Going to Bed

Girl Wearing Pajamas Watching TV in her Room

I wrote an article recently about why I don’t believe schools should be bending to the demands of those who suggest that Secondary School start times should be made later, to accommodate the tiredness of pupils. One of my main reasons was my belief that any academic gains or benefits would be only temporary, until the students simply adjusted to a new normal, their bed times shifted later and they would now be operating according to an even later sleep cycle (hence back to sleep deprived when getting up to go to school).

So, I was very interested to see the following article that outlines the findings of a paper and research on sleep procrastination – the process of delaying going to bed (and hence going to sleep), however tired one might be or however stressful one’s day might have been.

British Psychological Society Digest – Why Some People Find it Harder to Drag Themselves to Bed at Night
(Click on the link above to read the article in a separate tab or window)

The first finding that was striking was that for the worst of the sleep procrastinators, they could easily be delaying going to bed by a very significant 40 – 50 minutes each night. I have some reservations that, like so much psychological research, the test subjects were college and school-going students, but nevertheless the findings are interesting and point to a need for further research.

The key conclusion of the research was that people’s perceptions of themselves in relation to willpower played a significant part in determining whether or not they had sleep procrastination tendencies. Participants were categorised as either having a limited theory of willpower (believing it’s a finite resource that, once used up is gone until you can sleep or take other action to replenish it) or non-limited ( you can have as much willpower as you like available to you at any time, subject only to your level of self-control to draw on it.)

The conclusion was that the latter group are far less likely to procrastinate sleeping and going to bed than the former group. However, no causal link was established, so they’re still very much at the level of conjecture as to why this happens. More research is clearly needed, because greater understanding of why will offer scope to learn/ teach the skills necessary to address the issue.

At this point, i need to come clean and enter the confessional. I have had, for many years, a tendency to procrastinate sleep and going to bed. The severity of it varies over time, but i’ve never been quite sure what makes it worse. Ironically, it can, at times, seem to become worse when i put  more focus and attention on it, become frustrated or try to engineer strategies to get better. In my case, all too often, it’s about productivity. I can remember times in the past, years ago, when it might be occasions of mindlessly watching TV, continually telling myself that it’s time to switch off and go to bed, but failing to actually do it (and thinking less and less of myself for my failure to act). These day,s I watch very little TV and it’s much more commonly about an urge to get just a few more things done from whatever ‘to do’ list I had set myself for the day/ week etc. This seems to coincide with a rush of newfound energy, even though there is a voice in the back of my head reminding me that I had committed to myself to go to bed earlier (and that whatever task I’m engaged on can perfectly well be picked up on in the morning). Worse, and even more irrationally, I’ve often realised the next day that if I’d held the task over and got my rest, I probably would have done it quicker and to a much better standard.

To me, it’s further evidence that changing school start times is only likely to deliver short term benefits, that are quickly lost as the students adjust to new norms. We need alternative strategies, backed by scientific understanding about why it’s happening (not just who it’s happening to), that enable us and young people to take control of the situation and do what is in their/ our own long term best interest.

My Best Reads – 2019 – Part 2

1. This is Marketing, Seth Godin

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I’m not sure how many years it has been now that Seth Godin has written a daily blog which is sent by email to thousands of people worldwide. Some are just a few lines, some much longer explorations on an idea. I’ve been reading them for a few years and when suitably inspired have shared a few on this blog.

The book is one of the best and most up to date that I’ve read in a long time on the subject of marketing, from the perspective of all the ways we seek to influence people to make particular decisions.

2. Vernon Subutex One, Virginie Despentes

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This is the first in a three part novel series. I had probably not read something that had such a gut-thumping impact in quite a few years. Translated from French it goes deep in to modern society, French politics and the world we live in today.

I also read the second in the trilogy, but it didn’t quite hit with the same impact. The third and final part is, I believe, available in the French, but yet to be released in English translation.

3. Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan

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I’ve long believed that McEwan is one of the most powerful British writers today. It made the Man Booker Shortlist for 2019 with good reason. A powerful exploration of a near future when Artificial Intelligence has reached the point of a human standard robot that can be purchased and taken in to one’s home.

The interplay and disruption of ethics and life perspectives for all who interact with the robot is fascinating.

4. Hagseed, Margaret Attwood

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Maybe I’m just a contrarian! 🙂

In the year when so much attention of the media and readers was on one of Margaret Attwood’s other works, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ However, as much as I loved that novel and many of her others, the one that really got my attention in 2019 was one maybe a little less known.

It’s a witty modern reworking of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and the central character of Felix is brilliantly portrayed.

5. When, Dan Pink

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Dan Pink is one of those writers I find takes scientific research in the social sciences, makes it accessible and shares it in ways that can enable us all to live smarter lives. As a repeat reader of some of his earlier books, this was one i was waiting for when it came out.

