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Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs, Part 3, Contemplation Comprehension and The Contemplation Questionnaire

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Contemplation Writing: An Alternative to Journal Writing and Mindfulness Programs

Part 3, Contemplation Comprehension and The Contemplation Questionnaire

The Contemplation Writing Project started with an introduction to “inner experience” using the “Counting Technique” for several lessons until I felt the kids understood the concept and process.  Following my invitation to their inner worlds, I continued the journey through the “Music Technique,” where the students listened to music for five to ten minutes and then wrote about and discussed whatever they experienced inside themselves.  This method was applied for the rest of the school year.


After the class had completed approximately thirty contemplations and fifteen discussions, I introduced “Contemplation Comprehension”: “Instead of reading your writings orally, I will hand out paper with a contemplation plus a set of questions about it.  Read it silently and contemplate the experience described in it.  Find the mind-pictures, feelings, thoughts, and main idea or message communicated.  Before answering any questions, I want you to contemplate the contemplation.  Then read the questions and answer them.  We will go over your responses tomorrow.”


How much did the children understand about inner experience?  What knowledge have they gained through contemplating, writing, and discussion?  How involved were they throughout the entire experience and process?  What was going on inside them?  These are some of the questions I asked to find out if the project was working.


I checked the papers overnight and selected the strongest responses to read the next day.  The following are samples and questions used in a fourth grade class.  Student responses are not included.  The point here is to give you a better understanding of the questioning methodology and demonstrate an Emotional Intelligence exercise in “reading comprehension.”


Directions: Read the contemplation twice (silently) and answer the questions that follow.


  • I was not relaxed and move a lot in my seat.  I looked at my desk and then looked at the floor.  I kept looking at the floor and I got relaxed.


Contemplation comprehension questions:


  1. Describe the writer’s feelings.
  2. How did the writer change his feelings?
  3. How was the writer able to relax himself by looking at the floor?  Explain what you think happened.
  4. Name a place or thing that relaxes you the more you look at it.  Why does this happen?  (Discuss both real and imaginary items.)
  5. Is there an action, something you do, that calms or relaxes you?  Why?


  • I imagined being a soccer pro.  I was a goalie.  Nobody scored on me.  I was the best and then they left me on the bench for most of the game.  The score was tied 6 to 6 and they put me back in as goalie.  The other team scored on me and I wasn’t so professional anymore.


Contemplation comprehension questions:


  1. What does the contemplation get you to think about?
  2. If you were the goalie, what would you be thinking while you sat on the bench?  Why?
  3. If you were the goalie, what would you be thinking two hours after the game?  Why?
  4. Describe the mind-picture you can see clearly.
  5. What is the main idea or message the writer is trying to communicate?


  • While I was listening to the music, I felt as if I wanted to cry.  I don’t know why.  I felt as if someone from my family died.  I just kept listening to the music.  Then I felt as if a whole bunch of computers were surrounding me.  I turned one on and they all turned on and they all showed my face.  I got so scared I turned them off.  I walked out terrified.  But I didn’t feel scared after that.  I just kept listening to the music.


Contemplation comprehension questions:


  1. Describe the mind-picture that really stays in your head.
  2. Why did the person get so terrified when the computers showed her face(s)?
  3. Why do you think the person stopped feeling scared after the experience?
  4. What is the writer trying to express in the contemplation?
  5. Did the contemplation help the writer in any way?  Explain your answer.


  • It was a boring day today.  I had no fun.  I call it a “dummy day.”  This is the most boring day of my life.  I can’t believe it is such a boring day.  I’m so bored I can’t even talk.


Contemplation comprehension questions:


  1. What is boredom?
  2. What is a boring day?  Describe it.
  3. When you are bored, what other feelings do you get into?  Why?
  4. How do you get to feel “good” if you are bored?
  5. What do you think about if you are bored?
  6. Describe this bored person’s face.  Draw or sketch it.


  • I was thinking about the test that we were going have on Friday.  It’s a little scary because you could study so hard and when the test comes, you think you are ready for it, but you fail.  That is what’s frightening about the test.  The teacher might think that you didn’t study for the test—which could be embarrassing.


Contemplation comprehension questions:


  1. Even though the writer does not give you a clear mind-picture, describe the mind-picture this contemplation gets you to see in your head.
  2. What thoughts come into mind after you read this contemplation?
  3. What feelings does the writer express?
  4. How can fear stop you from passing a test?
  5. Can fear help you in any way?  Give an example.
  6. Give me a way to change your scared feelings before taking a big test.
  7. Can fear mess you up and prevent you from playing well in sports?  Why?


  • I closed my eyes and remembered when I was a baby living in Long Island.  I had a dog named Chico.  He used to jump on me and bite my diaper until my father came.  He was jealous that my mother loved the dog more than him so he gave it away.  I was sad until now—now that I am grown up!!


Contemplation comprehension questions:


  1. Name the strongest feelings you get from this contemplation.  Give a reason for each feeling.
  2. Describe the mind-picture you see clearly—the one that stays in your head.
  3. What thoughts or ideas came into your mind after you read the contemplation.
  4. What is the writer trying to express or say in the last sentence?  What do you think the writer means?

