TES letters

25th April 2014 at 01:00

We should all be mindful of the benefits of meditation

Frank Furedi says that mindfulness and other meditative techniques do not offer "real experiences" ("Mindfulness is a fad, not a revolution", Comment, 18 April). All this shows is that he has never had a proper mindful or meditative experience, not that they are unreal. Such experiences of calm and well-being are not a fad because they are not easy to achieve. They require hard work and commitment. Furthermore, they are independent of status, ability or background, thus offering help for all children.

The myriad benefits reported are valid, according to wide-ranging research. Mr Furedi is dismissing something that will not go away even if the fuss dies down. Why? Because it is low-cost and purely beneficial. The key is to ensure that children are always given a free and informed choice on whether to take part in such experiences. Shoehorning mindfulness in as another imposed therapeutic event is counterproductive.

Dr Helen E Lees

Author of Silence in Schools and visiting research fellow at York St John University

To condemn mindfulness is like condemning a lawnmower. It is merely a tool. I have no idea whether it is desirable to teach it within schools but I have practised it for 10 years and it has made me more patient and calm as a teacher and as a person.

I have met many people who regularly practise mindfulness. I doubt if they expect to be transformed into saints or develop superhuman powers. Most are pragmatic and down to earth. Many have quietly persevered with meditation over decades. Their experience suggests that it might indeed "help us to calm our bodies and focus our minds". Why condemn it just because there is a trendy "mindfulness industry"? There are also intelligent and rational voices - within established UK Buddhist groups, Christian churches and elsewhere - who could influence a more serious evaluation of its potential value to education.

Simon Jackson

Dorchester, Dorset

Frank Furedi's article rightly challenges mindfulness and its potential use in education. Snake oil in various guises has been sold to schools for decades. Consequently all innovations should be scrutinised. However, there's a difference between healthy scepticism and speculative cynicism. His "arguments" suffer from a lack of research-based evidence, operate from the basis of an inaccurate concept of mindfulness and do little more than draw on selected quotes that make for easy ridicule.

Yes, misconceptions and overselling of mindfulness are bound to occur (it's not "therapy", for starters). Yes, research into mindfulness in the UK educational context is in its infancy. But worldwide there is an increasing amount of robust evidence to indicate that it can be of great benefit to the mental, emotional and physical health of all people. I hope that mindfulness is taken seriously, methodically and not uncritically by our schools. It's no panacea, but its potential is very promising.

Will Ord

Thinking Education

Video assessment? Let's pause and rewind

Your article on grading coursework seems to make several assumptions ("A practical solution to marking muddle", 18 April). First, that coursework needs to be graded in a norm-referenced way. Second, that "video judgements" can be precise enough for the fine grading exercise to be valid. And third, that the practical activities can be designed to suit the assessment. All this to justify what sounds like complex proprietary (read expensive) technologies. The tail wagging the dog again?

Most of Europe is moving to competency-based assessment for practical skills and for good reason. Open source technologies can support assessors to make such judgements in the context of normal work. And if we want to rank students on academic potential it is straightforward to do so with conventional paper or online exams. Established free technologies can support the appropriate pedagogical approaches to solve what is a pedagogical, not a technological problem.

Ian Lynch

Responsible officer, The Learning Machine

No substitute for the personal touch

I could not disagree more with Professor Sugata Mitra's naive faith in minimally invasive education where the role of the teacher is neither guide nor expert, nor someone who knows best ("A friendly word about professionalism", Editorial, 18 April). This fashionable belief that teachers should be mere facilitators of independent learning insults the very essence of our noble profession. The use of a "hole in the wall" computer may well help children in a Delhi slum to teach themselves, but self-teaching is not education and an inanimate machine will never substitute for a responsive teacher. It is the modern child whose brain is mashed up by the constant exposure to impersonal computers who is most in need of a real teacher.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

Putting assessment to the test

I was sad but not surprised to read the Department for Education's reaction to the NUT teaching union's concern over testing of four-year-olds. Instead of dialogue, schools were informed bluntly that they "will be held to account" if this early start to performance data collection does not produce "85 per cent achieving at the expected level" by the end of Year 6. The issue is a typical product of the assessment versus testing debate. Ironically, my research team is currently working with the Department for International Development on learning assessments for school entry pupils in Pakistan - with questions focused on learning objectives and no expected levels or grades but instead rich teaching and learning information to support pupils.

Professor Bill Boyle

Tarporley, Cheshire

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