‘When’ didn’t disappoint. It provides fascinating evidence on why, as humans, we’re not necessarily good at getting the timing of things right, but also contains some very practical steps we can take to improve our ability to get the timing of things better.

6. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

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In the first half of my book list I mentioned that Murakami was one of two writers I ‘discovered’ late in 2019. Vonnegut was undoubtedly the other. My choice for this list was a toss up between ‘Cat’s Cradle’ and ‘Slaughterhouse 5’. Both were incredibly satisfying reads.

‘Cat’s Cradle’ was published in the year i was born. A near future science fiction novel, it explores the relationship between people and technology that was so starkly presented with the invention (and use) of the nuclear bomb. Today, we have many parallels as people are faced with moral and ethical dilemmas about whether to use new technologies like AI, advanced robotics etc. for good or for bad.

7. The Future of the Mind, Michio Kaku

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I’ve never fully understood why, but as a boy and at school I never really managed to fall in love with Science enough to pursue the science subjects for study.  This was strange, because in my youngest years I spent hours looking at things through a microscope, used to make simple circuits with an electrical kit and took things apart to see how they worked (though they were never the same again!). I can’t help thinking that if people like Michio Kaku and Neil DeGras Tyson had been around things might have been very different.

I recently heard a comment that is so true – when you go in to bookshops today, the science fiction section is so much smaller than it used to be when i was a kid. In fact, today, most of what you find there could be more classified as fantasy. This is because at an ever faster pace, science has turned all the things that were once science fiction in to science reality.

Space was once considered to be the final frontier for man’s knowledge and learning. Today, it’s the human mind. We’re still an awfully long way from cracking our understanding of its workings, but we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years. This book takes that scientific learning and makes it accessible, whilst exploring possible answers on the parts we still don’t know. It also explores the fascinating ways in which this new knowledge is already starting to change the way we interface with the human mind and conjecture on where this learning could take us in the future.

So, that completes my best reads lists for 2019. There were some other books that ran close to making the list. Now nearly 2 months in to 2020 I can promise that if it carries on like this, then this year’s list will be brilliant.

I had a sobering thought the other day. In the rest of my life, if I’m lucky I may have time to read 1,000 more books. On that basis, it’s going to make sense to be quite discerning about which new books i choose to read, especially as I want to make sure that there’s a good amount of that time available to reread the books that have brought me most joy and satisfaction in my life.

Happy reading !!

Sleep and School Start times

School Bus

In a small village somewhere on a great plain, the village elders sit in a circle around a smokey fire. They slowly pass a large pipe around the circle and sip from small cups of a rough liquor made from some local roots. This is a tribe of hunter gatherers whose lives have changed little over many generations.

After a period of silence one of the younger members of the circle clears his throat and explains, “The young adolescent members of the tribe have a request and have asked me to bring it to this forum.@

“Speak,” said the village chief.

“Well, it’s like this. They’re not feeling very comfortable about getting up as early as they are currently made to. They feel sleepy and groggy and a bit weak – especially with all the running and spear throwing they’re expected to do. So, they request that the hunt start an hour later to give them the chance to get an extra hour of sleep in the morning that their adolescent brains require.”

The elders around the circle shook their heads slowly, before falling in to fits of laughter.

“Please go back and tell our young men to go to bed earlier, to stop staying up late doing whatever it is they do. Then, maybe they’ll be ready to play their role properly in the village society. If we delay the hunt start time, we will catch no animals and the tribe will be doomed”

Over the last few years, with increasing volume, ‘experts’ have been regaling us with the information that adolescents are sleep deprived and that, as a result, secondary schools should start later in the day, to accommodate their needs – so that they will be able to fulfill their academic potential. There have been many schools that have done it. Now, for the first time an entire State in America has mandated that all Secondary schools are to shift their morning start times later. One of the arguments that has been used to sway the debate is that evidence has been found that adolescent brains show evidence of a later ‘natural clock’.

NBC News – California Pushing Back School Start Times

What I don’t think I’ve ever seen in all the evidence of neurological difference in teenage brains is which came first – the chicken or the egg. Which came first – adolescents’ deferred sleep clocks or the various media temptations that cause them to resist going to sleep at night because of FOMO or other addictive tendencies cleverly and consciously built in to those media.

When I was a child I was the oldest of three. We had staggered set bed times (a bit later at weekends) and as is the tendency of eldest children I lauded it over my sisters when this meant I got to stay up to watch something on the TV that they also wanted to see. However, even my later bed time couldn’t insulate me from the sickening dread of having to walk away from something on the TV that was holding my attention. In fact, at times I’d go to almost any lengths to distract my mother from the time, to beg or cajole extra time to ‘just see to the end’ of some programme. Issues of whether I was tired or not didn’t come in to the picture. Worse, both at home and when away at boarding school it wasn’t unheard of for me to put an earpiece in and tune a radio to spend some illicit time listening to Radio Caroline (an illegal station that used to broadcast from a ship).

