Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, a neighborhood whose history of gun violence earned it the moniker “Chiraq,” can be traumatic for students. Many students come to school having witnessed violence or abuse in their lives. When they take their seats for the morning bell, learning fractions or the parts of a sentence is often the furthest thing from their minds.
These are the challenges Quinlan O’Grady faces each day as a teacher at Schmid Elementary School. And yet, her students are not only overcoming these challenges, they’re thriving — thanks in no small part to the use of mindfulness videos that give them effective strategies for coping with their emotions.
In fact, O’Grady’s third graders last year performed 10 points higher than the national third-grade average on NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) benchmark exam. She attributes this success to a number of factors, one of which is her use of mindfulness content and other instructional videos from Adventure2Learning.
Promoting active learning
O’Grady began using Adventure2Learning’s instructional videos a few years ago as a way to promote active learning in her classroom.
Adventure2Learning’s 7,000-plus videos, which are available for streaming, come with teacher guides and lesson plans and span a wide variety of subject areas–including math, science, social studies, ELA, art and music, physical education, and financial literacy.
The videos are highly interactive and engage students in learning through their favorite medium. For instance, the science videos include experiments that kids can do either at home or at school. And a series of videos called “Adventure to Fitness” get students up and moving while they’re learning key content. Children run, jump, climb, paddle, and swim along with their guide, Mr. Marc, as he as he travels the globe in search of adventure, taking students on a virtual tour of places such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
“My students love the videos because they’re super engaging,” O’Grady says. “They’re like a virtual simulation, and kids feel like they’re immersed in that world. They’ll even talk back to the characters.”
When Adventure2Learning added mindfulness videos to its instructional library, O’Grady recognized this as a perfect opportunity to extend her students’ social and emotional learning (SEL).
Schmid Elementary already had a strong focus on SEL in place. Each day, teachers are encouraged to spend at least 10 minutes in the morning and another 10 minutes in the afternoon on SEL instruction.
“Our philosophy is that students’ social and emotional needs must be met before they are ready to learn,” O’Grady explains. “If students aren’t able to regulate their emotions, we can’t expect them to be academically focused.”
O’Grady has used this SEL time to show mindfulness videos from Adventure2Learning featuring singer, songwriter, and yoga instructor Bari Koral, as well as Fitbound yoga videos and other mindfulness content. She plays the videos in the morning before students begin working and later when they come in from recess. “This allows them to refocus and center themselves for the afternoon,” she observes.
The mindfulness videos teach students guided breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and other strategies for regulating their emotions.
“It’s important for students to learn these self-control and self-management skills,” she says. “It builds their capacity to monitor their emotions and respond effectively when they’re feeling angry or frightened or sad. We’re in one of the more dangerous areas of the city, and there is a high need for students to develop these coping mechanisms.”
A powerful example
While all children can benefit from mindfulness instruction — and the success of O’Grady’s students is a convincing testament to its effectiveness — there is one student in particular whom she holds up as a powerful example.
This young boy came from a troubled home where he was regularly exposed to domestic abuse and other childhood traumas. When he transferred into Schmid Elementary from another school, his record of behavior was “really daunting,” O’Grady says. However, he immediately took to the guided meditation lessons from Adventure2Learning.
“He would actively engage in the strategies shown in the videos, such as: ‘Picture releasing your anger like you’re a balloon releasing air,’” she recalls.
By the end of third grade, this boy showed one of the highest growths on the MAP exam of any of O’Grady’s students. His scores far exceeded both the national average for third graders and his own learning goals — and his disciplinary referrals had plummeted.
“If I were to begin the day by saying, ‘Open your reading books to page 23,’ he wasn’t ready to engage in that space,” she concludes. “By starting with social and emotional learning, we’re saying: ‘We care about you as a person first and foremost.’ This has a big impact on how children function academically.”