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School Doesn't Have to Be Hard

Removing the stress can make learning fun.

Got kids or grandkids in school? Are you in school or college? This post is for you. I don’t have to tell you that school is stressful, what with hard courses, tough teachers, and high-stakes tests. The stress is understandable, but also counterproductive. Anxiety and other negative emotions interfere with learning, remembering, and test taking. So why don’t schools put more emphasis on helping students cope?

Pexels. Used with permission.
Source: Pexels. Used with permission.

Good teachers do help students cope by making their explanations as simple and clear as possible. But unless they lower their standards, which benefits nobody, school will still be stressful. Research has shown some things that teachers and students could do to reduce stress and improve academic performance.

The most obvious is to understand the principles for efficient and effective learning, as I have tried to outline in my latest book, The Learning Skills Cycle. My two other books focus specifically on improving memorization skills.

The American Psychological Association's 2013 report reminded us of the study, which I posted a blog on, that a student’s test anxiety will be reduced by writing about the anxiety before the test; and the test score will be higher. Another study showed that a student’s attitude toward their anxiety can reverse the negative effect. When taught to re-interpret the symptoms, such as sweaty palms and racing pulse, as signs of excitement and being “up” for the test rather than fear, they perform better on the test.

Mindfulness meditation can also relieve stress, but it has to be done diligently, which many younger students can’t do well. Sometimes, teachers say that just having students take a few slow, deep breaths will help them do better on tests. The neurons that mediate slow breathing also impinge on the cortex and moderate excessive activity. A more systematic approach to teach children how to meditate has been developed by James Butler in the Austin, Texas, school district. He has developed a 36 week curriculum to teach teachers effective ways to teach mindfulness to students.

The usual excuse schools make for not promoting mindfulness meditation is that it violates separation of church and state. This kind of meditation is not religious. It encompasses sound neurophysiology and is not kooky.


Klemm, W. R. (2017). The Learning Skills Cycle. A Way to Rethink Education Reform. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

More from William R. Klemm Ph.D.
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