Livney, D. (2008). Keeping Mind in Mind: reflection and mentalization in the service learning classroom. Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society , 205-214. Link to this article is included at the end of this review
This short journal article focuses on a teacher’s experience in encouraging students to develop the capacity to be “…more aware of their mental states, and to reflect on the mental states of others” (p. 205). Using a mentalizing approach, the teacher encouraged students to think about experiences during their service learning sessions and it is therefore particularly relevant to schools discovering ways of using a mentalizing approach with their students.
Service learning would be seen in Australian secondary schools as a community service component that “… should involve community -based real world experiences; that those experiences are in someway integrated with the school curriculum; and that there is a classroom component wherein the participants reflect on what has happened, how it has affected them, and on what they have learnt.” (Livney, 2008, p. 206)
Livney’s vivid description of his first attempts at introducing a mindfulness based activity highlights the importance of teachers being ready for the uncomfortable feelings generated within the students in response to their anxiety of the new. He provides the students with a raisin and invites them to use all 5 senses to experience the raisin. Not surprising to those who have taught in secondary schools, the responses ranged from “This is dumb”, to “I’m allergic to raisins” and “what’s this got to do with community service ” (p.207).
He stresses “The first objective of mentalization is engagement. My goal is to get the students to be aware of what they’re doing, to sit still with experience, not to abrogate it – and clearly my ability to model this skill with them becomes an important part of the transmission process.” (p. 207)
He goes on to describe his role in the process which he sees “…first of all, not to get frustrated, defensive, angry, or upset – all potential responses that cross my mind. Instead, I point out the implicit decisions that each of them has made, hopefully not implying that one or another is preferable. I want them to notice that something did happen …and that it says something about the immediate mindset of each individual, whether or not we know what that might be. The silence, the apparent engagement and attention, though without eye contact, suggested to me that I had struck a chord.” (p. 207)
Livney goes on to describe other activities beyond the ‘raisin experience’, such as self portrait and role plays, which provide the opportunity to identify feelings associated with a shared experience. Livney notes that, as each of these activities is built on the previous, students had small windows of self awareness. The use of role-play was powerful as it allowed for the experience of having some insight into the mind of the people they were engaging with in their service learning capacity. The use of the service learning provides a shared experience within the curriculum that is a natural platform for engaging a mentalizing approach.
This article provides a useful tool for those hoping to develop the mentalizing capacity of a school community. Within its short, easily readable format the author explores not only the theoretical contribution of mentalization, but also a synopsis of its development in children, including the importance of the attachment experience. He also raises the uncomfortable experiences as a teacher or facilitator working in this approach. He provides real life examples of how these challenges can be met and provides some interesting examples of activities that can be used to encourage the capacity of mentalization in students.
What is of most interest is the use of shared activities; the service learning involvement, the raisin test, the emotions chart and the role-plays. As a group the students were able to explore their thinking. This may direct our thinking when we are developing the mentalizing capacity of the school community through beginning to reflect on shared experiences of student groups.
It is interesting that many of the activities mentioned by Livney within the service learning curriculum are ones that could be engaged in by the student group; “gathering money for the homeless, tutoring younger kids, gathering oral histories with the elderly, or working on environmental projects at parks or reserves”. (p. 206)
Livney references the educational theories of Dewey when he writes ” ‘…learning should occur experientially, through hands-on experimentation and learning”. (p.207)
In relation to programs of social learning, Livney asserts “In its focus on community, it provides an agar for students to learn about a developmentally more complex form of dyadic and triadic functioning, about people who are different from them and their early caregivers, but who will make up their extended communities as they grow older” (p. 211). He argues that within the frame work of the shared community service and the concept of mentalization, a process begun in childhood is extended as they think about the mental states of themselves and those involved in the experience.
This article illustrates how the capacity to mentalize can be enhanced within a school community. It provides an opportunity for thinking about other shared experiences within the school that can become the platform to encourage students to be “…more aware of their mental states, and to reflect on the mental states of others (p. 205).
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