Today’s children are growing up in a world where the media temptations are on a completely different scale to those that used to snag me, tempt me to deprive myself of sleep and do myself harm.  This is made far worse, in my view, by the fact that we don’t teach children about how their brains work, how their brains are being hijacked by media or strategies and tools to keep control over these things, so that they can keep themselves healthy.

Years ago, parents were advised to keep digital tools out of children’s bedrooms and have them only using or accessing them in ‘public’ parts of the home. I knew some parents who policed this with laptops, yet still put TVs in the children’s bedrooms (usually to stop arguments preventing them from watching what they intended to watch). So, as children got used to consuming TV in their own rooms, as more and more of them got smart phones, those lived in the bedroom and parents had little to no control over what was happening on the phone, or the hours it was being used. At this point, most parents had relinquished their control over the timing o when their children went to bed (or at least when they go to sleep). Even those who are not actively using social networking etc. in the night hours, are still having their sleep disturbed by pings and notifications.

I’ve lost count of the numbers of conversations I’ve had with parents who are aware that their teenager is chatting online at times in the night when they should be sleeping. Further, if they attempt to curtail these habits, their child’s reaction can be almost as extreme as a drug addict deprived of their regular fix.

Against this backdrop I ask one key question – when scientists have tested the brains of adolescents and declared them to have different ‘ time clocks’/ circadian rhythms to adults – do they KNOW whether they are looking at cause or effect. In other words,  could the teenagers’ brains have changed because of them succumbing to the temptations and lack of self control at nights caused by excessive smart phone use?

There have been some schools that have made their start times later and have shown data that suggests academic performances of their students improved. However, as far as I can see, none of those experiments have gone on long enough to show that the academic gains are sustained. If the sleep deprivation was caused by smart phone use, then I fear that teens will adjust to a new norm, continue to use their phones later in to the night and the benefits will disappear (or there will be calls for even later start times!)

The ubiquitous smart phone has come crashing in to all of our lives at a pace that has been impossible to adapt to immediately. As a result, we all know adults who have uneasy relationships bordering on addiction (or even over the line) making them distracted through the day and unable to disconnect at night. This is affecting people’s work quality, their interpersonal relationships, as well as their productivity and focus at critical times. The teens, naively, often believe that, because they’ve grown up with these tools as an extension on one hand, they are more than able to cope, are not controlled or manipulated, are fully able to multitask effectively and are fine as they are.

The answer with our young people is that we need to share more of the science with them. There was a time when youngsters would say to themselves – “I can smoke without getting addicted. It’s no big deal.” however, as awareness has developed, more of them know and understand how addiction works and the implications. However, even there, more can be done. We’re not doing nearly enough to teach young people how their brains work. This is for another day and another post, but here I do believe that it could play a significant part in beginning to develop their skills to deal with the potentially disruptive impact of smart phones and other devices (on this, believe we should be making a lot more use of work by people like Nir Eyal, Stamford University Psychology professor – I’ll be sharing more about him in a later post).

I fear that these young people who have sought and gained later start times will struggle to adapt as they get older, move on to colleges and in to the world of work where they will frequently have expectations on them that make it essential to be available early in the day

Even if all this wasn’t enough reason to question these decisions to move school start times later, I believe there are some very practical reasons why it doesn’t work’

a) In major cities there has been a tendency for the schools related traffic to be on the roads before the heaviest of the work related traffic. Moving the school start times later is likely to exacerbate congestion issues at the peak traffic times in the morning (and possibly in the afternoons as well)
Not only is this bad news for all, bad news for pollution in cities, but also probably means that much of the sleep benefit will be lost. Most of us living in cities have had the experience that leaving home ten minutes later can add five minutes to total journey time. If the children’s journey time to school gets longer, then a start 40 minutes later might only lead to them leaving their home 20 minutes later. So, only 20 minutes extra in bed is available.

b) Many family routines dictate that the family would all still be rising at around the same time, even if the Secondary student member of the family had a later start.

c) A later departure from home can be highly disruptive for parents’ departure time from the home for their work. If the child takes a school bus, the parent will generally want to see the child on to the bus before they prepare for their own departure. Thus, parents may be forced to delay their departure. Leaving for work later is likely to lead to them returning home later.

d) The later start time leads to a later finish time. This can erode the time available for after school activities – especially physical activities that require daylight. Thus, later school start times could lead to further loss on top of losses that are already worrying in children’s levels of physical activity. There is ample evidence that this can be detrimental to their mental wellbeing and learning, as well as their physical wellbeing and issues such as obesity.

e) Different start (and finish) times for Secondary students can lead to a mismatch between their timings and those of siblings in elementary education. This can create family burdens on child care and, in the worst scenarios could limit the engagement of mothers in the work environment.

