Take a Deep Breath: Biofeedback Software Is Helping Students Calm Down for Better Test Performance

Article excerpt

Stress during tests at school might not be new, but an innovative way to deal with it certainly is.

Third graders at La Primaria Elementary in El Monte, California, have been taught to focus on their breathing and visualize their heart whenever they feel anxious while taking a test. The technique brings their heart rates in sync with their breaths, which calms them and allows them to think more clearly.

And that leads to better performance. Jeff Lagozzino, the principal at La Primaria, 14 miles east of Los Angeles, says the school's achievement index jumped 37 points recently to 790--the state goal was to improve by just 5 points--partially because of the techniques to handle stress.

"It just goes to show that the emotional state can really affect a child's performance on the test," says Lagozzino, who practices the same exercises himself after an initial bout of skepticism. "If they have tools to calm themselves so they can focus on the task at hand, then it's something we should do for all students."

Call it the latest version of biofeedback. Decades ago, scientists thought that people could be trained to alter their blood pressure or even sweaty palms. Today, the Institute of HeartMath, a nonprofit research group, has come up with the breathing and visualization techniques that sound a little like yoga or meditation.

The difference is that while a student--or teacher or principal, for that matter focuses on breathing slowly and generating a feeling of appreciation, a sensor connected to their finger or earlobe displays real-time feedback of their stress level on a PC monitor. …