29th June 2001 at 01:00
MEDITATION IN SCHOOLS. Edited by Clive Erricker and Jane Erricker. Continuum. pound;16.99. TESDirect pound;15.99.

When struggling to teach a tough inner-city primary class, I experimented by introducing each session with a short period of meditation. At first, I aimed for half a minute, but later established a regular minute's-worth of absolute stillness and silence.

This small investment of time had a perceptible effect in calming and focusing the class. It was the first time many of the children had been aware of silence. Years later, I met an ex-pupil and asked what he remembered of his time in my class. He said: "The times when we sat there doing nothing."

Meditation in Schools is an introductory guide for teachers. Its contributors offer, in 24 short chapters, a range of perspectives on using meditation in the classroom. The book identifies the spiritual roots and contemporary secular purposes of meditation. It draws on Buddhist and other Eastern traditions, as well as Christian traditions (including how to use an Aramaic mantra).

Meditation is, for the authors, about wholeness and well-being and a heightened sense of attention, called "mindfulness". A useful analogy from Jain scripture is suggested here. Think of the mind as two birds: the eating bird, ever active; and the watching bird, able to view the activity of the busy mind without being trapped in it. Some research into the physical and psychological benefits is summarised, but most of the book is about how meditation can be practised in the classroom.

It makes links to curriculum areas, collective worship and circle time, and gives advice on how to introduce children to guided imagery, as well as the use of stories, music, objects and physical control in meditation. A pity, perhaps, that links between meditation and art and PE are not more fully explored, nor the value of meditation in literacy teaching when "pace" is the emphasis.

But does it work with all classes? A useful chapter on introducing meditation to children with behavioural and emotional difficulties shows that simple meditation techniques can work with, and bring benefit to, the most challenging of children. And it may be a lesson they remember long after they have forgotten everything else they have been taught.

Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel Universityl See Humanities Curriculum Special inside this week's TES

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