Contemplation comprehension helps me identify which kids are really getting into the music, their contemplation experiences, writing about and describing their inner worlds, and listening during our post-contemplation discussions of ideas, thoughts, feelings, mind-pictures, memories, fantasies, dreams, and everyday events.


Another measure of the students’ growth and progress in Contemplation Writing is a survey    about their experiences and the project, conducted twice a year (middle and end), called the “Contemplation Questionnaire.


Procedures for working with the questionnaire:

  • Students read past contemplations for thirty minutes.
  • Teacher goes over the eleven questions and discusses any misunderstandings.
  • The class has forty-five minutes to answer the questionnaire.
  • Instructions: “Think before answering each question.  Take your time to slowly review answers.  Use one sentence (complete) or more for each response.”
  • Answers to questionnaire read out loud in discussion period after teacher review.
  • Students with starred answers (strongest ones) read them to the others.
  • Certain responses were expanded and clarified through further questioning.
  • Students could brainstorm new responses during the discussion.


Contemplation Questionnaire Results:


The questions from the survey will be presented followed by two sets of responses, the first coming from mid-year, and the second, from the end of the year (fifth and sixth grade kids).

Question 1: How did you feel after reading your contemplations?  What thoughts went through

your mind?  Describe your experience.


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • I was ready to cry because in my mind contemplation is a sad story.
  • I felt weird.  I never thought I’d write that.
  • I felt dumb because I misspelled a lot of words.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • I felt good because I said what I feel inside.
  • I felt comfortable.  I felt like I was in a library.
  • I felt good because it helped me read and spell new words.


Question 2: Did you learn anything about yourself after reading the contemplations?  What did

you learn about yourself?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • It has helped me picture things in my head.
  • Yes, because sometimes I forget what happens to me and my friends.
  • I learned that I really care about my mother and the rest of my family.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • It’s not what happens to me, it’s what you feel inside.
  • I learned not to get upset when you lose in gym.
  • I learned that when I do contemplation I get into myself.  I learned I have all sorts of anger hidden in my body.


Question 3: Do you think contemplation has been helpful to you?  How has contemplation

helped you?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • It makes me think about what happened in the past.
  • It has helped by teaching me about caring and friendship.
  • I don’t know.  I’d really like to know more about myself.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • Contemplation has helped me read and learn more about reading.
  • It has helped me to express myself by writing all my feelings down.
  • It teaches you what went wrong in your life.


Question 4: Does the music help you contemplate?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • You feel like it hypnotizes you.
  • By listening to the music you picture things in your mind.
  • I’ll be resting and thinking about what’s been happening to me.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • It helps you get out of the class and into another world.
  • It helps me by thinking of new ideas by expressing things and by relaxing.
  • Music helps you relax a whole lot more.  It soothes you, loosens your tension.


Question 5: Do you enjoy the contemplation periods?  Why?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • Yes because it makes me think more about myself.
  • Yes because it’s quiet and you could do contemplation peacefully.
  • Yes.  It’s fun thinking about things that happened to me.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • Yes.  When I am feeling down and I’m bored I could contemplate.
  • It makes you relax and calm down and rest your control.
  • I enjoy these periods because I could read about the good and bad things and I could solve problems.


Question 6: Can contemplation help you if you have a problem?  How can it help?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • It’s simple all you do is lay down get all the bad thoughts out and let the good thoughts in.
  • It can help you with a problem by making it into a story.
  • Well it can give you an idea on how to solve the problem.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • I can tell what my problem is and then I feel good.
  • Like if you are mad and you are doing meditation it makes you happy.
  • It helps me relax and bring out my problems.


Question 7: What would happen to the school if everyone, all the students and teachers, too,

contemplated during the day?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • It would help the school because everybody would know what is happening inside their heads.
  • They would take their minds off talking, running, cursing, and fighting.
  • Yes because they would enjoy thinking about things.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (mid-year):


  • It would be quiet with a lot of music and people would rest and it would be like music land.
  • We would be more thoughtful.
  • They would all realize that life is easy resting and relaxing and meditating.
  • They would go crazy.


Question 8: What do you enjoy getting into during the contemplation periods?  Why do you

enjoy this so much?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • I like to write about fantasies because they are fun to read.  I like fantasies because they are like a book you read.
  • I enjoy writing about my experiences because you could tell the truth and not lie.
  • You could write about anything you want.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • I like the contemplation periods because it’s like a bank to keep your memories.
  • You could relax and you could think and enjoy and laugh about the things you wrote.
  • It helps me feel happy.


Question 9: What don’t you like about the contemplation period?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • I don’t like when you have to put your head down and close your eyes.
  • I don’t like the slow music.
  • Sometimes it’s noisy and you cannot rest when there is noise.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • You have to think too much.
  • I don’t like loud music because it disturbs me when I’m contemplating.
  • I don’t like when you have to write because it feels like you forget everything.


