Tag Archives: sleep

Interrupting School Work and Sleep


From 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report as quoted in Backbone November/December 2011

In a given hour of school work, 90 percent of [Canadian university] students (84 per cent globally) reported being interrupted at least once by instant messaging, social media updates and phone calls.  Twenty-three (19 per cent globally) reported interruptions six times or more.

Most university work that is not tested with multiple guess exams requires a period of uninterrupted thought to understand what is being learned.  In math, it is the understanding of the problem, then the working out of the answer.  The more difficult the math, the longer that period can be.  In the humanities such as English or history, it can be reflecting on patterns until you see a bigger or smaller pattern e.g. a metaphor that emerges over the length of a novel or correlations of epidemics and war.

Interruptions of those periods of thought waste a student’s time and may lose her the concept she was just beginning to explore.

The Chronicle of Higher Education as reported in the Globe and Mail, Tuesday, November 22, 2011 tells of a study of 200 university students and their use of cellphones. The students were losing an average of 45 minutes of sleep each week due to the cells.  One student, woken by a text message, reported that she felt her friend might be upset if she didn’t answer.

I won’t go into what lack of sleep does to the ability to think, perhaps in another post, another day.  I am astonished by the power given to social media by intelligent people to disrupt the most important parst of their lives.

Perhaps I am making two assumptions: that their studies are more important to students than their social lives.  I am also assuming that these students are both intelligent and of an age to make mature decisions.  In fact neuroscientists seem generally in agreement that brain development goes on until age 25.  At least one has speculated that the frontal lobe which among other things, is responsible for making judgment calls, may continue developing for another five years.

This does make sense of the British tradition of giving children the key to the door on their twenty-first birthday and the medieval apprenticeship tradition that had children working and learning with a craftsman until the age of 21 .  That there are similar traditions in other countries and that versions of the apprenticeships are being revived in many countries is probably no surprise.

So what does this mean for parents of teenagers?  Remember who has the fully developed brain and whose brain is almost there but still in training.  Help your children create a habit of nothing interfering with study or sleep time.  You will have to model it yourself by letting people know that you won’t answer calls after a certain hour.  Letting the phone ring when you are working can be irritating at first, but the mantra “it can wait an hour (or whatever the time is until you take a break)” will help. After all, that’s what the answering machine and caller identity were created for: your convenience.  In my household we also have specific rings for certain people so we know who we must interrupt for and whose call can wait for an hour.

The computer is easier as most instant messaging can be turned off and ignored as can your email and messages from Facebook.  Recording TV programs for recreational time will make it easier to turn the television off when the members of the household are working.  I hope you take regular breaks and can use that time to return messages and calls.  How long a period you allow yourself to work without a proper break is a personal thing.  For most people it varies between 15 minutes and an hour and a half.  Fifteen minutes is for things you really don’t want to do (for more on this see Fly Lady) and most people can focus much longer on other things.  Things that really get my attention will keep me going for an hour and a half so I set a timer for a couple of mini stretch breaks in between (check out Time Out).

When you are doing what you expect your children to do, they can’t cry “no fair” and they will see this is what adults do.  Self discipline and using social media instead of letting it use them is the lesson you want to send with them to any post-secondary education.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three


THINKING ABOUT YOUR CHILD

A session in parent teacher meeting at Lahore ...

A session in parent teacher meeting at Lahore College of Arts and Sciences. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have finally deciphered the code and concluded that the teacher is not a robot.  You are pleased with how your child has done in some things; other subjects or learning skills have you worried.  Before you go to the interview, think of your concerns and how you want to tackle them.

START WITH WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR CHILD

We all tend to be good at coming up with a shopping list of things that other people should do.  The problem is that we are the only people we have control over.  You can’t change the teacher’s personality or create more time for her to help your child.  You can’t make your child smarter or quieter.  What you can do is create a good environment to prepare her for school and encourage her to study when she gets home.

I have been there.  My children were not perfect about doing their homework every day but most of it got done and they were usually attentive in class.  That isn’t to say that sometimes their teachers didn’t get annoyed with them but these six things worked for them.