Finally, I return to my earlier point. Rather than changing the school day to respond to children’s changed habits around sleep, motivated by the addictive and habit forming temptations of media I believe we need to be preparing these young people for adulthood by addressing the issues of their relationships with the media. Too often in the past this has been driven by parental dictat, sticks and carrots and control-driven methods. Instead, we need to do a much better job of teaching children how their minds work, the inter-relationship between body and mind and how to manage their habits. In this way, we can prepare them to be adults with healthy relationships with IT and media.

In time, i believe we’re going to see that changing school start times wasn’t the right way forward. In the meantime, we need to do more work on those ways to teach children, in age appropriate ways to understand their minds and become commanders over their habits.

 

All Learning is Social and Emotional

SEL

A lot of people have enjoyed the ASCD webinar I shared a couple of weeks ago. So, here’s another one.

This comes from Nancy Frey, a Professor of Education Leadership at San Diego University. She’s written many books on education and in this webinar drew on material from her latest.

Quite rightly, many educators have been recognising the importance of children developing their social and emotional skills – not only so that they can function effectively in the classroom and school, but also because these are vital skills for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, in some places the temptation for teachers has been to believe that the solution is an SEL syllabus or curriculum – that SEL is somehow something to be treated separately. I believe quite rightly Frey emphasises the desirability of integrating the concepts of SEL in to everyday life in the school, the classroom and lessons generally.

The webinar does a very good job of summarising where SEL concepts have developed from and how far they have reached. This idea of weaving the SEL learning in to the general day to day learning can be daunting for some teachers. The website does a good job of giving pointers for how to embark on such a journey as a teacher. The content is delivered at a very accessible level.

ASCD Webinar Log In – Nancy Frey – All Learning is Social and Emotional

Some may find the content of this webinar excellent for running teacher training and CPD sessions, discussions and dialogues, or even within professional learning community small groups where teachers see SEL as an important area on which to focus.

 

Teaching For Deeper Learning

Deeper learning

ASCD is the largest organisation in the US for teacher and educator professional development (formerly known as the Association of Superintendents and Curriculum Developers). They are a great source for new books and an extensive back catalogue on all aspects of teaching. There’s a very good newsletter geared for school leaders. There are regular webinars (some public, some for members only) There are a variety of email newsletters – one US oriented and one Worldwide that provide links to the significant stories of what’s happening that’s education related.

Some of these things are available to all free of charge, others are subject to membership fees. An electronic (online) membership fee isn’t so expensive, especially as it includes a few new ebooks each year from those newly published by ASCD.

Today, I watched the recording (about 1 hour) of a very interesting webinar that was first broadcast a few days ago. The two presenters discuss material from their new book. Jay McTighe has been writer of many books, including the highly influential “Instruction by Design”. his co-writer, Harvey Silver is also a highly reputed educator responsible for writing a number of books focusing on teaching methodologies that support effective learning.

ASCD – Link for Webinar – Teaching for Deeper learning

They start with dealing with the issue that lately it seems like every education expert is talking about deep learning, but the reality is there are many different definitions. They get clear about their own definition that makes sense. They move on to the issues of why children aren’t learning deeply often enough and what can be done about it. Their focus is on knowledge acquired that is transferable, building on learning for understanding – that can be applied in other contexts from those in which it’s initially introduced.

I had one issue. They emphasise the issues about the speed and rate at which knowledge in the world is increasing and the temptation of curriculum developers to attempt to pack in more and more content – leading to syllabus that is a mile wide, but only an inch deep, with which i fully concur. However, driven by the overriding drive of standardised testing, their solutions are all still predicated on ideas of all the students learning all the same content. As a result, they don’t touch on the critical issues of student motivation.

I agree that there are some aspects of curriculum that are critical for all to learn, because they are applicable and relevant across many areas of learning and are foundational. However, beyond that, I believe that there are some areas of learning where some students will only be interested to dip in superficially, whilst their motivation is high to take their new-found skills and apply them to going very deep in other areas where they have high levels of interest. In my view, this tapping in to motivation is key to high quality deep learning, but it requires an acceptance in education that we don’t need to have every child learning all of the same ‘stuff’ to the same depth – just so that we can measure them against each other with standardised testing later.

It’s a good webinar, well worth watching, and thought-provoking. Finally, I am all in favour of their ideas about overtly setting out to develop children’s thinking skills. Not only do these support the children to understand their learning in school, but are the critical skills that will support them to go on as lifelong learners after school.

 

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