Question 10: What would you do to change the contemplation periods?  Do you have any ideas

or suggestions to improve them?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • I would look out the window.
  • By looking at the blackboard and look and look and look.
  • I would get some children from each class and put them here and teach them how to contemplate.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • I would have no music at all.
  • Have children say what they thought and not write.
  • You could listen to the music and draw the pictures you see in your mind.


Question 11: What are your last thoughts and feelings about contemplation?


Contemplation Questionnaire I Responses (mid-year):


  • I would like to keep on contemplating.
  • I feel more and more comfortable contemplating.
  • I think we should do this more often.


Contemplation Questionnaire II Responses (end of year):


  • I thought I was a butterfly and I felt so happy.
  • When we finish the contemplations, I hope he lets us take them home.
  • Contemplation is a great thing to do but it is too bad the whole school doesn’t do it.


As you read these fifth and sixth grade students’ contemplations (from below-average classes), analyze their responses, what they mean, what the kids’ are saying, and how it will affect their contemplation experience.  Think about how to expand the students’ answers through questioning.  What questions can you ask to expand what the child is saying?  Analyzing and questioning student responses to the questionnaires are keys to making you a better discussion leader and making the Contemplation Writing Project work.


To conclude the project, I ask children to brainstorm the ways contemplation has become important to their lives.  For example, I asked: “What have you learned after doing contemplation all year?”  Here are some of the kids’ phenomenal responses at the end of the year:


  1. Contemplation helped me get into things I never got into before.
  2. The more you get into contemplation, the more you found out things about yourself.
  3. It helped you with the little details of yourself.
  4. When I wrote things down about myself, I got to know myself a little better.
  5. Contemplation helped me know my feelings.  I knew how to describe them.
  6. I learned that I had more feelings than I thought.
  7. Contemplation taught me that I could feel more than one feeling at the same time.
  8. I learned that contemplation could change your feelings and make you feel better.
  9. Contemplation helped me with personal problems.  It calmed me down so I could face them.

10.  I learned that if I had a problem, I could handle it.  I didn’t need my parents or older brother and sister to ask what I should do.

11.  When you have no one to tell your problems, you contemplate and your mind goes back to where the problem started.

12.  It helped me by taking the “I am scared” out of reading.  Contemplation helped me concentrate.

13.  Contemplation helped me a lot in taking tests because it controlled my nervousness.

14.  Contemplation got me into the game.  It got me loose so I could play.


The Contemplation Writing Project started in the Seventies and ran through the Nineties.  The kids’ writing improved over the course of the school year as a result of contemplation.  More important, they became comfortable with writing and enjoyed themselves in thought.  Students learned a method to discover the ingredients of their inner worlds and to deal with their lives.  Weekly discussions gave children further insight into themselves and their classmates.  One aim of the question-and-answer mode was to get students to imitate the teacher’s role of interpreting experience.  I wanted kids to internalize the questioning technique to contemplate and understand themselves—without anyone’s assistance.


Contemplation Writing allowed kids to release negative feelings so they were clear-headed for work.  The writing system was not only a means for expressing one’s self, but a way to change one’s immediate (and not so immediate) feelings and behavior.  The program can be adapted to middle and secondary students, and utilized with large and small groups.


My goal is to help educators see the imaginative side of teaching and how to implement a combined EI and academic program in a simple way.  Contemplation Writing can help teachers become more spontaneous, to be discussion leaders and better listeners, and to generate student-centered classwork.  The teacher’s role would change from imparting knowledge to drawing it out.  By demonstrating to children their private worlds of inner experience, the assignments would become more organic.  Expanding our capacity as educators, communicators, and artists would help bring down the walls because we would all actually stop to see each other.


For more information about “Contemplation Writing” and its practical applications, contact the author at jeffreyppflaum@gmail.com or at his web site at: www.JeffreyPflaum.com.


Interested in learning more about "Contemplation Writing"?  Check out my interview on the radio show, "Pure Imagination" (Progressive Radio Network), with two amazing teenage hosts, Rachel Trachtenburg and Julia Cumming from the band, Supercute, who will appear on an upcoming MTV series.  The link for the show (7/13/12) is: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312.  You can Google Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network as well to find the show.


Julianna Lyddon interviewed me about the Contemplation Music Writing Project on the radio show "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network).  Choose the following links to take you to the podcast page and download it on your computer, iPad, iPhone, etc.: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7.  You can also go to iTunes and download it for free and then play the show this way: http://bit.ly/t5FA0W.  OR, go to Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum 07-06-2012 and download the podcast.


Two additional, shorter articles/blog posts can be found at wwsw.edutopia.org.  The link for "Using 'Music Writing' to Trigger Creativity, Awareness and Motivation" (4/12/12) is: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/music-writing-trigger-creativity-jeffrey-pflaum.


The link for "Build Reading and Writing Skills with Music" (6/6/12) is: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/reading-skills-music-writing-jeffrey-pflaum.



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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe.

Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”).

One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM.

Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record."

Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum.

Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul. Also, he is a contributing writer for EDUCATION VIEWS at: www.educatnviews.org/author/jeffreypflaum/

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