1.  Breakfast– they had to have it. Because it was cheaper I often made oatmeal but they were welcome to eat anything healthy.

2.  Lunch – they made it but all the fixings were in the fridge and I tried to make sure that most were healthy.   They eventually got smart and worked together to make the weeks sandwiches on Sunday and freeze them.  They learned that lettuce doesn’t freeze successfully.

3.  Sleep – was more important than homework.  “I haven’t finished my homework” was never an excuse to stay up late.  Any child who had to be hauled out of bed in the morning wasn’t getting enough sleep and went to bed earlier.

4.  Television – no more than half an hour on a school night.  Homework is a lot more interesting when there is no television (or computer or video games or other electronic distractions)

5.  Quiet time– right after dinner so we could all work.  Kids stayed in their own workspace.

Mathematics homework

Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  No incoming phone calls half an hour before bed and no outgoing phone calls an hour before bed.  It gave the kids time to calm down so they could sleep.  If they didn’t inform their friends, then I did when I answered the phone.

As you can see, # four and five were about the importance of homework and the rest were about the importance of their health so they could do well.  We didn’t stand over them while they did homework because it was their job.  We were available to help but they were responsible.

FIGURE OUT WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT

These worked for my family; something different may work for yours, but the same principles apply.  If you demonstrate that you will do everything you can to create an environment where your child can get his homework done and acquire healthy habits, eventually things will begin to fall into place.  If you are unsure of what role you, your child and your child’s teacher should play in your child’s homework, the attached chart copied from Dr. Maggie Mamen’s excellent book, The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Recognize It, How to Manage It, and How to Avoid It, should help.  responsibilities for homework

LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD’S THOUGHTS ON HIS REPORT CARD

Now you have thought about where you can adjust the things you have control over, see if your child has some thoughts.  The best way to get good ideas out of a kid is not to expect anything you would approve of but sit back and listen as if your child was a respected colleague.  It is surprising the insights kids have when they aren’t worried about parents or teachers getting angry with them.

WHAT DO YOU WANT THE TEACHER TO TELL YOU?

With some thoughts from your child and some ideas about what you could do, think about what you would like the teacher to tell you.  This is where it gets tricky.  A lot of parents come away from interviews without anything useful because the teacher has sugarcoated everything.

Why would a teacher do that?  She does that because she has been literally yelled at too often when she told the truth.  If you have an evening interview after she has taught all day, fatigue is beginning to set in; she will be even less likely to be frank.  You may be tired and hungry as well and not open to any suggestions that your child’s behaviour is not perfect.  Bringing some muffins and tea might be a smart move.

HOW TO GET PAST THE SUGARCOATING

Ask your questions.  When the teacher’s response seems to be sugar coated and you reckon you can deal with the truth – in fact you will probably have a good idea what the truth is, then state it as a question.  “Johnny is a sociable boy” from the teacher might translate to a question from you “are you finding that he is talking and distracting others when he should be getting down to work?”

VOLUNTEER ONLY FOR STRATEGIES YOU CAN FOLLOW THROUGH ON

When you have agreed on what his main strength and weaknesses are, ask what you can do at home to help.  You might not be able to do anything but give the teacher moral support as she tries the various strategies in her repertoire.  Moral support is a lot, however, if a teacher does not feel she is going to have to justify every strategy.  If you do agree to do something, make sure it is something you can follow through on.  If you travel a lot, then signing your child’s agenda every night is not going to work.

FOR SERIOUS PROBLEMS EXPLORE THE OPTIONS

If the problems seem to be serious and you wonder if they have more to do with the child’s ability, you are within your rights to ask the teacher about your concerns.  Sometimes parents see things that teachers don’t.  You can ask the teacher to bring your child up at an in school team meeting to make sure there aren’t other things that can be explored.

If the problems are the normal ones of a normal child, thank your lucky stars. No matter what, even if you have disagreed about the next course of action, let the teacher know that you appreciate her efforts.  She may not be perfect and she may not always teach the way you would like, but she cares about the children in her class and she works hard to do her best for them.  A thank you or a kind word goes a long way.

Parents and teachers need to remember that they are both on the same side: the success and well-being of the student.

For More Information

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.