wrong way, and how they can fix it. And if we think about it, this is the crux of teaching, isn't it? It is a very individual inner dialogue, and it is our responsibility as teachers to develop this ability in our students.

A New Mindful Learning Tool

So, I created a new system--I call it "How to Correct your Tests: Why did you get each answer wrong?"

You can find it my teaching site under tests and quizzes:


How did I come up with this?

I looked over my students' tests, as well as a whole bunch of past tests (I regularly collect old tests and errors, an odd habit!) and came up with four major categories of errors:

  1. Student doesn't understand the question;
  2. Student understood the question, but didn't answer it;
  3. Student doesn't learn the material well enough
  4. Student understood the question but not the text.

I required my students to look at EACH AND EVERY error on their tests, and find the category of error, and then ask themselves a series of questions which I provided on the worksheet to pinpoint how they made that error. There are essentially two important aspects to each inquiry: Why exactly did I make that mistake? And how can I avoid making it in the future?

Students are not usually taught this method, or if they are, are usually not well-trained, to the point that they can conduct this inquiry on their own. My students met my request to perform this inquiry with consternation: they demanded that I sit with them, and help them correct their tests. When I instead asked them to conduct this inquiry for homework, they balked. When they came back to class, they had corrected the tests, but spent little time articulating why they made those mistakes. So I cancelled the material I had ready for class, refused to accept the corrections, and made them do the inquiry in class. For almost every student, I had to engage in a dialogue with the first few errors: but after insisting, my students and I got some answers!

I learned a lot during this exercise, about my students, about my teaching, about the real value of tests. Most of my students reported that although they "thought" they knew material, for example, they didn't know it well enough to apply it to a test question. And now they know! By going through this inquiry, students finally understood the importance of reading instructions-ALL of the instructions!-very carefully. And how impulsive answering often leads to missing the best answer and lots of points.

But the most important part of the inquiry is how to use what they learn from this reflection for the future: each kind of error includes a question about how to remember how to avoid the same problem in the future, or to improve their ability: e.g. What do you need to remember about questions like this? What do you need to learn to improve? How can I improve with questions like this? Now, that's what I call a testing process!

1997 - ETNI           DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript
Graphic and Web Design by Designed by Cherie